Robert Pollock's Revolution
By Robert Pollock
We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of this piece. Cygnus recorded it 31 years ago, it’s now being released on Furious Artisans in a compilation of music by Robert Pollock. It will go down off of Soundcloud when the CD hits the cloud.
Cygnus Ensemble Joel Suben, conductor Sarn Oliver, violin Bob Kassinger, contrabass Tara Helen O’Connor, flute Bronwen Jones, clarinet Paul Rafanelli, bassoon Alexandra Cook, horn Peter Jarvis, marimba Daniel Kennedy, percussion William Anderson, guitar
Revolution bears the stamp of a rebel in many ways. NYC, NJ, and Princetonian were formative and developments later in Pollock's life & music show a strong desire to break bonds. In hindsight, for those who know the future Pollock, Revolution seems distinguished by these elements of dissatisfaction. Maui and Peter Schat were ways out. What flowered in later works are already there in Revolution— the simplicity, clarity, wit, spark, humor. I can get lost in Revolution if I'm not extremely attentive. The later works included in this compilation are very easy to follow. Music was often difficult in the 70s. Princetonian music was required to be difficult.
I get the feeling Pollock was the hope of Princeton in 1976. He really did not disappoint. He has written big, ambitious works throughout his career, and he was always helping his fellow composers. He was a community-builder.
Revolution is the work of a rebel emoloying his authentic approach to musical practices that were revolutionary even in 1976. He was the hope of a musical revolution that was still optimistic, not yet feeling overripe. Pollock kept growing. That required devolping a sincere antagonism for everything Princetonian. It could be fair to say he grew out of the proud Princeton scene, but he remained tirelessly devoted to promoting composers including Princetonians.
In the early 90s Peter Schat came to New Jersey as Composer in Residence with the Composers Guild of New Jersey. Schat's influence is easily heard in the progression of works included on this compilation.
Revolution was a commission for the bicentennial of the US of A, but there is no flag-waving.
- Why does it start with a dirge, a bittersweet tune, a tone of forboding?
- There is a revolution that you can’t miss—the ostinato. The ostinato is somehow undermined.
- Pollock explains that there is a “revolutionary” system of notation that applies to this piece, but to no work that follows.
There is no reason not to take the music’s sense of foreboding as a premonition of the horrors we now hope to overcome. I would grant him an "I told you so". Like Strass saying on his deathbed that he got death right decades ago when he wrote Death and Transfiguration.
I take the dirge as a a manifestation, an artifact of Pollock's sense of discomfort with the status quo, a meter of his sense of foreboding. I take the dirge as a New Orleans funeral procession for the Enlightenment principles which we hoped would hold. The Pollock of 1976 was still recovering from the ruination caused by Nixon. Where would the "moral majority" take us??!! Now we are holed up in bunkers and trying to contend with state representatives and police officers proudly returning from an insurrection; met by outrage back at home, but not nearly enough outrage, they can hide in the cover of the congresspeople who encouraged them to do it.
The music keeps circling back to the dirge. It develops and the dirge harmony-tune really starts to get its teeth into you. It grows beautiful, and it lives and moves in an interior space, not a public space. A classical music, with curtain raising fanfare and grand 6/4 chord moments and other public flourishes, can happen only in a civilization not yet past a certain point. Arnold Toynbee explains that when the marches (borders between realms) harden, a civilization is past its peak charm. He uses that word, “charm”.
The dirge develops to a textural climax where guitar tremolo glints and shimmers. I propose that Copland’s patriotic music is a public music. His communism gets submerged in his public musical persona as he became at ease with the state, while Pollock’s Revolution is sad for the state, perhaps hopeful for the state, not at all at ease with the state.
Carlos Fariñas’ Musica Para Dos Guittarras starts with very groovy Cuban jungle music, but the second theme arrives at a cosy village.
Copland Quiet City?
Copland brought Fariñas to Tanglewood, and a bit later, Mario Davidovsky
The second theme of Brahms first piano concerto is the most deeply moving evocation of the warmth and comfort of home and state, and the transition to that theme is no less than a rebuke of Romanticism in that it pulls the estranged back into the fold.
