Category Archives: New Music

We Miss You Max

Reger, A Centenary Retrospective

Max Reger lived just half of a lifetime, but he produced at least three lifetimes worth of work in his 43 years.  On May 11, 2016 we celebrated the centenary of his death by sharing the magic of his life  with our cozy audience in  Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.

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Jeremy Haladyna, our tenacious advocate for newer music and champion of the UCSB Ensemble for Contemporary Music pushed ahead the quarterly ECM performance so that we could celebrate Max’ life on his very special anniversary.

The program focused on Reger’s chamber works — ECM is a chamber group, after all.  We were fortunate to have two special guest artists play with our ensemble, Hiroko Sugawara did a fabulous job of bookending the concert on clarinet, and Christina Esser, mezzo-soprano, sang a selection of Reger’s charming Simple Songs. The lyrics are the sweet and simple part -these are stories about home and family, kittens and mice, laid against some devilishly enticing melodies.  As a life-long fan of the hedgehog, I particularly enjoyed Der Igel, a warning to all to beware the Prickly-Coated One.  But like the kitten, I stray ahead!

The concert opened with our professor, Jeremy Haladyna, accompanying  Hiroko Sugara on the clarinet.  Hiroko is not just a member of ECM, she’s a member of the UCSB faculty, teaching Japanese in the East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies department.  I played clarinet for a few years in middle school band, so I have a little bit of appreciation for how amazing her playing is. She hides a great deal of breath control behind that lovely smile! The two played Reger’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in B-flat, I Moderato, op 107.

Dana Anex followed with a lovely solo, Prelude for Solo Viola, from Three Suites, op 131d, an excellent example of Reger’s foray into neoclassicism.  She was followed by Kathryn Carlson, cellist, playing Peter Sculthorpe ‘s Requiem( for Cello Alone). The two solo pieces were tremendously moving.  Haladyna chose to follow these solos with the Simple Songs, a wise move when your ushers don’t have tissue boxes to pass around for the tear-gathering.

I followed Simple Songs with a personal tribute to another “Max”.   Sir Peter Maxwell Davies passed away just two months ago on March 14th.  Davies was a composer and conductor, in fact, Master of the Queen’s Music from 2004 – 2014.  I played Dances from his opera, The Two Fiddlers. Davies passed away on his beloved Orkney Islands, an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland; my tribute piece is in the style of the Orkney Islands fiddlers. I really shouldn’t say “my” piece — I shared it with Petra Peršolja on piano.  According to my mom, we were very well received, but she always says that. I know that we did a decent job because we played right before a brief intermission, and when I peeked through the curtains, nobody was running for the exits!

When the curtain rose after intermission ( Ok, I lie, we don’t really use the lovely and mysterious red velvet curtain. ), Petra Peršolja and Zachary Olea played Arvo Pärt’s  Fratres I. I am looking forward to hearing them play more pieces like this together in the future. Zachary is a patient violinist and shows that he has a considerable understanding of what Pärt is trying to convey.  Petra is one of our DMA students, and she is a very charismatic performer.  She has the grace and ability to make everyone she performs with look as good as she does, even if that means holding back sometimes.

Our ECM classmate, Nick Mazuk, found a piece that he wanted desperately to play, and if nothing else works, desperation gets you everywhere with Professor Haladyna. So along with Dana Anex on viola, and Kathryn Carlson on cello, Nick  treated us to selections from  Vincent Persichetti’s Serenade No. 6, op. 44, including II. Barcarole, V. Intermezzo, and VII. Dance.  It’s always a delicate balance when you put a trombone between two stringed instruments in a modestly-sized concert hall, but I was quite impressed that the strings were able to hold their own, and that Nick was able to exercise his instrument’s dynamic range without blowing the other instruments off the stage. Any of our composition students who happened to be in the audience hopefully were able to learn something last night about how to mix’n’match strings and horns without breaking anything.

At last, we circled back to Reger. Kathryn Carlson and Professor Haladyna played the Sonata in A Minor for Cello and Piano ,Op.116, IV. Allegretto con Grazia. It was truly lovely.

Zachary Olea returned for a second Arvo Pärt piece, Für Alinathis time with Danica Neuhause.  I’ve included a link to the Wikipedia entry for the piece — I spent a little more time there trying to understand how the piece is put together. It’s my first recommended reading to you, my little audience, so go for it!  What really sent me hunting for explanations was the dynamic tension the two violinists were able to maintain. I’d heard the piece played before with a completely different interpretation. I should mention that Danica very patiently turned pages for our pianists, and it was nice to finally hear her play!

