On April 7 Paul Simon announced the release of his new album, Stranger to Stranger. Rolling Stone has called the album “genre-bending” and “experimental,” and other websites have used similar descriptors. Stranger to Stranger features collaborations and sounds that are new to Simon’s work: African and Peruvian instruments, synthesizers, gospel quartet, and beats by Italian DJ Clap! Clap! Most notable (for me at least) is Simon’s use of some of Harry Partch’s instruments on the album; the sounds of the Chromelodeon and the Cloud Chamber Bowls (see below) can be heard on the albums opening track, “Insomniac’s Lullaby.”
On July 23 and 24, Ensemble Musikfabrik (a contemporary music group from Cologne) performed Harry Partch’s final large-scale theater work, Delusion of the Fury as part of the 2015 Lincoln Center Festival. Since the work’s premiere in 1969 there have been only a handful of performances. This one is important to note because it’s the first performance in the United States featuring the near-complete replica set of Partch Instruments built by Thomas Meixner in 2012. The New York City performances were based upon the 2013 performance directed by Heiner Goebbels and produced by Ruhrtriennale, and although some aspects of the staging and costumes seemed arbitrary and distracting, the performance was executed with amazing musicality, impeccable precision, and the ensemble allowed Delusion to exert itself as a great work of art. Most importantly, the performance raises interesting questions about the legacy of Harry Partch now that more than one unique set of his instruments exists.
One year ago today I went on stage in the Kasser Theatre at Montclair State University in New Jersey to perform Barstow by Harry Partch. I was joined on stage by Jonathan Evers, Devon Yasamune Toyotomi, Liam Sheehy, and Mike Deering. Barstow was performed that evening alongside several other works for Harry’s instruments. This was the final performance on the original set of instruments at Montclair before they were moved to University of Washington last November. For many years I had dreamed of performing Harry’s music, and this performance was an amazing opportunity and experience. Although I am glad that the instruments are at a supportive institution, I am sad that I can’t just hop on a train to enjoy their presence. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to perform Barstow and other works by Harry again in the future.
Today I received an email from Danlee Mitchell, the owner of the instruments, regarding the fate of Harry Partch’s incredible instruments:
The instruments of Harry Partch are soon to arrive at a new home at the University of Washington, in Seattle. This fortuitous move was expedited by Charles Corey, and consummated by the enlightened vision of Dr. Richard Karpen, Director of the School of Music, UW, and the financial support of the UW. Thanks to these two individuals, and the UW School of Music, for the potential endeavor that this residency will surely bring about. Charles Corey will become the Director of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium at the UW with the full support of those who continue to uphold the Partch legacy.