Review: ‘Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox: California Mystics’ at The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts Atrium was transformed into a bohemian, Bedouin-style venue, where pillows for seating were splayed across the floor and the audience was lulled into an immersive moment of the sights and sounds of Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox: California Mystics. Bates’s sound is a fusion of electronica and classical music. This hypnotic journey was an exploration of ambient rhythms, ghostly voices, and native percussion. The performance was mostly standing room only, in haze effect, and the audience was encouraged to move about and shift as new performances would pop up in a new space.

Mason Bates' KC Jukebox: California Mystics. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.
Mason Bates’ KC Jukebox: California Mystics. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox: California Mystics is part of the Kennedy Center’s inaugural season of DIRECT CURRENT, a two-week celebration of contemporary culture focusing on works that are interdisciplinary creations reflecting the current social and global conversation. As composer and DJ, Bates is bringing classical music to new audiences.

California Mystics is a new addition to Bates’s KC Jukebox series which probes into the work of visionary composers Lou Harrison and Steve Reich. The program included Bates’s “Mass Transmission,” a look at early radio broadcasts as a commentary to our interconnectedness. Part of the staging of the performance included the projection of quotes onto canvas banners from the song, “Hallo Bandoeng, hier Den Haag!” (1928), and the book “Memories of My Youth in the Dutch East Indies” by Elizabeth Van Kampen.

“Junkestra,” a piece directed by American composer and musician Nathaniel Stookey, premiered here first on the East Coast. The production was created from objects scavenged from Recology, a waste transfer facility in San Francisco. On stage, musicians, grooving, performed pipes, pans, mixing bowls, bottles, serving plates, deck railing, dresser drawers, oil drums, garbage cans, bathroom fixtures, and even a shopping cart. Stookey was at the helm directing from his computer while simultaneously playing an instrument.

Ethereal voices of the Choral Arts Society of Washington and drumming performance by Sō Percussion, as well as Isabel Gleicher (flute and piccolo), and Michael Hey (organ), rounded out the show. Contemporary composer and electronic artist, Scott Hansen, AKA Tycho, closed up the evening with a new set of music.

Mason Bates serves as the first composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center and was recently awarded the 2018 Composer of the Year by Musical America. Legendary conductors such as Riccardo Muti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Leonard Slatkin have been strong advocates of Bates and his symphonic music with its unique integration of electronic sounds, classical, and opera.

Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox: California Mystics played on Sunday, March 11, 2018, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Atrium, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. DIRECT CURRENT runs from March 5 – 19 at the Kennedy Center and throughout Washington. For information on other Kennedy Center events, go online.