Richard Marriott was across the world, in Bali, when the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland caught on fire, killing 36 people. But it still felt very, very close to home for the San Francisco composer and Club Foot Orchestra founder. Marriott spent years living in the Mission District warehouse 18 Sycamore, sharing space with groups like the Residents and Tuxedomoon, and says he knows all too well the "certain element of danger" in the artist's pursuit.
"It could have been us at 18 Sycamore," Marriott says of the Ghost Ship fire. "It's really just kind of an open wound. You're a young artist involved in experimentation, discovery, freedom, and the vast reaches of your mind, and just to have this... it's devastating."
Ghost Ship Concerto, premiering Nov. 16 with the Oakland Symphony, is Marriott's way of helping process that devastation. His composition, 24 minutes long across three movements, includes musical representations of freedom, travel, oscillators, romance, EDM music, and sailing. A French Horn duet evokes living harmoniously; a barrage of percussion represents the fire itself; a solo cello with strings provides the piece's final elegy.
Classical music may appear to be miles apart, stylistically, from the underground electronic music that's a staple at warehouse spaces. But the project was so personal for Marriott that he studied the music performed at the Ghost Ship warehouse, and replicated it in motifs for the concerto—transforming the kinship he shared with those in the Ghost Ship fire into a musical one.
All told, the piece is designed to provide reflection, inspiration, and healing for the fire, the aftereffects of which still linger nearly two years later—and not just in Oakland, either. Marriott is quick to note that all around the world, creative people saw themselves in the Ghost Ship artists, having shared the same early experience of struggle no matter their practice or genre.
"Most classical composers, even those with big commissions, are not far from that experience of living off the grid. Most of them know this life," he says. "And you can leave that type of life, but it leaves its mark. Artists keep coming back to it. It never leaves."
'Requiem for Ghost Ship' includes Marriott's 'Ghost Ship Concerto,' Leonard Bernstein's 'Take Care of This House' and Johannes Brahms' 'Ein Deutsches Requiem' on Friday, Nov. 16, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Details here.