By Robert Commanday Chronicle Music Critic Aptos The Cabrillo Music Festival has come full circle, back to the kind of progressive programming on which it was successfully founded 11 years ago. This year, a stimulating variety of ensembles and an ascendant representation of the 20th century has replaced the more conventional symphonic emphasis of the previous three years under Carlos Chavez' direction.
It seems that there always has to be one piece on a contemporary program which tests the audience's tolerance or gullibility. Saturday it was a pretentious vacuity by Robert Ashley with members of his Mills College Center for, you should excuse the expression, Contemporary Music. The title, "String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies," and program note jargon was the come-on for 25 minutes of static produced by amplifying the infinitesimal rubbings of bows on strings.
By CHARLES SHERE Tribune Staff Writer Robert Ashley's fine, quiet, entirely natural "String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies" barely survived a poor performance and a rude reception. The string players make very small sounds, moving their bows as slow as possible. These sounds are amplified through loudspeakers; when enough sounds coincide, an electronic circuit is triggered which alters and delays the quality of the sound. The result is as pleasant and necessary as any sound, whether natural or musical, and surely deserves to be heard with respect and attention. The entire concert was a model of its kind. Hughes did a fine job of putting it together. He should be put in charge of a continuing program of the kind at the Paramount Theatre of the Arts, or at the Oakland museum: the result would be a musical showcase of interest to the entire country.
By Arthur Bloomfield As a matter of fact, musical director and his associate, Oakland's Robert Hughes, put together the most varied, viable and fascinating modern music program I think I've ever attended. The audience wasn't deposited in a state of perpetual rapture, but there was more than enough readily expressive material to keep it entertained as well s challenged.
Robert Ashley's "String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies" was a conscious essay in grey-toned boredom, greeted at its eventual close by good-natured hissing, but up to a point its pesty, oinky, rattly, squeaky noises were fascinating -- call it music to pick your nose by. The sound-script is created by four players jerking their bows on open strings, microphones picking up the jerks, modifying them, and sending them back at the audience in a counterpoint to the original sounds.
Back again after a pleasant vacation, thank you, never once reading a critic or attending a concert, and then a trip to sleepy Aptos for their festival, at which the most interesting concert was certainly the one mentioned above in the pages of the Chronicle, the Tribune and the Examiner (arranged in order to their circulation figures). As you can see, they all agree on the value of the program: contemporary music by fashionable quote-composer William Bolcom, by Varesian Carlos Chavez, by controversial Robert Ashley, by a group effort called BIOME, and by Robert Hughes. I choose Ashley's Quartet for two reasons: the disparity of critical assessment and the history the work has had in the press. It was roasted on its earlier appearance in the Bay Area, when it was presented at Mills College. The Chronicle's critic said of it that it was played only because its composer was on the faculty of that institution. he holds no influential position at the Cabrillo Festival, however. Mr. Shere has described the methodology of performance accurately enough, and Mr. Bloomfield has summed up the tone of both performance and reception; Mr. Commanday's gesture seems well within the critical tradition hereabouts of universalizing the particular in order to impress with his historical grasp and his scholarly values. One point needs further elaboration than given in the daily press, and that is the performance, which Mr. Shere rightly suspected. The quartet was performed by the section leaders of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra as their titular right, and in order to gain the extra pay the extra job entailed. More sympathetic players may well have been available, but they were passed over in view of this bureaucratic and purely formal necessity. When such conditions obtain among professionals it is hardly surprising that composers take their work underground. --Fikret YOUSSUF