When we first heard Terry Riley's "In C," our minds left us -- all those instruments, in all those minutes, all galloping after that C. We'd always known classical was inventive; we'd just never heard inventiveness so hypnotic, so direct, so rock 'n' roll. Riley became our classical point man to what we should be paying attention to. Today, we find we should be paying attention to Eva Soltes' film Lou Harrison: A World of Music, in part because Riley himself, at Tuesday's benefit screening, takes a seat behind the Castro Theatre's "mighty Wurlitzer" for a musical prelude to the film.
Take a moment with that -- Riley on a pipe organ. As for Harrison, he was an eclectic 20th century composer (he may have been the model for it, actually) who tasted early success in New York, then lit out for a remote cabin following a breakdown, where he began his groundbreaking compositions.
He threw everything into his work -- non-Western styles, found instruments, gamelan instruments, alternate tunings -- tempered by a surprising (for such a modern composer) lyricism. Soltes' film comes out of the Lou Harrison Documentary Project, which spent more than 20 years documenting the composer, creating more than 300 hours of performance and interview footage. According to the project's website, Harrison's innovation and mastery so moved Michael Tilson Thomas -- who's on hand Tuesday night -- that he commissioned the composition "Parade for M.T.T.," the "first piece of music Tilson Thomas conducted as music director of the San Francisco Symphony." Harrison was also an outspoken political activist for gay rights and environmental causes.
Lou Harrison: World of Music starts at 7 p.m. at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $25-$125.