From the dump to Symphony Hall
Nathaniel Stookey
David Weiss
San Francisco Youth Orchestra members
Catalog Number: 
new classical
new music
homemade instruments

San Francisco, CA

Release Date: 
Jul 27, 2010
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

It's probably safe to say that Nathaniel Stookey's Junkestra is the first composition created and premiered at a city dump to be subsequently programmed by a major American orchestra. But then Junkestra is not your average piece of garbage.

The work in three movements is performed using instruments Stookey created from objects scavenged from Recology's waste transfer facility in San Francisco: a sonorous collection of pipes, pans, mixing bowls, bottles, serving trays, deck railings, dresser drawers, oil drums, bike wheels, saws, garbage cans, bathroom fixtures, bird-cages and shopping carts. The result, says Stookey, is 'a richer palette of timbre and pitch than anything I could have foreseen or designed.' Junkestra was first presented in 2007 at a warehouse at the Recology facility. [See Youtube: Nathaniel Stookey's Junkestra]

Following multiple performances to capacity crowds, the work was moved to the thousand-seat Herbst Theater in downtown San Francisco where, as one blogger reported, 'the performance received a standing ovation from the sold-out audience, and when the composer offered to play the last movement as an encore, the audience cried out to play the whole piece again, which they then proceeded to do.' [sfciviccenter.blogspot.com].

The work has been presented many times since, limited only by the daunting task of transporting a stageful of garbage. In 2009, it was performed twelve times over two days as the featured work at the opening of the new California Academy of Sciences and Music Concourse in San Francisco. In 2010, the work had its San Francisco Symphony debut at Davies Symphony Hall, conducted by Donato Cabrera. The new recording is performed by members of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Shwartz, and featuring David Weiss on saw. It includes a dance remix.

Nathaniel Stookey, a native of San Francisco, CA, has collaborated with a remarkable range of artists, from The Mars Volta to the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 2006, the San Francisco Symphony premiered a new commissioned work, The Composer is Dead, with libretto by Lemony Snicket, which, according to BBC Radio 3's Norman Lebrecht, is the fifth most performed classical work of the 21st century. produced by Jack Vad performed by percussionists Brian Calhoon Katy LaFavre Miles Lassi Carl Peterson Greg Simonds Louis Siu Jacob Steuer conducted by Benjamin Schwartz and featuring David Weiss on saw


Stookey shows a fanciful, inventive side that exceeds mere technique and reveals him to be a highly imaginative and original talent...

- AllMusic Guide

"Junkestra," which is in three movements, is a surprisingly melodious concoction, ...sometimes reminiscent of Indonesian gamelan music, with episodes of jazz and minimalism spliced in.

- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

You'd have just cause to be skeptical of Nathaniel Stookey's Junkestra, a three-movement, 11-minute work performed on objects made from garbage found at a San Francisco waste transfer facility. But instruments don't make music, people do, and Stookey's short work for instruments created by him and his mother ... is a concise, rhythm-heavy work of considerable emotional scope. The second movement is especially lovely—a moody postindustrial gamelan.

- Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Enquirer

Delicate yet blunt, like a battle scene by Fabergé, Junkestra mines metal and glass trash for textures suggesting precious metals and uncut jewels. This gorgeous music will make you want to grab your drumsticks and dash to the dump.

- Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

It’s true: San Francisco’s garbage company has an artist-in-residence program. That’s how composer Nathaniel Stookey came to write “Junkestra,’’ a bright, bumptious, 15-minute opus for a percussion orchestra fashioned solely from recycled trash. The piece, all interlocking grooves and clanging asides, is easygoing and loose-limbed, a kind of rose-colored industrial jam. The almost unavoidable timbral echoes of gamelan or Harry Partch’s DIY modernism are subsumed into a pop-art surface — an affinity made explicit on this EP release with an added “dance mix’’ that only blunts the original’s charm in its translation into four-bar phrases. The best is the slow movement, with the inimitable sound of a musical saw (David Weiss) anchoring a keening, eerie landscape that’s equal parts ominous haze and retro, low-tech special effect. Stookey offers a diverting spin on throwaway culture.

- Matthew Guerrieri, Boston Globe

"Sulla scia dei vari Harry Partch, Lou Harrison e altri autori della West Coast, Nathaniel Stookey ha costruito la sua piccola orchestra di strumenti a percussione recuperando i materiali più disparati dalla spazzatura (‘junk’ significa per l’appunto ‘rottame’); e ha poi scritto una breve composizione (un quarto d’ora circa) per questo singolare organico, dal titolo Junkestra. Il risultato è quello che ci si può aspettare: sonorità da gamelan indonesiano, ritmi incalzanti in stile minimalista, echi jazz e pop, appeal immediato. Un gustoso assaggio della musica di Stookey, del quale si spera arriveranno nuove creazioni per la sua affascinante orchestra di rottami."

- Filippo Focosi, Kathodik

The instruments involved give out a sound halfway between a gamelan orchestra and some of the impromptu sounds I would get in my youth when I dragged my mother's pots and pans out of the kitchen and went to work. The sound is exotic, yet familiar in that way. [A]n important addition to the percussion repertory. A great listen!

- Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Music Review