Arts & Events

Sarah Cahill Plays Music for Peace by Nine Composers

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday January 21, 2009 - 07:01:00 PM

Pianist Sarah Cahill will perform “A Sweeter Music,” music for peace from nine composers, including Terry Riley, Yoko Ono, Frederic Rzewski, Bay Area band The Residents—and Berkeley’s 17-year-old composer, Preben Antonsen, with video by John Sanborn, Cahill’s husband, this Sunday at Hertz Hall on the UC campus for Cal Performances’ 20th Century & Beyond music series. 

Tomorrow, Jan. 23, Cahill will lead a panel, including Antonsen, Jerome Kitzke, Larry Polansky and Sanborn, co-sponsored by the UC Dept. of Music as a Composers’ Colloqium, 6 p.m. in Wheeler Hall on campus, admission free. 

The music Sunday includes excerpts from Peter Garland’s “After the Wars” (from a Tu Fu poem: “The nation is ruined, but mountains and trees remain” and Basho’s haiku: “Summer grass/all that remains/of young warriors’ dreams”), various pieces from Larry Polansky’s ‘B’Midbar’ (which includes American Sign Language, a Shaker hymn and audience participation), “Toning” by Yoko Ono, Rzewski’s “Peace Dances” (commissioned by Robert Bielski), Jerome Kitzke’s “There Is a Field,” “drum no fife (Why We Need War)” by The Residents, Antonson’s “Dar-al-Harb, House of War” (dedicated to his cousin, who fought in Iraq), Mamoru Fujieda’s “The Olive Branch Speaks,” Terry Riley’s “Be Kind to One Another (Rag)” commissioned by Stephen Halm and Mary Jane Beddow.  

“Growing up in Berkeley in the ’60s,” Cahill begins her program notes, “I was often confused by what the demand was really about. I heard people chant it, sing about it, yell it and scream it, put it on signs and slogans and wear it on T-shirts ... Not until later did I understand how powerful these voices were.” 

“As the war in Iraq was dragging on,” Cahill said, “I was trying to think of something to do about it. I didn’t feel any voice at all. So I started calling up composers I knew, asking them for music that had a vision of peace, including what was larger than just Iraq, wider in range. I’ve ended up getting new pieces all the time. It stretches me, musically speaking.” 

Cahill emphasized the range of work: “I like mixing it up, different kinds of music from different kinds of composers”—and the lack of a prescriptive, overriding message: “The project is not making a statement. It’s such a complicated subject for all of us. We all have some sort of experience which makes it so complex. Terry Riley wanted to write something pro-peace [and has commented “it became a hit with my very young twin grandchildren, who always wanted me to play it for them when they got into bed at night.”]; Preben Antonsen, who wrote his piece at 16, dedicated it to his cousin, who was an interrogator in the war, and came back damaged. For him, the violence was really personal.” 

Sanborn spoke about the “triptych environment” he’s created, with three screens behind and above the piano, of the Mathew Brady Civil War photographs that will be screened during Jerome Pitsky’s piece, inspired by Rumi and by Whitman, which uses drumming and whistling. “He’s written something very joyful with the feeling that the event of death can be violent, horrifying—but that you can’t look away”—and about Yoko Ono’s work: “What I like is that she looked in a different direction than everyone else. They were looking at the foreground; she was looking at the deep background; instead of in the world, in the self, something organic rather than topical or political. Very elemental.” 

“Yoko’s piece is very simple,” Cahill said, “She had the idea that piano music became so ornate and embellished in the 19th century that it’s important to get back to simplicity, to play just the basic chord, let it resonate more directly.  

“I regret there’s only one piece by a woman on this program,” Cahill continued. “Pauline Oliveros’ piece just needed more time to prepare—it involves audience participation—and Meredith Monk and others haven’t written theirs yet. It’s an ongoing project; a different group will be premiered later.” 



3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25 at Hertz Hall, UC campus. $38 (rush tickets, $10-20, announced two hours prior to concert, by calling 642-9988, ext. 2).