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Gerald Carpenter: ECM Makes ‘Gesture’ Toward Overlooked Masterpieces

Like a fresh wind blowing in from the future (and recent past), UCSB's Ensemble for Contemporary Music (ECM), under the imaginative direction of Jeremy Haladyna, has been tireless in carrying us along the byways and back roads of the music of our time.

Jeremy calls it an investigation; I call it a guided tour, or, better yet, a treasure hunt.

Their first concert of 2017, titled The Ubiquitous Gesture, takes place at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, in the laid-back attentiveness of Lotte Lehmann Hall at the UCSB Music Department.

I'll give you the program first, as I understand it, and then let Jeremy do the talking, as in his account of the genesis of the title:

"As the concert material began to gel," he recalls.

"I couldn’t help but notice how so much of the music, as it’s all instrumental, ties back to gestures, some time-honored, others new, and in one case, 'General Bass,' by Mauricio Kagel, we couldn’t perform the piece without a lot of signaling back and forth to each other."

The concert covers nine compositions, possibly in this order:

An abridged version of John Corigliano’s violin concerto "The Red Violin," based on his score for François Girard's haunting movie of the same name, with violinist Sara Bashore as soloist.

Ursula Mamlok's "Five Bagatelles for Clarinet, Violin and Cello (1991)" with Hiroko Sugawara, clarinet, Sara Bashore, violin, and Kathryn Carlson, cello.

Meyer Kupferman's "Étude for Solo Saxophone (1982)" played by Brian Leal.

A new work by Michael Colgrass, "Wild Riot of the Shaman's Dreams," with Cynthia Vong, flute.

Marcel Mihalovici's "Canto notturno/Night Song (1985)" with cellist Kathryn Carlson.

Mauricio Kagel's "General Bass (1971-1972)."

Olivier Messiaen’s "Thème et variations (1932)" with David Fickes, violin

Arthur Honegger’s "Intrada for C-Trumpet and Piano (1947);" André Jolivet’s "Air de bravoure for Trumpet and Piano (1952)" and Jean-Michel Damase's "Prologue for Trumpet and Piano (1985)."

The last three performed by trumpeter David Nakazono and pianist Jeremy Haladyna.

Of the Corigliano work, Jeremy says it is "a case of a concerto following a film into existence, not unlike what happened with Erich Korngold.

Some of the music in "The Red Violin" comes directly out of the film, such as that tied to doomed Anna, wife of the the violin builder, and the theme for Moritz, the modern violin antiquarian who discovers the instrument’s mystery.

Other music was added later to suitably lengthen the piece into a full-fledged concerto. The connection between the Ursula Mamlok trio and UCSB is somewhat more personal.

"The chattering, often imitative dialogue of the trio is full of playfulness in these five abbreviated panels," Haladyna said. "But sadly, it serves as a memorial to its composer, who died just at the end of ECM’s last season in May, 2016.

"In this performance we offer a high-spirited tribute. Mamlok was a long-time faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music who visited both UCSB and ECM.

"Meyer Kupferman, who died in 2003, was the perfect person to subsume the gestural language of jazz into the classics, which he did in numerous works, including a Jazz Symphony," Haladyna said.

"This beautifully plastic movement is rich with cues drawn from the blues."

The work by Canadian Michael Colgrass is based on Inuit traditions.

"Graduate flutist tackles this tour de force of interpretive gesture, which sees her literally transforming into a crazed shaman both paranoid and violent," Haladyna said.

"The end of the piece makes the gesture of his death rattle, even as an appalled Anglo observer witnesses all.

"Rumanian-born Marcel Mihalovici (1898-1985) spent most of his creative life in Paris, where he became good friends with Nobel-winning playwright Samuel Beckett and set a number of his works, including "Krapp's Last Tape."

"Canto notturno," or "Night Song," was Mihalovici's contribution to an anthology of new music for [the cello].

This prolific composer of over 150 scores could be an internationalist or, as here, could offer melodic cues (gestures) that trace back to the folk song of his native country."

Kagel’s "General Bass" brings the Lehmann Hall pipe organ briefly into the mix, "mixing music with a bit of theater."

"Two earnest and serious interpreters trade a bass line back and forth in an effort to share what — in the era of Bach and Handel — would only have been the property of one.

"The result is a unique timbral essay that can only unfold with the liberal use of physical signals — here done by trombonist Nick Mazuk and director/organist Haladyna.

Messiaen’s "Thème et variations" "was a wedding present for his first wife, violinist Claire Debos, a gift which he penned at age 24.

"Its five variations on an odd, compelling theme are highly varied but consistently rich in pitch texture, making liberal use of his beloved second mode of limited transposition (the octatonic scale).

"The grandiloquence of the last variation is the essence of the summation gesture in music."

The three trumpet/cornet solos are "scattered like bon-bons through the evening’s program. French-Swiss Arthur Honegger’s 'Intrada' is a staple of the trumpet’s repertoire and will be used, just as intended, as entrance music.

"André Jolivet’s 'Air de bravoure' is short and sassy, unusual for a composer given to a more mystical bent. And Jean-Michel 'Damase (1928-2013)' contributes the lyrical 'Prologue' that will serve (in a wry twist) as the program’s closer."

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

Tickets can 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 http://www4.ticketingcentral.com.

— 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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