We came to chat music with Sofia Gubaidulina, and ended up with a physics lesson. Sofia is the Phyllis Wattis Composer in Residence with the SF Symphony, which means she's around to see her works performed by the orchestra, talk to audiences and well, chat with us.
Born in 1931 in the former USSR, we found it very comforting to think that a life spent under the hardships of Stalinist dictatorship could extinguish neither the enthusiasm for creating, nor the sparkle in her eyes.
The physics lesson part came about the piece being played tonight, at Davies: it's a symphonic piece, "The light of the End" and she was excited by her contrasting use of tempered vs natural tones. Quite giddy, actually. (All you need to know about tempered vs natural is here or here.) Gubaidulina's "The Light at the End" is built on this difference between the natural and the tempered systems. She had compared the transition from natural to tempered to paving a dirt road with asphalt: you get a smooth surface, but lose the feel of the earth.
We were curious, how does she write down the natural stuff, since the musical score uses a tempered system?