At last, Hiroko retook the stage with her clarinet to close our show with three movements from Reger’s Clarinet Quintet, Op. 146,  II. Vivace, III. Largo, IV. Poco Allegretto. Joining her were David Fickes, a talented junior transfer student we welcomed this year into our violin studio, and Zachary Olea (violin), Dana Anex (viola), Kathryn Carlson (cello), and Jeremy Haladyna, to conduct.

Have you ever watched your parking permit expire while you are trapped in a concert hall?  It’s usually a gut-wrenching experience waiting for the final three movements of a piece to finish, hoping that the campus ticketeers have not come for your car.  But honestly, I would have paid the price of a parking ticket happily just to keep listening to the quintet all night — it was that warm and comforting.

As things turned out, there was no ticket, my parents took me out to dinner, and I got a great night’s sleep, knowing that I had done my small part to make the Regar Year, 2016, a success.  To find out about other Reger Centenial Festival events go here and here.

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Salastina at St. Matthews: Clash of the Coaches

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April was a busy month.  I made several round trips to L.A. and back to attend family events that had been planned long ago. The highlight of my travels, though, was a visit to see a part of my musical family; two of my coaches playing together at St. Matthews in Pacific Palisades.  I studied with Yi Huan Zhao for several years, almost until the end of middle school, and I studied with Maia Jasper for more than two years in high school.  As teachers, they each had their unique styles.

Yi Huan did his best to slow me down as I raced through pieces without a thought to what the composer had sought to convey. He did this by infusing each piece with a wonderful story so that the action became real for me.  Yi Huan taught me how to read music.  I confess, I had been getting away with faking it for quite a while due to my great audio memory.  He taught me terminology and the positions, and when  I worked on student repertoire, and he made sure that I knew exactly why I was working on each piece.  I wanted to choose my own pieces,  and he explained that each piece taught a different thing.  Oh. It all seems so clear when you aren’t a little kid. My favorite thing about Yi Huan was that I got to play in a lot of recitals. And he had a baby.  That was exciting.

By the time Maia got me, I had a decent command of the fundamentals, but I was disorganized in my approach to practicing, and I was lazy about working on exercises. It was a difficult time for me because I was spending a lot of time at Colburn on the weekends playing in chamber groups and in orchestra, and my daily commute to my high school was more than an hour each way, so I was losing time on the road. I hardly had anytime to practice with all my AP classes and tests and visiting and applying to universities.  But during the little time that I had, Maia fit in two lessons a week to help me with my college audition pieces.  She wrote letters to the universities for me, which was really nice, and I know it was a  lot of extra work for her.

Yi Huan is the Concert Master of the Chamber Orchestra at St. Matthews in Pacific Palisades. The church has a thirty year tradition of supporting the arts. Maia and her musical partner Kevin Kumar have founded the Salastina Music Society much more recently. Their society focuses on education — no piece is left unexplained.  Their selections are often shorter than full concert length, which increases appeal to the younger, attention-challenged listener.  The Chamber Orchestra, on the other hand, is more traditional, and most of their subscribing audience has been listening to classical music a lot longer than I’ve been alive.  But there was no clash of cultures.  My graying parents attended the concert with me, and they were really happy to hear the more modern pieces that Salastina brings to the table. St. Matthews’ music director’s outreach to Salastina  was inspired — do not go gentle into that good night audience,  we have a wild ride on the Autobahn ahead!

Benedikt Brydern is a Los Angeles area composer with an amazing bio.  He has an extremely large body of work for someone so young, and one of its highlights is Autobahn, a crossover piece for two violins.  It’s a truly amazing work of art portraying the urban bustle and resulting angst that is so prevalent in our lives.  Much of Brydern’s portfolio comprises film scores, which often come bundled with their burden of constraints. But Autobahn screams I’m writing this for me!  Kevin and Maia played the piece to perfection.  It’s the second time that I’ve heard them play it. The first time (at the much larger Zipper Hall) it felt quite phrenetic.  They’ve let the piece ripen nicely — it was much less angular this time without losing any of it’s agitation.

All told, it was a wonderful night.  And yes. There were cookies.

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wildUp. wild. Up.

My Mom Went to wildUp, and all I got was a picture of brownies.

Just before you find yourself at the little crescent of Butterfly Beach in Montecito, you’ll see the lovely historic Music Academy of the West. The Academy sits on the former estate of John Percival Jefferson, and has an interesting history. At the heart of the estate is Hahn Hall, exquisitely remodeled in 2008 at a cost of 15.5 million dollars. Every seat is a perfect seat.

