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Concert to bring to light a musical piece of the ’60s

Remember the ’60s? Some say that if you remember them, you weren’t there. Perhaps you discovered them later. Did your parents talk of Woodstock? Somehow, I missed the ’60s. Oh, I was there of course, making other plans: graduating, marrying, becoming a teacher, getting a job, becoming a father. Suddenly it was the ’70s. The world had changed. But I had changed, too. I had grown up (a bit) and was open to a new view of the world.

I discovered abstract expressionist art, Rauschenberg my hero, “modern” far beyond Picasso. Wordsworth didn’t do it for me, but Alan Ginsberg did. “Howl” was my new text. I discovered Blue Note jazz. I reveled in the movies of Antonioni. Above all, I rejoiced in the BBC’s music broadcasts and relished “difficult” composers like Elliott Carter. I was excited by the “new” and whatever pushed the boundaries.

But how could I have missed now local composer Jay – then William – Sydeman, an East Coast icon of new music, prolific, constantly in the news? The New York Times reviewed more than a dozen works, including “Malediction,” whose first performance, Sydeman recalls, nearly caused a riot.



Sydeman’s biggest work, “Oecumenicus,” of 1967, was never reviewed. It was never performed. Commissioned by the Boston Symphony, it fell foul of programming problems. It lay dormant until Sydeman recently began to recreate more than 600 compositions in a recording archive. The handwritten score shows an intricate and demanding work, a showpiece for a very large orchestra.

“Oecumenicus” suggests “oneness” or “unity.” The work, says Sydeman, “is a symbolic utterance of the one hope left mankind.” Thirteen variations, for different instrumental groups, are followed by a Fantasia reuniting all the elements.




On Friday evening, Aug. 31, at 7:30 at the Besemer Concert Hall, 11417 Red Dog Road, the Nevada County Composers Cooperative presents “1967 Revisited,” featuring a recording of Sydeman’s intriguing work, set in its social, political and cultural times with images, art and poetry.

Be sure that I will be there, filling in, a little late perhaps, a gap in my ’60s.

For more information, call (530) 478-0983.

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Charles Atthill lives in Alta Sierra and is trying to remember if he actually was at Woodstock.


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