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Gerald Carpenter: ECM Concert Issues ‘Une Invitation Au Voyage’

Like to visit Paris and Barcelona, not to mention Mexico, without leaving your chair?

That is the chance UCSB's Ensemble for Contemporary Music (ECM), under the always inspirational guidance of Jeremy Haladyna, is offering to those who attend their Fall Quartet concert at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall at UCSB.

The concert, called Paris, Passports, and Passages, celebrates the role Paris has played in the formation of modern music — part of the city's overall pivotal role as a condenser of art, which led the writer Walter Benjamin to dub it, in a famous essay, Paris, the Capitol of the Nineteenth Century.

For the most part, the composers are either themselves Parisian, or for whom a sojourn in the City of Light proved decisive in the evolution of their art.

That doesn't cover all the bases, of course, and, aside from Jeremy's homage to Catalonia, a two-work Barcelona fest, there is at least one composer on the schedule whose life and career have been entirely North American (though, the work in question was composed on a voyage).

The program consists of:

» Two pieces by Albert Roussel: "Divertissement for Piano & Wind Quintet, Opus 6 (1906)" (played by Jarod Fedele, piano; ECM Winds) and his "Aria for Oboe and Piano (1928)" (Lexie Callaway-Cole, oboe).

» Sydney Hodkinson's "Sojournen for Viola Solo (2003)" (Matthew David Owensby, viola).

» Mario Lavista's "Quaderno de Viaje for Viola Solo (1989)" (Matthew David Owensby, viola).

» Three works by Henri Dutilleux: "Sonatine for Flute and Piano (1943)" (Cynthia Vong, flute; Marie-Agathe Charpagne, piano); the song "San Francisco NIght" (Kelly Newberry, voice Marie-Agathe Charpagne, piano); and the "Choral et Variations" from his "Piano Sonata (1949)" ( (Marie-Agathe Charpagne, piano).

» Extracts from Ned Rorem's "Picnic on the Marne for Saxophone and Piano (1983)" (Brian Leal, saxophone, Jarod Fedele and Evan Losoya, piano).

» Federico Mompou's "El Pont" for Cello and Piano (1947)" (Kathryn Carlson, cello; Jeremy Haladyna, piano).

» Joan Guinjoan's "Duo for Violin and Piano (1970)" (Sara Bashore, violin; Jeremy Haladyna, piano).

At this point, in previous ECM previews, I have generally handed the mic over to Jeremy, who knows so much more about his choices than I ever will, and I will do so this time, too, but first, I have a few brief thoughts about this wonderful program.

Albert Charles Paul Marie Roussel (1869-1937) was in every way an exception to any rule you can think of about French musicians.

He was sympathetic to the impressionists, and is sometimes identified as one of them, yet his own music is invariably clear and precise — always vigorous, never fey or coy.

Like Rimsky-Korsakov, Roussel had a considerable career as a naval officer before settling in Paris to pursue a musical career. That is, he often saw the land from the deck of a moving ship, whereas Debussy would have always seen the sea from a stationary position on the shore (no doubt a beach in Normandy).

The remarkable thing about Roussel's works is their energy. It is not nervous energy, either, as Stravinsky's often is, but the energy of strength and confidence.

Roussel seldom uses dissonance for its own sake, but when he does use it, he doesn't sneak it in; he is deliberately disruptive, though order is soon restored.

The "Divertissement," which has his energy in abundance, also has enough variety in its six-plus minute running time to make it virtually a Roussel sampler.

The "Aria" is a surprise, even among the diverse productions of the always surprising Roussel. It is brief, yet leisurely; lyrical and emotional, yet unsentimental.

Before I read Jeremy's remarks on the piece by Ned Rorem (born 1923), I copied the title and went looking for it on YouTube.

After I had listened to several sections of it, I found it an uncanny evocation of the kind of progressive jazz one might hear in some Left Bank bistro in the 1950s (played by black American musicians who preferred the minor inconveniences of expatriate life in Paris, where they were lionized, to the major hassles of a segregated U.S., where they were often arrested).

