phillip@bimstein.com
 

Reprinted from The Salt Lake Tribune
Tuesday, August 25, 1992


Turtle Island String Quartet Offers an Eclectic Finale to Garden Series

By Catherine Reese

What better way to spend a summer evening than under a cloudless sky, amid the greenery of Red Butte Garden, with the Turtle Island String Quartet?

The adventurous jazz ensemble wrapped up the garden's summer concert series Sunday with an invigorating performance that included the premiere of Springdale, Utah, composer Phillip Bimstein's "Dark Winds Rising."

Mr. Bimstein's work, as violinist David Balakrishnan explained before the performance, is about the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians' rejection of a proposed toxic-waste incinerator on tribal land. The composer's interviews on the subject with three tribe members, which he then edited and reconstructed with a digital sampler, are the foundation of the piece. Verdel Jake, his aunt Vivienne and grandmother Lucille talk about the land, their heritage, and the specter of the incinerator.

The string parts are built around the voices; sometimes the melody mirrors the speakers' cadences, while in other places the words themselves dictate the mood of the music. Repetition is used effectively; in the second movement, Vivienne Jake describes the incinerator as a black cloud getting "closer and closer, closer and closer," the repetition forming an almost paranoid swirl.

Tonally, the work is highly accessible. Its four movements are structured as in a regular string quartet, unified by recurring, forward-moving melody fragments. The final movement, featuring Lucille Jake's voice, is in classical rondo form, with a chanted Paiute song as the second subject. "I think I'm the last one that remembers that song," Lucille says wistfully, shortly before the sound of the wind (one of several inventive effects Mr. Bimstein derived from the actual voices) brings the piece to a haunting close.

The Turtle Islanders gave Mr. Bimstein's work a powerful premiere. The rest of their program, while generally lighter in tone, was no less compelling.