A Review of David Ryther’s "The Untempered Violin," guest-written by Mantra Plonsey

At his concert at The Tank last week, David Ryther made me remember why I love music.

Which is worth stating, because I feel claustrophobically threatened by practically
every other composer-performer I know.

I avoid going to see
live music, theater, dance, and independent film, and refuse to listen
to any recordings made after 1999, or read anything by someone I know,
used to know, or anyone who lives within 100 miles of me.

I am selfish, cowardly, self-centered and insecure, that’s why, so stop inviting me to things, all right?

I don’t have the guts to invite anyone to performances I’m in, since
I’m such a terrible person who doesn’t deserve to have any friends at
all, especially radiantly talented ones.

What if they’re worse than me?
be bored! And worse, I won’t know what to say to them afterward– oh,
dear Performers A, B & C– your glowing, proud hopeful little faces,
sweaty with effort! “Wow,” I say, “I haven’t seen anything like that
for years! Thanks for inviting me! That sure was something!” Big hug,
and gotta go now.

Or what if they’re BETTER than
Then I must tell them so, from the bottom of my heart,
and go
home, dank with despair, and spend a bleak, unproductive month or so
wondering why I was born– what is the point of keeping ME around when
there is Performer X: to adore, give awards to, and rave about in the
New Yorker?

But back to David.

Not only do I know him, I’ve had the intoxicating honor of sharing the stage with him for years in Dandelion Dancetheater.

toxic jealousy evaporates in the presence of his talent, which is
genuine and modest, and which is one of the outstanding features about a
really nice guy who, incidentally, works pretty darned hard to know

The discipline that informs his violin playing is
apparent as well in the way he moves in the world–  yes, he dances as
well, but I mean the way he relates to people. Maybe when you spend 3-6
hours per day practicing one of the fussiest instruments on earth it has
a way of
leaking into the rest of your life. Or maybe it’s all that yoga.

the show on August 31st we were audience to the sort of program you
usually have to pay seventy dollars a ticket for– and that’s in the
cheap seats.

(When I rule the world, David Ryther will be paid
one million dollars a year, and the evil businessmen at the Fox network
will have to scrape along somehow.)

The program, nearly one and a half hours long:

The New York premiere of David’s concerto in a series of etudes.
A storm, a lament, a tragedy, a poem.
It’s a masterpiece, and would take at least the length of this review over again.

solo violin piece, composed by Ryther, played during  a duet with the
modern and classically trained Julia Hollas, also with Dandelion
Dancetheater. Ms. Hollas, a thrilling and incandescent mover with a
sinuous, powerful style, takes emotional and physical risks which excite
and engage the viewer. She teaches ballet in San Francisco when not on

(Did I mention that David, also a fluid improvisor, plays
while dancing? We were treated to the rare spectacle of a man wielding 15,000 bucks worth of wood and horsehair while balancing his partner on his back, while turning, on the floor, and in the air…)

heard were a number of rare miniatures, performed solo by Ryther and joined also by his colleague,
violinist Deborah Katz. These impressionistic works from the era of
Luciano Berio and other experimental composers showcased David’s
facility with extended technique.

Whereas one can frequently
Stockhausen and Berg, etc., performed by new music ensembles monthly in
New York, San Francisco, Berlin and so on, we don’t always have the
good fortune to see new (read: “difficult”) music performed live with
inspiration and expression. (And, just for good measure, with good old-fashioned bearded, Bohemian, wild-haired fervor.) Too
often, it’s just damned dry– perfect technique, zero fire: a dismal
advertisement for classical music, let alone the outer limits of

It is
a centuries-old form of praise to declare that an artist is “divine”,
that he channels some rarefied light outside of him; for me, Ryther
proves that the eternal genius of art originates within, and that each
of us contains that flame.


A clip from “The Untempered Violin”

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