The San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday, September 20, 1995 Page E3
MUSIC REVIEW GOING CONTEMPORARY AT CENTER FOR THE ARTS PLAYERS OFFER HAUNTING MUSIC BY JORDANOVA
JOSHUA KOSMAN, Chronicle Music Critic
The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players have joined the influx of performing arts groups into the new Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens, leaving the homey atmosphere and shabby acoustics of the War Memorial Green Room for the more up-to-the-minute ambience of the Center's Forum.
Monday night's concert, the opening event of the group's 21st season, gave some idea of the trade-offs involved. With the removable tiered seating structure absent and chairs arranged directly on the floor, the large, boxy Forum is an impressive but somewhat sterile environment, and the hot, bright lights over the audience can feel oppressive.
But the sound is crisper and more accessible than the group's audiences are used to, especially in large chamber pieces.
As it turned out, however, the evening's most memorable component -- a pair of fascinating pieces for solo harp by composer and performer Victoria Jordanova -- would have worked just as well in the old milieu.
A native of Belgrade, Jordanova writes music of haunting, elusive beauty, some of which seems connected to the musical traditions of her homeland (her ``Requiem for Bosnia'' can be heard on a recent CD on CRI).
``Dance to Sleep,'' for amplified harp and tape, is a gritty elegy, lovely but hard-edged. After an arresting introduction in which Jordanova hammers the harp strings with a soft-headed mallet, the harp music turns delicate while the taped sounds begin a series of industrial crunches.
Gradually, the interplay resolves into a ghostly, tenuous waltz, with the harp singing sweetly but a little fearfully over the taped accompaniment. The effect is wondrous.
``Dance,'' a single movement for unamplified harp excerpted from a piece called ``Once Upon a Time,'' conjured up a similar mood of nostalgia without sentimentality. The piece strings fragments of folk themes and little upwellings of emotion over an ongoing rhythmic pulse, and Jordanova's precise, sensual playing was as striking as the music itself.
The rest of the evening offered more conventional fare. Under music director Stephen Mosko, the group gave the world premiere of Henri Lazarof's ``Preludes and Interludes to a Drama,'' a collection of eight short, distinctive pieces scored for 11 instruments.
Each piece creates its own particular sound world, from the full- court ensemble cacophony of the opening movement to the delicately etched solos and duets that follow. The musical language, with its urbane dissonances melting into sweet concord, felt familiar, but the dramatic shape of each piece brought new surprises, and the performance gave the music its due.
George Barati's String Quartet No. 3, a passionate, intricately wrought three-movement work with its eye on early Schoenberg, got a handsome reading by violinists Roy Malan and Susan Freier, violist Nancy Ellis and cellist Stephen Harrison.
The quartet was joined by Min Xiao-Fen, a virtuoso of the pipa (a Chinese lute-like instrument of particular brilliance) for Zhou Long's ``Soul,'' a piece whose cross- cultural resonances escaped me.