Thursday, 14 August 2014 17:54

Edgar Varese in Santa Fe

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      The recent name change of the Santa Fe Concert Association to Performance Santa Fe got me to thinking of Edgar Varese, one of the original founders of the former. As a music critic for the New Mexican in the 1980's I was asked to write many previews for concerts, as opposed to reviews. This led to history, the future being for science fiction.
While for many there is not a lot to like about the music of Varese,; for the casual listener not very easy listening by any standard; but there is  a lot to like of Varese and what he did for Santa Fe.
Varese and his wife Louise visited Santa Fe in the summers of 1936 and 1937 at the urging of artist John and Dolly Sloan. He has believed to have lived in what is now Geronimo's restaurant. Up the street on Monte Sol is the Mary Austin house where he gave many interviews and lectures.
These visits were meant to be vacations and not work; but the record show they were any thing but. In more than ten articles written for the New Mexican in these years by B. B. Dunn Varese's activities were documented.
The SF Concert Assoc. dates from his first summer. He helped raise money for St. Francis Auditorium's first piano. He started a choral group called the Schola Cantorum; under his direction. On Aug. 7,1937 he gave a lecture at the Arsuna Galleries in the Mary Austin house entitled "Music as Living Matter". In these lectures he covered everything from Palestrina to the future of electronic music.
While in the US he championed a Russian musical inventor by the the name of Theremin who was promoting a new instrument called, wait, the "Theremin". A hybrid of cello, synthesizer and electric guitar. According to the Wiki entry on Varese there is still an extant instrument at UNM in Albuquerque where Varese performed and lectured.
Varese's greatest proponent and disciple in this country was Frank Zappa; Showing the far ranging influence his music and thought created.
Varese was a man with a mission; and in his short stay in SF left a lasting impression on its musical culture.  
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2 comments

  • Comment Link Christopher Shultis Wednesday, 02 December 2015 20:46 posted by Christopher Shultis

    Nice article which I found useful while writing an essay about composers who lived in New Mexico. One comment: there are several references on the internet regarding the Theremin Varèse used for his lecture at the University of New Mexico that claim the instrument UNM owns might be the same. It is not. The Theremin UNM has was donated to the Jonson Gallery by Professor of Art and sculptor Charles Mattox in 1992. I know because then-curator Joseph Traugott asked me to compose a piece for the instrument. The result, titled "Gesturing Hands," was performed by me at an opening Joe organized at Jonson to celebrate the acquisition. I believe it is the last time the instrument has ever been played. In fact, for a long time the piece itself had only that one performance, now rectified thanks to a recording of "Gesturing Hands" by Douglas Nottingham soon to be released on a CD of my early experimental music, "An Illusion of Desire," by Neuma recordings.

  • Comment Link Mike Lord Thursday, 14 August 2014 19:36 posted by Mike Lord

    Something I never knew. Thanks, Richard!

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