Tag Archives: Reviews

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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Weaving the Backstory with Sunny Yang

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Sunny Yang:   Color is Everything

Last Friday, in UCSB’s Geiringer Hall, fans of music, new and old alike, were treated to a master class featuring Sunny Yang, cellist of the Kronos Quartet,  On the hotseat, our own music department’s Young Artist Piano Quartet playing Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor.

The Young Artist Piano Quartet is the graduate scholarship quartet in residence at UCSB, and the members are some of our best and brightest.  They include:

Leslie Cain – piano

Youjin Jung – violin

Jordan Warmath – viola

Larissa Fedoryka – cello

A master class is a wonderfully terrible experience. The performers strive to impress a luminary, all the while knowing that any peccadillo is going to be fair game for criticism and correction.  There’s almost a temptation to leave a breadcrumb trail of errors as a defense mechanism. At the same time, the audience is listening ever so carefully, waiting for problems and trying to pick out which aspect of the performance, which little failure the expert will select to discuss. No matter how hard you try, there is no perfection in a master class. Ever.

Sunny Yang is currently the cellist with the Kronos Quartet. She holds a Master of Music degree, earned at USC as a student of Ralph Kirshbaum.  Her first order of business was to put the quartet at ease with her embracing smile. Then she chose to focus on the variety of emotions the piece presents.  She asked pianist Leslie Cain to recall one of her sweetest emotions of childhood. Then she asked Larissa Fedoryka about what she was thinking and feeling.  Larissa took a moment and replied that she was trying to convey deep sadness. It was then that I realized how difficult it can be to name the emotions we bring to music.

I thought back to elementary school, and our fourth grade lesson on vivid verbs. Each student would try to outdo the next with a more specific word.  If Jack went to the store, Alissa walked, Danny trotted, Jace tumbled. When Miguel had juice, Jimmie drank, Natalie swigged, and Cody guzzled. I realized it’s like that with music.  What I had been thinking of as merely sad is really drizzled with poignancy or haunted with elusiveness, and happy becomes crystallized with joy, twinkling with tenderness, or cloying with sweetness.

Next, Ms. Yang talked talked about timing, and how each individual player must give time and take time from the others. Again and again she spoke about how to put “color” in the music at the cost of technical perfection. She asked Youjin Jung to play a pair of notes on alternating strings repeatedly.  A first tendency is to repeat the notes with equal pressure, equal bow angle, equal time. In reality, we can alternate those same notes in hundreds of different ways.

Ms. Yang complimented Jordan Warmath on her ability to communicate with the cellist and violinist, and discussed the difficulty of including the piano in the the circle.  She suggested that while dynamics must be appropriate to the emotion, they are also  one of an ensemble’s best ways to signal changes in mood, and that the piano, with its greater dynamic range, can share its dynamics to widen the circle.

What occurred to me as Ms. Yang spoke is that there are a very limited number of traditional fancy foreign words that composers have at their disposal, and that timing, dynamics, and mood can quickly become unreadable if the composer is extremely specific.  And suddenly I had the great revelation that we aren’t supposed to be technically perfect — that we, as artists are responsible for supplying the gradations that would have only cluttered up our manuscript.  The music is just the outline, we must bring our own story.

When I was little, my coach, Yi Huan Zhou, would tell me micro stories to match the music I was playing. In one, a little girl runs away from home and becomes afraid.  In another, the little girl fails her spelling test after staying up all night, then realizes that it isn’t very important at all.

I think we, as members of an ensemble must also create stories, not just images of joy or sorrow, but entire stories.  More importantly, we must share our stories with each other.

When the violinist chooses to interpret a phrase with anticipation, and the cellist, with trepidation, they should be very specific about the emotions they intend to convey, and discuss them by telling a tale.  Then the pianist won’t be inspired to jump in with enthusiasm, when cajoling is what’s called for, and the cellist will tiptoe rather than stomp in.  Color balancing color.

What I learn in this master class is that color is everything, and that without sharing the emotions we bring to a piece, we have only colored our own thread, we haven’t really woven a collective back story.  The colors of our story must entwine with the colors of others if we want to present the audience with a cohesive emotional understanding of our music.

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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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