So one has to wonder what the hell a bunch of guys in jeans were doing in Hahn Hall making music and orange juice at the same time. When I write “guys”, I am using the gender-free Southern California definition, meaning some of the guys were gals. In fact, more gals than you can shake a stick at, as my dad would say. And my dad was there, so he should know. In fact, my mom was there too, and that’s why she’s actually writing this for me. Because I missed one of the best concerts of the year.

The nicest part of the entire adventure was that if you bought your tickets on line last week (before everyone who had been at Colburn’s Zipper Hall for the last wildUp adventure started talking), you didn’t have to wait in line at will call. If you just heard about wildUp this week, sadly you waited in a long-ass line for tickets. Hahn Hall was pretty full, and I don’t think they turned anybody away, and everyone who bought a ticket in advance showed up, so there were none of those unfortunate empty seats staring at the conductor. (er, JuiceMeister as he likes to be called now). Hahn Hall seats 350, and almost every seat was full. Let me tell you how it got that way.

The arriving audience was treated to wine and orange juice as we performed our usual pre-entry milling around. The grounds are lovely, even the restroom is lovely; but wandering guests were drawn back to the patio in front of the Hall as a lonely guitars called into the night. JuiceMeister Christopher Rountree would later comment that he was surprised that everyone stopped to listen. He’d expected the audience to treat it like background music. And we would have, had there been an open guitar case seeded with a handful of change and a fine green fiver. But we were at a concert, so we did what we dutiful audience members do. We watched, we listened.

Oboe

Eventually, some of us were poked into entering the hall and found musicians interspersed with the audience. So it was a dichotomous experience. Those who remained outside heard a differing introductory piece. The people around me were confused. Some of them were in hush mode, and others were like, “Hey! There’s a horn guy in my seat! Look Mildred, a horn guy!” Of course, there probably were no Mildreds because Mildred is an old people’s name, and the usual 100% antique audience typically found at classical music concerts had been about one-third body-snatched and replaced with twenty and thirty-somethings, including members of the Los Angeles music community, and the UCSB family. I sat next to a lovely woman who had come from Ventura with her daughter. My impression was that they had come to be in the beautiful Hahn Hall for the same reason I had: To pretend for just a few hours that they actually live there. (I might add here that I didn’t attend with my mother, and am terribly ashamed.)

At this point the concert really began, and due to the lack of program notes and a very poor memory, I have no idea what was played, or who played it. And that’s fine, when you realize I know absolutely nothing about music. (Remember that’s my mom)

But here is what I noticed:  WildUp is expert at exploiting dynamic tension.  And they trust the audience to bring interpretative skill and personal life story to their pieces. The concert was called Pulp, and as the concert drew to a close, Christopher Rountree explained Pulp in terms of a high fiber diet with a little Pulp Fiction thrown in. What you get out of the concert is a direct result of what you put in. And it’s ethereal because our base life story changes. You can’t listen to Pulp for the second time and bring first time experience to the table. It’s already been digested.

That’s the audience point of view, at any rate. At times, I thought I knew where the music was headed because I have experience-based expectations. Sometimes I was very surprised, yet often I was dead-on when I predicted to myself where the music would go.  But Wild-Up wants to break even that. To shake us, wake us, hurt us. That’s the Pulp Fiction part — the part where we are reminded again and again that we really need to pour ourselves a pretty orange pair of earplugs from the liter carafe that is being passed around because something very bad is going to happen to our ears before we leave. And we watch, and we wait for blood. Cinéma vérité and splattered OJ. This is the thing we call wildUp.

What wildUp learns from their experience is that an audience may not behave in exactly the way they expect. We’ve been trained. I was horrified when people laughed. I waited for the conductor to put his arms down before I dared clap. I wouldn’t accept that there was an intermission until the words were spoken. Those responses have and will evolve as I hear more and more avant-garde music of this caliber.

In closing, I absolutely have to mention a couple of issues:

  • I love harps, and I couldn’t hear the harp much of the time. The audience demanded more harps. At the end of the show, the entire audience stood up, stomped their feet and clapped their hands for a long, long time, obviously protesting that there was just the one harp. The JuiceMeister was force to bow again and again acceding to our wishes. In the future, there will be two harps,  his bows avow.

 

  • I think that the program would have benefited from a few more violinists. I say that because I (and by that, my mom means me) am a violinist, and I will work for brownies.

 

  • Finally, I really wish I had program notes because I heard the most amazing cello composition, and I have nothing to Google™.

Knock-Knock.
Who’s there?
Orange.
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn’t say apple?

I guess you had to be there. I was not.

WildUp

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