The UCSB Music Department is truly hitting the ground running in December, with concerts Tuesday and Wednesday for openers.

First the UCSB ECM (Ensemble for Contemporary Music) will hold its first concert of the year — school year, that is — at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. The event, called “Species: The Concert,” consists of a number of new compositions gathered around the theme of transformations — a nice word for mutations — from one species to another. How this will actually play out in musical terms is something we will only, to borrow an expression from the late, lamented Theodore Roethke, learn by going where we have to go. As the Music Department’s announcement somewhat whimsically and cryptically describes the program:

What would a penguin gain by being made human, as in Anatole France’s

What would a penguin gain by being made human, as in Anatole France’s Penguin Island?

“A horn turns Osprey and annoying Friar Bird, in music by Anthony Gilbert; the clarinet turns Man-Moth (Mothman?) in David Schober’s small hole at the top of the sky; and penguins are baptized by mistake and made human in (ECM) director Jeremy Haladyna’s ‘Penguin Island ballet.’”

The concert also includes a piece for viola and piano by the American, George Tsontakis; something by the Romanian-born French composer, Marcel Mihalovici; and Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Quartett for clarinet and string trio.”

I know nothing of Gilbert, Schober or Tsontakis. I consider Anatole France’s Penguin Island, the most delightfully brilliant deadpan satire published in the 20th century, and believe that Haladyna is just the man to turn it into a ballet. (A saintly abbot, 98 and nearly blind, lands on an island inhabited by penguins, mistakes them for humans, and baptizes them Christians. In order that His favorite holy man not be embarrassed, God turns the penguins into humans, and they move to France.) Mihalovici (1898-1985) was a close friend and collaborator of Samuel Beckett, if that tells you anything (it should). Penderecki, of course, is already an immortal and he is still breathing.

Tickets to the ECM concert are $15 general admission and $7 students, and will be available at the door.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday, meanwhile, also in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, the UCSB Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Rintoul, will play the Suite No. 1 of Edvard Grieg’s amazing incidental music for the poetic drama Peer Gynt by his fellow Norwegian, Henrik Ibsen; Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Moussorgsky’s colorful “Pictures at an Exhibition;” and, a special treat, the ever-popular “Concerto No. 1 in g-minor for Violin and Orchestra” by Max Bruch, with renowned UCSB faculty artist Yuval Yaron as soloist.

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and it is true often enough to be embedded as folk wisdom. But try to hear Peer Gynt as if for the first time, and you will be rewarded with a rare treat for your senses. Forget all the cheap exploitations of it once it entered Public Domain. It is a treasure.

The ticket situation is the same as for ECM: $15 general admission and $7 students, available at the door.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at