Arts & Events

Around & About Music: Nancarrow At 100--remarkable Celebration of Composer, November 2-4, UC Berkeley Venues

By Ken Bullock
Friday October 26, 2012 - 02:15:00 PM

"Every time Conlon punched a hole, the world got more interesting." - Robert Willey

Composer Conlon Nancarrow, praised in the most extravagant terms by figures in music as diverse as Gyorgi Ligeti ("the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives!"), John Cage ("Conlon's music has such an outrageous, original character, it's literally shocking") and Frank Zappa ("fabulous ... It'll kill you!"), would be 100 this year--and Other Minds, in conjunction with Cal Performances and the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, is celebrating in style. Nancarrow, who fought for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, later moving to Mexico City to escape political harassment, spent decades composing primarily for pianola--player piano--inspired by Henry Cowell. His works are dense, diverse, beyond the capabilities of even four-handed human playing ... His pianolas and piano rolls themselves the realia of his works of art. His music was seldom heard, only recorded once, until Other Minds founder (and former KPFA programmer) Charles Amirkhanian produced several records on the 1740 Arch label in Berkeley over 30 years ago. 

The first weekend of November will see an unusual gathering of Nancarrow's family members, his publisher, the director of a rare documentary film on the composer (which will be screened), specialists in and players of his music, along with Amirkhanian, to witness performances, screenings, discussions of Nancarrow and his work, a dense itinerary of events within a few blocks: from the exhibition opening at Berkeley Art Museum on Friday, November 2 at 5:30, through screenings at the PFA, to the final concert in Hertz Hall, 7 p. m. Sunday, November 4. Prices vary, the highest $30. Plus this Saturday, October 27, there's a gala party at Piedmont Piano in uptown Oakland, with the company of Nancarrowites, performances, hors d'oeuvres, birthday cake and wine--$50. or