When I looked up the composition and found it was written in 1983, I was taken aback, apparently off by three decades.

Then, I read Jeremy's introduction and was reassured to learn that it was a memory piece, reconstructing the sounds of Paris 1950-55, when Rorem was studying there and breaking every heart in sight.

If I hadn't known it was a written composition, I would have sworn it was jazz. Of all the great music on this program, I find Rorem's work to be the most amazing.

As for the rest of the concert, Jeremy says it "features French, American and Catalonian selections in a way that seems to shrink the celebrated 'pond' that so often separates two continents."

A search for connective tissue has turned up the perfect pairings in each of these domains, such that everyone in attendance on Nov. 29 is in for a treat.

"A good example is the connection between Henri Dutilleux, the celebrated modernist-era composer who died in 2013, and Albert Roussel, whose demise in 1937 came two generations earlier.

"Yet Dutilleux himself saw the clear connection between his own esthetic and Roussel's, and admitted it under questioning.

"The initial post-impressionist leanings of both, and the more classical thinking to which they were both drawn in later life, draw an interesting parallel. ...

"From the more recent master comes the monumental 'Choral et variations' from Dutilleux's integrated 'Piano Sonata (1949),' ... a whirlwind tour of variation form, which covers expanded tonality in the aftermath of Ravel's 'Gaspard de la Nuit,' and within earshot of Messiaen's already personalized modal style of the late 1940s.

"This piano classic is supplemented by the short song, 'San Francisco Night (1964),' set to a French text by Paul Gilson. Never was an art song more adept at capturing San Francisco's foggy nighttime ambience than here.

"A third item by Dutilleux rings far more familiar, as the 'Sonatine' has enjoyed special status as a staple of the flute/piano repertory for decades now."

In discussing what he calls the "special module in support of a free Catalonia," Jeremy ("Never a musical globalist"), declines to sort out the pros and cons of the separatist movement now disturbing the order in post-Franco Spain, but summons memory to his aid, recalling "a visit to Barcelona fondly, as well as the visit to UCSB of Catalán composer Joan Guinjoan.

His remarkable duo for violin and piano is altogether modern without a touch of acerbity. This is Guinjoan's special gift: to write post-tonal music which is actually seductive in its allure.

As to "the other half of this Free Catalonia pairing: It is the cello and piano duo, 'El Pont,' dated 1947, of Federico Mompou.  [Note the closeness in time to the anchoring work of Dutilleux.]

"The language in this short work is full-blown Romantic at times, and downright daringly modern at others, such as when the piano accompanies angular arpeggios in the cello with entire hexachords (six-note complexes).

The hermetic Mompou lived to age 94, passing away in 1987, and is remembered chiefly for piano solos, so this opportunity to hear his chamber music is a rare treat."

The other two works in this ECM concert have a somewhat tangential connection to the program's theme.

"The first, 'Quaderno de Viaje,' is a travel notebook by the Mexican composer Mario Lavista, who in the 1960s was himself a student in (where else but?) Paris, at the same institution where Roussel once taught.

"This startling piece is executed entirely in harmonic sounds for the viola. That means the whole piece eschews normal playing in favor of the overtones capable on the instrument's (largely) open strings.

"A magically soft, eerily transparent landscape is the result. 'Sojournen,' by the Canadian expat Sydney Hodkinson, is more traditional in execution, as well as in developmental outlook.

"Here a progressively modulating musical shape affords unity to panels in vastly different tempi and moods.

"The travel connection? This now-retired Eastman School of Music professor wrote it on a Caribbean cruise, finishing it on the island of St. Barts."

Tickets to Paris, Passports, and Passages are $10 general admission, $5 for non-UCSB students with ID, and free to UCSB students with ID and children under 12.

Tickets may be purchased at the door, at the Associated Students Ticket Office window (UCEN Room 1535, across from Corwin Pavilion), by calling the Associated Students Ticket Office, 893-2064 or online at music.ucsb.edu/news/purchase-tickets.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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