Plenty of arguments can be — and have been — made for composer Morton Feldman’s importance to contemporary music. However, the weeklong “American Sublime” festival, presented by local concert organizer Bowerbird, doesn’t set out to make that case — but simply to showcase a selection of music from Feldman’s last decade, most of it for the first time in Philly.
“To me, it’s simple,” says Dustin Hurt, Bowerbird’s director. “Feldman’s late works constitute one of the most visionary, uniquely singular and devastatingly beautiful collections of music ever. And to really get a complete sense of his music, you need to hear more than one piece. If you only saw one of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ or just one Rothko, you might enjoy that one piece, but if you don’t see others in the series, you’re missing part of the picture.”
Regardless of Hurt’s intentions, the eight concerts, constituting music written between 1977-1987, can’t help but impress with the depth and breadth of Feldman’s invention. The festival’s main event is undoubtedly the stamina-challenging “String Quartet No. 2,” performed by the Flux Quartet, which runs for six hours.
“All of the late works have a certain sensual quality to them,” Hurt says. “A luxurious unfolding of time; an overlapping of bell-like sounds.” They’ll be performed by several of modern classical’s most innovative musicians, including the JACK Quartet and Joan La Barbara, singing “Three Voices,” a piece Feldman composed for her in 1982.