Sunday, June 7, 2009
The Ultimate Dead Concert
(Above: A hallway at the Chapel of the Chimes)
June 21 is not only Father's Day, it's also the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.
And that means it's time again for the coolest, hippest, most unusual musical event of the year - the annual Garden of Memory concert at the Chapel of the Chimes in North Oakland.
Actually, it's 35 different concerts all going on at the same time. The idea is to take in as much as you like of each performance, then move on to the next room, where a completely different performance is going on.
The lineup includes some of the most innovative musicians in the Bay Area, including professional whistler Jason Serinus (aka "The Pavarotti of Pucker"), who will be whistling Mozart arias and Schubert lieder.
Nearby, the Orchestra Nostalgico will be playing music from old Fellini films, "The Godfather," "Psycho" and the James Bond movies.
Meanwhile, composer Larnie Fox will turn people into musical instruments, stretching nylon strings between them and plucking the strings, with rhythmic accompaniment by knitters with microphones attached to their knitting needles.
The women's vocal ensemble Kitka will perform Balkan folk songs and an original piece called "The Origin," with words from the writings of Charles Darwin.
Pianist Sarah Cahill will play a composition by Dane Rudhyar, who is better known as Elvis Presley's astrologer. (He also designed the white sequined cape-and-collar jumpsuit that Elvis wore during his Vegas gigs, but that's another story.)
And while all this is going on, composers/sound artists Thomas Dimuzio and Wobbly will visit other performers in different spaces and record them, then go back to their own space and mix them together to create a sound collage.
Does all this strike you as more than a little whimsical? It is. These are serious musicians at play - which, paradoxically, is when they do some of their most creative work.
They're playing for the sheer fun of it - for their own amusement and others'. That's why they're keeping the price as low as possible - $15 general, $10 for students and seniors.
And just as wild and crazy as the music is the setting - a columbarium, a repository for the ashes of the dead.
But the Chapel of the Chimes is not just any columbarium. It was designed by the great architect Julia Morgan, and she pulled out all the stops: gardens, fountains, cloisters, chapels, nooks and alcoves, all rising into magnificent Gothic ceilings.
But her trademark was stained glass, and it's everywhere - not only in the windows, but in the skylights, too. The whole place shimmers with a constantly changing ballet of light.
That's why the concert is always on the Summer Solstice - to take advantage of the extra light.
It might seem strange to you to have such a whimsical event in a columbarium, but it didn't seem strange to our ancestors, who weren't as freaked out by death as we are.
Keeping in their spirit, composer Gregory Moore will perform right beside the urns containing the ashes of his great-grandparents, Frank and Ollie Kellogg.
The Chapel of the Chimes is at 4499 Piedmont Avenue, next to Mountain View Cemetery. The music starts at 5 p.m. and lasts until the light runs out - usually around 9.
See you there.