Piece for Cello and Saxophone (1960)
for cello, sine waves and cello drones
Terry Jennings (1940-1981) was a key figure in the first generation of Minimalist composers and artists. His performances in the early sixties at venues such as The Living Theatre and Yoko Ono's Chambers Street loft left unforgettable impressions on his listeners, and his collaborations on saxophone with La Monte Young, John Cale, Charlotte Moorman and others are the stuff of legend. A troubled life and early death have left his legacy largely undocumented; performances of his music are extremely rare. La Monte Young was Jennings' closest associate and teacher, and Charles Curtis has studied Jennings' music with Young since first encountering the Piece for Cello and Saxophone in 1989.
Jennings' music is sparse and nearly motionless, emotionally direct, and fragile in the extreme. Piece for Cello and Saxophone is a monumental reflection on a handful of chords and melodic patterns, somewhat resembling raga, but modulating through a chorale-like progression in very slow motion. The solo version Curtis performs evolved from an arrangement created by La Monte Young, in which Young himself performed the saxophone part as a vocalist, with Curtis sustaining the cello drones. In a subsequent formation, Curtis learned the solo part by following Young's improvisations as a sarangi player follows a vocalist, while an ensemble of three cellists sustained the drones. Young thus passed the tradition of the solo role on to Curtis to create this version.
An unknown masterpiece, Piece for Cello and Saxophone is one of the most beautiful examples of the very first phase of American Minimalism.
December 11 / Sunday at 8
(twenty-fourth anniversary of the death of Terry Jennings)
107 Norfolk Street (between Delancey and Rivington)
$12 / $9