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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB Ensemble for Contemporary Music Asks, ‘What Happens?’

Tuesday's program promises to be intriguing for the musically open-minded

The UCSB Ensemble for Contemporary Music, under the infallible direction of Jeremy Haladyna, will offer a concert called “What Happens?” — exploring how “contemporary music views the concept of narrative” — at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, in the UCSB Music Building.

The program illustrating this intriguing premise will consist of True Life Stories by British composer Mark Anthony Turnage, with pianist Bridget Hough; three Parables (VIII, XIII, & XIX) by the late American master Vincent Persichetti, played by faculty hornist Steve Gross (VIII), clarinetist Amanda Kritzberg (XIII) and pianist Jeremy Haladyna (XIX); Diary of an Alien by Margaret Brouwer, performed by graduate flutist Abigail Sten; Igor Silva’s Diálogos (2008), featuring Joel Hunt (soprano sax), with Anthony Paul Garcia (saxvibraphone), Federico Llach (bass) and Haladyna (piano); and the low key Whispers by Sebastian Currier, composed in 1996.

In his own music, and in the concerts he puts together for ECM, Haladyna has always displayed just the right amount of seriousness — never sinking to solemnity or clinging too intransigently to some theoretical fanaticism or other, yet avoiding the cynicism and frivolity of the shock-the-bourgeois wing of the avant garde. He believes heart and soul that music is a suitable occupation for an adult, but he is not pushing any party line.

The trouble is that many of those best equipped to enjoy an ECM concert — people who like music but have no pre-conceived notions of how it must sound — aren’t likely to take themselves to a “classical music” event, while traditional music lovers, if a grim sense of duty leads them to ECM, will often go simply to prove to their own satisfaction that no real music is being written anymore. Having already decided that what they will hear is junk, that is what they find it to be.

There is this difference between an ECM concert and a concert by a traditional ensemble that programs the occasional lone work of “modern” or “contemporary” music: spirit. After a famous pianist had given a mediocre performance in Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto for Piano, Violin, and 13 Winds and was about to play a concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven, he turned to us in the audience and made a joke that signaled his contempt for the Berg, which clearly baffled him as much as it did the audience.

The musicians of ECM love the music they play — there is no other reason to play it — and what’s more, they understand it. This love and understanding informs every note of their performances. Audiences are very sensitive to the feeling musicians have for the music they play, even if they can’t articulate it, and it is this feeling that makes an ECM concert a special event.

There is still the decision to buy a ticket. In D. A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, about Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, a group of musician-fans approach Dylan to tell him how many of his songs their band covers and to ask “How do we get people to listen?” Dylan shakes his head. “Man, it’s beyond me. It’s all I can do to write these songs and go out there and sing them. Getting people to listen is not in my power.”

I have now heard all the pieces on this program. Some of them I like, some I don’t, but I found all of them worth a listen. I could bombard you with the biographical details about the composers who wrote them, and I could try to describe the music as I heard it, but, as one of the greatest writers on music of our times, Robert Craft, noted again and again, words can’t give an accurate sense of music in performance. Besides, I don’t need to tell you how to listen.

Notwithstanding all the music-appreciation pedagogues, I believe that music you need to be trained to listen to is music that is a waste of time. If you’ve ever heard music playing somewhere, and could not rest until you found out where it was coming from and what it was, then you are just the kind of person that should head for Lotte Lehmann Hall on Tuesday evening.

Admission is $15 for the general public and $7 for students, with tickets sold at the door.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer.

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