“A meditative, slowly unfolding work, filled with huge, droning sound clouds that, like a pointillist landscape, reveal great detail on close inspection. It might justly be considered ‘’music to pray to.’”
—New York Times
Nonesuch Records released A Crimson Grail—Rhys Chatham’s work for large electric guitar orchestra—on September 14, 2010. Written in 2005 as a commission for the city of Paris, A Crimson Grail premiered at the basilica of Sacré-Coeur. It was created to work with the specific architecture of the basilica, making use of its natural 15-second reverberation time. The musicians surrounded the audience, creating an antiphonal effect with the sound moving around the space from area to area. Scored for as many as four hundred guitarists, an orchestra of approximately 125 musicians performed the premiere, to great acclaim. The Dallas Observer said of a recording of that concert, “Beautifully intricate and harmonically dense, A Crimson Grail is nearly ambient in tone while pursuing a beauty that never seems beyond its scope.”
When Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Wordless Music invited Chatham to mount A Crimson Grail in New York at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, the composition had to be completely reworked for the acoustics of an exterior, non-reverberant setting. The Nonesuch recording captures the subsequent 2009 performance, in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, with 200 electric guitars, 16 electric basses, five conductors, and one percussionist.
Rhys Chatham is a composer, guitarist, and trumpet player from Manhattan, currently living in Paris. He was the founder of the music program at The Kitchen in downtown Manhattan in 1971 and was its music director between 1971–73 and 1977–80. While at The Kitchen he was responsible for programming more than 250 concerts of living composers including the NEW MUSIC / NEW YORK Festival, which was the prototype upon which the NEW MUSIC AMERICA Festival was later based. Chatham studied under, was influenced by, or has collaborated with Maryanne Amacher, Don Cherry, Tony Conrad, Jon Hassell, Charlemagne Palestine, Eliane Radigue, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Morton Subotnick, Serge Tcherepnin, and La Monte Young, among many others.
With Rhys Chatham’s composition Guitar Trio (1977) he became the first composer to make use of multiple electric guitars in special tunings to merge the extended-time music of the ’60s and ’70s with serious hard rock. Chatham continued this pursuit over the next decade, culminating in 1989 with the composition and performance of his first symphony for an orchestra of one hundred electric guitars, An Angel Moves Too Fast to See.