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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB’s Ensemble for Contemporary Music Strikes ‘Poses’

Tuesday's program features works that call for the musicians to play roles as they perform

November’s final concert will be an offering by UCSB’s Ensemble for Contemporary Music at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, in the Music Building.

The program, directed by ECM maven Jeremy Haladyna, is called “Poses, Postures, Postulates,” and features works that call for the players to pose and play roles as they perform. Exactly how this translates into a memorable musical experience is something you can only find out for yourself — by going to the concert.

The works to be performed include Olivier Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir/The Blackbird (Olivia Neel on flute); Voicelessness: The Snow Has No Voice by young contemporary Austrian composer Beat Furrer (Joann Cho on piano); Kevin Volans’ Keeling Dances for Two Pianos (Cho and Haladyna on pianos); the premiere of a new work in Haladyna’s Mayan Cycle, Xunaan Balam /Jaguar Queen (soprano Allison Bernal); Composition of As and Gs by German-born British composer Alexander Goehr (Joel Hunt on soprano saxophone); Tilework (Rachel Galvin on viola) by the self-admitted “minimalist” — in fact, coiner of the term — Tom Johnson; an excerpt from the neo-romantic Duo Concertante (Soah Narm on violin and Claire Barbasch on viola) by Paul Chihara; and selections from Embers (Neel on flute and Reyes Gonzalez Valle on guitar) by Daniel Asia.

It probably won’t be a long program, and though the large number of composers involved suggests complexity, this is tempered by the fact that there will be so much solo work and never more than two players at once. Try though I might to keep abreast of what is current in music, I admit to being familiar — and that rather glancingly — with only three of the seven composers on the schedule: Messiaen, Johnson and, of course, Haladyna. It is particularly disconcerting to me that I should have overlooked Goehr, since his life and career touch my interests at so many points.

Now 78, Goehr is the son of Schönberg disciple and noted conductor Walter Goehr, six of whose recordings, made circa 1950 for the likes of the Concert Hall Society and Musical Masterpiece Society, are among the true prizes of my vinyl collection (Ludwig van Beethoven’s The Ruin of Athens; Claudio Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda; Sir Arthur Bliss’ Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and the complete George Frideric Handel opera Giulio Cesare).

It’s entirely appropriate for Goehr to share the program with Messiaen, since hearing his father conduct Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony was one of the pivotal events in his formative years; later, he studied for a year with Messiaen, in Paris, where he also formed an enduring friendship with Pierre Boulez.

According to the sources I have consulted, Goehr’s compositional style has evolved through several distinct phases — always, however, pursuing his own line, even when practicing something so dogmatic as Austrian serialism. He doesn’t pretend to compose ex nihilo, and he considers himself the heir of all western polyphony, at least as far back as Monteverdi, to whom he is devoted.

In the preface to one of his scores, he wrote: “The impression I aim to create is one of transparency: The listener should perceive, both in the successive and simultaneous dimensions of the score, the old beneath the new and the new arising from the old. We are to see a mythological and ancient action, interpreted by a 17th-century poet in a modern theater.”

None of what Goehr and I have said above will give you the slightest notion of what Goehr’s music sounds like, and nothing I might say about the others would help much either. In music, there is no getting around sitting and listening to it yourself in a venue where you can’t be distracted or joke around with your friends — somewhere such as Lehmann Hall.

Tickets to the ECM concert are $15 for the general public and $7 for students. They can be purchased at the door.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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