I sat at bars with Pollock and Jacques Monod in the 80s. They both were deeply troubled by Reagan. I was too, but that was just the way kids are. I was unpolitical. Others were doing the work that allowed me to focus my energies on something other than keeping life possible, keeping supply chains humming. US was my water. I was a guitar playing fish.
Jacques Monod was in the fray. I hear he was he in the French resistance? His geneticist brother(?) ran into my scientist uncle at their “dog and pony shows”—that’s what electron microscopist Richard G.W. Anderson called his lecture circuit.
Ray DesRoches was a powerful mentor to me and dozens of percussionists. He loved Wuorinen, despite Wuorinen’s libertarian bent. In the 80s I was often making the drive to Paterson in my 1982 Chevy Nova to rehearse with Ray and the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble. John Ferrari was still an undergrad then. I had no idea that the kids in that band would go on to do such amazing things. Peter Jarvis was a top dog in the NJ Percussion Ensemble and now he’s inherited it. Peter is a legend for conducting Wuorinen’s Percussion Symphony from memory. One the NJ Percussion Ensemble members was a limo driver on the side, and would pick up Charles in the city in his limo to take him to rehearsals in Paterson.
The NJ Percussion Ensemble rehearsed sometimes in a studio with a poster of Reagan at a lecturn making that famous off-mic comment that wasn’t off-mic.
Pollock was part of Jacques Monod’s Composers Guild. He later started the Composers Guild in New Jersey. Cygnus & I were involved in many CGNJ events. Ray discovered Tara Helen O'Connor, and I first heard Tara at one of Ray's wildly successful concerts at William Paterson College. This recording of Revolution is one of the very first recordings of Tara Helen O'Connor. Tara helped me assemble this group.
Robert Pollock always worked tirelessly for his community--NY Guild of Composers, Composers Guild of New Jersey, APNM, and finally Maui's Ebb & Flow Arts. He was a macher like Wuorinen, Mario Davidovsky, Dina Koston, Jacques Monod, Jayn Rosenfeld, Ursula Oppens, Fred Sherry, etc. Babbit relied on all these hard workihg people because he did not have an IRCAM. He had the CIA and the RCA, but those ceased to give him a leg up by the time I started working with him.
For some years I became muddleheaded by an exchange between Babbitt & Charles Amirkanian. Pollock & Composers Guild of NJ held an event at Rutgers where Amirkanian interviewed Babbitt. In the conversation it came out that there are people in the arts who are not liberals. Babbitt's music was impressive enough that I had to consider his skepticism of the liberal status quo very seriously. It could be that I took that skepticism more seriously than he ever did. He might have been as apolitical as I was.
My first Holland tour was organized by Jacob ter Veldhuis. Jacob now goes by “JacobTV”. He was in residence with the Composers Guild of New Jersey in the 90s. Pollock introduced me to Jacob. In Amsterdam I ran into an expat who could not live in the same country as Reagan & Bush. It wasn't clear to me then, but the recent horrors spell it out so clearly. The expat was right. Reagan set bad things in motion. I remember it in shorthand something like this--
The first Trade Center bombing happened on one of the last days of that Holland stint with Jacob.
Jacob loved Archie Bunker. It was in re-runs in Holland then, and I helped him get some of the jokes. Later, Jacob’s music went in the direction of political commentary—music with boombox soundtracks or video accompaniments. JacobTV is music's Garry Trudeau. Jacob & I are in touch again because I recently recorded the piece he wrote for me way back then. Please keep an eye out for it on Parma Records. It’s called Postnuclearwinterscenario, a heartfelt response to burning oil wells in Iraq.
No easy way to wrap this up. While working on the CD, Robert told me he was working for a phone bank, making hundreds of calls to Georgia, helping Stacy Abrahms turn that state Blue. We were excited and hopeful for about 18 hours.
Maybe Pollock should write another Revolution for the 250th anniversary of the USA. Take a few years to fix things--strong unions, police officers and politicians who are not radicalized white nationalists, and a congress that does not try to help a sociopathic autocrat to install himself as dictator? If we succeed, he won't have to write another dirge.