Harry Partch (1901–1974), while one of America's best-known maverick composers, is also one of the least performed—mainly due to the one-of-a-kind instruments he created in order to generate the sounds his music demanded. The instruments themselves are difficult to transport, and they require performers with specialized knowledge of how Partch intended them to be used.
This week during a symposium and festival, co-hosted by New England Conservatory and Northeastern University, many of Partch's instruments will travel from New Jersey to NEC's Jordan Hall, with the help of their custodian, Dean Drummond.
Partch's Tuning: Beyond 43
With Partch's instruments installed on the stage of Jordan Hall, Dean Drummond will conduct an interactive workshop on Partch’s tuning system. While often understood as a fixed palette of 43 tones per octave, the system is more often extended to include additional pitches, as Partch himself did. At the conclusion of the workshop, selected participants will be invited onstage to try these rarely seen instruments at first hand, under Drummond's supervision. These include an enormous array of glass "cloud chamber bowls," "diamond marimba," and Indian deer hoof rattles. Come back the following evening to hear Drummond and his Newband perform Partch's music written for these instruments.
Harry Partch is best known as a radically individualistic musical experimentalist, an emblematic “American maverick.” Seeking to create a music close to human speech, he found himself “seduced into carpentry” to create an orchestra of unique instruments and a substantial corpus of instrumental, vocal and dramatic works. His 25-year career cut across composition, music theory, and instrument building, and its conscious links to music making outside of Europe have attracted the attention of a diverse following of listeners, musicians and scholars.
Dean Drummond worked for Harry Partch for many years. In 1990, Drummond took on custodianship of the Partch-built instrument collection, and Newband, a microtonal ensemble he cofounded in 1977, became the only corps of musicians performing Partch's music on these historic instruments.
The Harry Partch Instrument Collection is the largest component of the Newband Instrumentarium, and includes all of the instruments built by the composer-inventor during the period 1930–1974, as well as several instruments replicated by the Harry Partch Foundation and Newband since 1974.
The Harry Partch Foundation has provided support for this symposium and festival.