It is truly difficult to objectively review a work like Lisa Bielawa’s Crissy Broadcast. The hour-long piece, which received three performances over the weekend of October 26 in San Francisco’s own Crissy Field, was preceded by months of hype, interviews and panel discussion in the Bay Area and beyond. And why shouldn’t it? Any project that can successfully wrangle together a musical community of more than 800 performers, ranging from amateurs to middle school bands to seasoned new music professionals, is surely worthy of more than just a newspaper blurb and a page of program notes. Indeed, the hype preceding the weekend of Crissy Broadcast felt more reminiscent of a movie premiere than a music premiere – a luxury that new music is rarely afforded. The result was a feeling of unusual anticipation in the San Francisco air – and with it, naturally, high expectations.
For those who haven’t been, Crissy Field is an overwhelmingly large space, and as I trekked towards the crowd in the middle at 4 pm on that Saturday afternoon I was stunned by how small it seemed in comparison to the landscape. The musicians began arranged in a tight cluster of patches, allowing the audience to weave through them and mingle. For many it was equal parts concert and social gathering – a combination of new music comrades, supportive moms and dads, and curious passersby, all quietly observing, discussing, waiting.
A foghorn echoed across the bay as zero hour approached, and a note sounded and began to spread infectiously across the patch of musicians. As the tone shimmered through the air and blossomed into a major third, a brief but magical duet ensued between the performers and environment as the foghorn sounded again across the bay, providing the relative minor to the humming major of Crissy. (I can only imagine that Bielawa spent enough time in the space to orchestrate such a lovely coincidence!)
From there, new musical shapes began to erupt among the ensembles. Percussion orchestras pulsed hairpin, Noh-like accelerandi, wind bands cascaded upward in slithering scales, and a chorus (presumably the San Francisco Girls Chorus, of whom Bielawa is the artistic director) sang haunting, wordless harmonies. Within a few minutes, the tangled thicket of musicians began to separate and drift ever outward, leaving the lone listener to freely navigate the terrain of Crissy in search of musical meaning.