Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Review of David Ryther's "The Untempered Violin," guest-written by Mantra Plonsey

At his concert at The Tank last week, David Ryther made me remember why I love music.

Which is worth stating, because I feel claustrophobically threatened by practically every other composer-performer I know.

I avoid going to see live music, theater, dance, and independent film, and refuse to listen to any recordings made after 1999, or read anything by someone I know, used to know, or anyone who lives within 100 miles of me.

I am selfish, cowardly, self-centered and insecure, that's why, so stop inviting me to things, all right?

Consequently, I don't have the guts to invite anyone to performances I'm in, since I'm such a terrible person who doesn't deserve to have any friends at all, especially radiantly talented ones.

What if they're worse than me?
I'll be bored! And worse, I won't know what to say to them afterward-- oh, dear Performers A, B & C-- your glowing, proud hopeful little faces, sweaty with effort! "Wow," I say, "I haven't seen anything like that for years! Thanks for inviting me! That sure was something!" Big hug, and gotta go now.

Or what if they're BETTER than me?
Then I must tell them so, from the bottom of my heart,
and go home, dank with despair, and spend a bleak, unproductive month or so wondering why I was born-- what is the point of keeping ME around when there is Performer X: to adore, give awards to, and rave about in the New Yorker?

But back to David.

Not only do I know him, I've had the intoxicating honor of sharing the stage with him for years in Dandelion Dancetheater.

My toxic jealousy evaporates in the presence of his talent, which is genuine and modest, and which is one of the outstanding features about a really nice guy who, incidentally, works pretty darned hard to know himself.

The discipline that informs his violin playing is apparent as well in the way he moves in the world--  yes, he dances as well, but I mean the way he relates to people. Maybe when you spend 3-6 hours per day practicing one of the fussiest instruments on earth it has a way of leaking into the rest of your life. Or maybe it's all that yoga.

At the show on August 31st we were audience to the sort of program you usually have to pay seventy dollars a ticket for-- and that's in the cheap seats.

(When I rule the world, David Ryther will be paid one million dollars a year, and the evil businessmen at the Fox network will have to scrape along somehow.)

The program, nearly one and a half hours long:

The New York premiere of David's concerto in a series of etudes.
A storm, a lament, a tragedy, a poem.
It's a masterpiece, and would take at least the length of this review over again.

A solo violin piece, composed by Ryther, played during  a duet with the modern and classically trained Julia Hollas, also with Dandelion Dancetheater. Ms. Hollas, a thrilling and incandescent mover with a sinuous, powerful style, takes emotional and physical risks which excite and engage the viewer. She teaches ballet in San Francisco when not on tour.

(Did I mention that David, also a fluid improvisor, plays while dancing? We were treated to the rare spectacle of a man wielding 15,000 bucks worth of wood and horsehair while balancing his partner on his back, while turning, on the floor, and in the air...)

Also heard were a number of rare miniatures, performed solo by Ryther and joined also by his colleague, violinist Deborah Katz. These impressionistic works from the era of Luciano Berio and other experimental composers showcased David's facility with extended technique.

Whereas one can frequently find Stockhausen and Berg, etc., performed by new music ensembles monthly in New York, San Francisco, Berlin and so on, we don't always have the good fortune to see new (read: "difficult") music performed live with inspiration and expression. (And, just for good measure, with good old-fashioned bearded, Bohemian, wild-haired fervor.) Too often, it's just damned dry-- perfect technique, zero fire: a dismal advertisement for classical music, let alone the outer limits of composition. 

It is a centuries-old form of praise to declare that an artist is "divine", that he channels some rarefied light outside of him; for me, Ryther proves that the eternal genius of art originates within, and that each of us contains that flame.

--Mantra Plonsey

A clip from "The Untempered Violin"

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