Hurd Ensemble Tells Gripping, Mesmerizing Musical Tales
By Lou Fancher
San Francisco-based composer George Hurd’s surname brings to mind multiple items moving in tandem. But unlike hoofed animals or rank-and-file humans that follow the “herd,” Hurd collects musical genres — classical, acoustic, electronic, rock, pop, film, world, and more — to weave a tensile web. His compositions, written for a small ensemble, form a kind of tribal chamber music library that features at its base the indigenous sounds he collects from his travels and manipulates digitally. Hurd twists the synthetic, electronic material like a bundle of lace and anchors his homemade hammock of sounds with tightly structured percussion. A variety of acoustic instruments — viola, cello, upright bass, flute, piano — add flowing passages that breeze, ruffle, rip holes, or create waves of lyricism in the work.
Scaling up after issuing his debut album, Navigation Without Numbers (Innova, 2016), and appearing with Kennedy Center composer-in-residence and Bay Area resident Mason Bates at sold-out shows this summer in Washington D.C., Hurd and The Hurd Ensemble premiere two new works in a concert at the SF Community Music Center on Jan. 27. “Saint Claire is a wildly percussive world-premiere based on my being rescued at sea by a wandering old sailor and the life-affirming effects of being so close to death,” Hurd writes in an email. “The San Francisco premiere of Grace, a shimmering, time-stretching piece co-composed with Joel St. Julien (for their co-project,Nightmare Light), is based on trying to achieve a life of simplicity and peace.”
Hurd says the pieces are “not just weird experimental classical but music that is bringing disparate groups of music fans together,” and “have a stronger narrative than much of the other work I do.” Indeed, if the stories he will tell between the pieces are as expressive, energizing, mysterious and mesmerizing as is his music, Hurd will have audiences herding to his performances in numbers similar to Bates’ crowd-attracting gigs. After all, the price is right: As a recipient of the San Francisco Community Music Center’s 2017 Shenson Foundation Concert Grant, the concert is free and open to all.