Gloria Cheng and Terry Riley play a new piece for four hands at Other Minds' concert Dec. 5 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Courtesy Nick Volpert)

Composer Riley, pianist Cheng open Other Minds’ 25th season

Minimalist music pioneer Terry Riley is pleased to be working with his longtime friend Gloria Cheng on the 25th anniversary of Other Minds, the Bay Area festival showcasing experimental sounds.

“She really wants to get at the heart of the music and works very hard to see it from different viewpoints, and I like to work with her,” says composer-pianist Riley, 83, who appears with Cheng on Wednesday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in Other Minds’ season opener, a piano recital of his compositions.

He adds, “We’re very different in that I’m basically an improviser and she’s a person who has to read notes to perform, but we complement each other very well.”

The concert features Cheng, who has collaborated with Riley since 1990, and Riley in the Bay Area premiere of “Cheng Tiger Growl Roar,” a work for four hands. She also performs the jaunty and whimsical “The Walrus in Memoriam,” the haunting masterwork “The Heaven Ladder, Book 7” and “Two Pieces for Piano,” which Riley composed in the late 1950s while at the University of California, Berkeley.

Riley, whose diverse influences include jazz and Indian classical music, performs “Requiem for Wally” and “Simply M,” inspired by, respectively, his close friend and music teacher, ragtime pianist Wally Rose, and former Mills College music department chair Margaret Lyon.

“In the early ‘60s when I was a student at UC Berkeley, I was playing at night at the Gold Street Saloon in San Francisco, where Wally Rose was the lead pianist, and I learned way more from Wally than I learned at the UC Berkeley music department about what music really is,” Riley says. “Margaret Lyon brought me to Mills College (in 1971) and seemed to be outwardly a very conservative person, but she made some very wild choices in terms of people she brought to teach at Mills that gave the college its avant-garde liberal atmosphere it has enjoyed.”

Riley points to the importance of San Francisco-based Other Minds, which, since 1993, has presented concerts, films and radio broadcasts as well as commissioned new works, produced and released CDs, distributed music and interviews online, and archived new music.

“In terms of air play, CD sales, etc., there’s a lot of music that doesn’t get any platform or heard very much except people looking for it on YouTube, so Other Minds fills the gap and they have done a wonderful job of bringing in a lot of music to the Bay Area that probably wouldn’t have been invited by other organizations,” Riley says. “Orchestras are places where contemporary composers are vastly overlooked — there are a few who get on programs a lot, and a lot of them who will get maybe only one performance.”

IF YOU GO
Gloria Cheng & Terry Riley
Presented by Other Minds
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5
Tickets: $15 (students with ID) to $45
Contact: (415) 978-2787, ybca.org

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