We once again pause on the occasion of the birthday of Harry Partch, 116 years ago. The photo above shows Partch in the chicken hatchery in Petaluma that was his studio and living space from 1962 through 1964. It was here that he turned in a new direction, a turning that resulted in a piece like none of his others, And On the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma . We will return to this near the end of today's entry, but it is important to examine the importance of this moment in Partch's life. In the midst of great difficulties, Harry put his head down and proceeded to compose and then record a work that would need as few people as possible while being his most complex to date, relying upon his own instrumental skills as well as those of his two assistants, Danlee Mitchell and Michael Ranta.
Harry's footprint continues to grow, with possibly more interest in the man and his work than at any time previously. The past year saw another year of tenure for the Partch instruments at the University of Washington, Seattle, under the direction of Charles Corey. Their largest production to date occurred this past May 5-7 when School of Music presented a very handsome, full staging of Partch's Oedipus in Meany Hall. The production benefited from good reporting in advance, a nice indication of the ensemble settling into the Seattle community; of note was a well-done article in The Stranger arts blog by Nick Zurko. Kudos to director Sean Ryan and a strong performance as Oedipus by John Patrick Lowrie. One of the best aspects of this was a strong resemblance to the Mills College production in 1952, with the instruments making an impressive setting for the drama.
This was followed a few weeks later with a 3-evening celebration of Partch and his influence. The total sum of performances was a bit of a mixed bag, but one could hear the entire 17 Poems of Li Po interpreted by Luke Fitzpatrick, various smaller works by Partch, and a highlight of the week was a first modern performance of Partch's later ensemble setting of the Potion Scene from Romeo and Juliet, with a lovely solo turn by Sarah Kolat. Full programs can be found here. I was fortunate to have time to be in attendance at all three concerts, and it was the largest gathering of the instruments in one room - for me - in many years. There is simply no substitute for these originals, and we optimistic for a good future in the Northwest for Partch's legacy.
A personal highlight of 2016 was the release of the album Harry Partch: A Portrait. I am going to dedicate a separate page to a retelling of the story behind the project, but with the help of Paul Tai and New World Records, it was a true joy to be involved with. Well, except for the terror of writing liner notes for an eight-page booklet! Not merely pleased with the artifact itself, but we're happy with the sales, too: as of today, NWR has around 60 copies left out of a run of 700, so you should get yours sooner rather than never. The album is as good a sampling of the panorama of Partch's output as we could put on one disc, and we've included a number of images not previously published. And vinyl!
Which brings up the next exciting bit of news: a new vinyl release! I love being able to announce, as a birthday present to Harry, that due to the success of the first Partch vinyl outing from NWR we are doing a second album. What we settled on was a somewhat reissue of Partch's second 'commercial' recording, And On the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma. This originally appeared on Composers Recordings, Inc (CRI). For a wider audience, this album was the first introduction to the sound-world of Partch, preceding his first release on Columbia Records two years later.
Just yesterday we gave a sign-off on the mastering for the pressings and with luck we will be able to audition test pressings in just a few weeks. Barring any issues, all signs point to an October release. I'll get another teaser out before then of the contents and why you just might want to have this in your collection. Producing this one involved a trip back in time and some true detective work, but I'm quite pleased with what we'll share with you. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, take a moment today to think of how different this world would be if everyone shared Harry's courage and belief in self. An imperfect man who led a remarkable life, one that leaves its mark on people far and wide. Go out and be unique.