Programming a concert is an art unto itself.
Few pianists have the ability to create enjoyable concert experiences out of tiresome pieces like Percy Grainger’s The Immovable Do. Luckily, Sarah Cahill is one of them: playing briskly, with unaffected yet expressive phrasing, she transformed the piece into a surprisingly winsome opening to May 27’s program of mostly 20th-century music at the Presidio Officers’ Club — Cahill’s last Bay Area concert of the season, as well as the last Presidio Sessions concert until September.
At its core, The Immovable Do is a perfunctory four-part chorale, stylistically reminiscent of the First New English School (though, unlike many of Grainger’s other works, it isn’t based on pre-existing material). The shtick is the high C that is sustained throughout the work: the title is a play on the “fixed do” system of solfège, in which do is C, regardless of key. In the piano version of The Immovable Do — a piece that, like many of Grainger’s works, exists in more arrangements than its music merits — a second player hits the stalwart octave Cs on the strong beats of each measure. In spite of these blows, however, Cahill created a fluid and nuanced performance that presented as strong a case as anyone could make for Grainger’s piece.
In the virtuosic genre, Marc Blitzstein’s Scherzo (Bourgeois at Play) — a bright, cubist work from 1930 — outshone Ann Southam’s Glass Houses No. 7, a minimalist perpetual motion that, for its length, could use a few more ideas.
The program’s biggest surprise was Three Rags (1969) by James Tenney, a composer whose characteristic works are often described in erudite-sounding terms like “stochastic music” and “information theory.” These movements, however, are honest-to-goodness rags. The first, “Raggedy Ann,” is particularly charming, with wistful circle progressions growing into swaggering, grandiose melodies. Unfortunately, page-turning mishaps contributed to the heavy-handed characterization of the second and third rags, whose rubato seemed more accidental than related to any musical sensibility. A certain leadenness also plagued Bunita Marcus’s Julia — a gorgeously delicate composition after the Beatles song — later in the program. read more at sfcv.org