Gerald Brennan by candlelight
by James Leonard
You may think you know Gerald Brennan, but you probably don't. You may know him as an innovative classical disc jockey on WUOM back when WUOM was an all-classical station. You may know him as a classical music critic for the Ann Arbor News back when the News published sharp-edged music criticism. You may know him as a classical record salesman at Liberty Music or SKR Classical when those stores existed, or perhaps as classical editor at the All Media Guide before he moved on to other things.
All those many careers were merely day jobs; in reality, Gerald Brennan is a composer. He started composing when he was a kid growing up in Dearborn, and he kept composing after he moved to Ann Arbor in 1975. When Brennan got to Ann Arbor, he also produced concerts as the head of the Sinewave Sessions, an independent studio dedicated to the performance of new music, including works by Brennan and other local composers and by contemporary greats like Ligeti and Stockhausen. But even Sinewave was merely a day job, because Brennan remained a hardworking composer with a huge number of pieces in an enormous range of genres from string quartets to the full-length musical Penelope, from tone poems to the Sinfonia Matrix, an orchestral work for 100 instrumentalists built on eight-bar melodies which, if performed in its entirety, would last one septillion years.
The Sinfonia Matrix, like all Brennan's music, is built on melodies because for all his audacious concepts and extravagant ambitions, Brennan is at heart a songwriter. He's got a gift for instantly memorable tunes embodying every emotion from highest happiness to deepest melancholy. I've played through dozens of his pieces on the piano, and the tunes have gone around in my head for days afterwards. But while hearing his beguiling tunes in my head is always a pleasure, I'd prefer to hear them in my ears, optimally with a hall full of people
to listen with me, because that's what music making is all about. But for reasons he says he doesn't understand himself, Brennan soured on performing. His last public appearance as a composer was in 1986, when he premiered his Illuminations on the I Ching for piano in the Michigan Union.
On Saturday, November 12, Brennan will grant my wish by presenting an evening of improvisations, ensoundings, and love songs, all by candlelight at Kerrytown Concert House. At the beginning of the evening, Brennan, a superb pianist, will improvise on three myths, Narcissus and Echo, the Rape of Proserpine, and Phathon, painting them as pianistic tone poems. The evening will end with Brennan ensounding the Buddha's Amitabha Sutra, translating the text of the Buddha's greatest orations into the language of the Western piano. At the center of the evening Brennan will accompany Wendy Bloom, a charismatic local singer, in a performance of three of his love songs, "Love, Look over Me," "Round and Round," and my personal favorite, "They're Not Going Anywhere Tonight," a moving hymn to mature love.
[Review published November 2005]