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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB’s Ensemble for Contemporary Music Arrives with ‘Strings Attached’

Pianist Petra Peršolja will demonstrate that the piano is also a stringed instrument in Wednesday’s Ensemble for Contemporary Music concert at UCSB. Click to view larger
Pianist Petra Peršolja will demonstrate that the piano is also a stringed instrument in Wednesday’s Ensemble for Contemporary Music concert at UCSB. (UCSB Department of Music photo)

UC Santa Barbara’s indispensable Ensemble for Contemporary Music (ECM), under director Jeremy Haladyna, starts its 2015-2016 season with a concert at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall on campus.

The program, which the ECM calls “Strings Attached,” is dedicated to the pleasure and education of “all who love the sounds of violin, viola, cello,” Haladyna said.

“It’s a program of five contemporary composers, from as many different nationalities, witnessing a great love for stringed instruments and what they can do,” he said. “The fun comes in seeing the difference in approach — and that is very real. Never fear: we tie all this up with a bow — several in fact, well-rosined.”

In some order or other, the pieces to be performed in this concert are a suite of movements from the set of 16 violin trios, Trio-Cosmos, by the Dutch composer, Henk Badings (1907-1987), played by two three-person teams of violinists; the last movement, “Allegramente rustico,” Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, Opus 20 (1948), performed by Sara Bashore and David Fickes (violins), Johann Velasquez (viola) and Kathryn Carlson (cello); the Sonata — A Game of 12 by the young Slovenian Aldo Kumar (born 1986), performed by pianist Petra Peršolja (the piano counting here as a stringed instrument); the fourth movement, “Allegro,” from Lou Harrison’s Piano Trio (1990), as interpreted by Velasquez (violin), Carlson (cello) and Haladyna (piano); and the Viola Sonata (2010) by the Bulgarian Emile Naoumoff (born 1962), played by Tianna Harjo (viola) and Haladyna (piano).

Since I have never heard any of this music — though I have heard other works by Badings, Ginastera and Harrison — I'm going to use Haladyna’s words to describe the composers involved.

About Badings: “A prolific composer who did much to advance the cause of musical development in Holland, as both composer and teacher. ... For a composer who authored some 1,000 works, including 15 symphonies, one would imagine violin trios to have counted for little: nothing could be less the case in these driving, engaging, fully ‘alive’ pieces of delectable chamber music. Into them Badings poured a great deal, and to these pieces, the student perfomers are passionate converts.”

About Kumar: “One of Slovenia’s leading ‘middle generation’ composers ... the Sonata — A Game of 12 is an ingenious play on what begins as only a rising chromatic scale, but that quickly erupts in a fractal way into very much more — though directionality maintains an important role to the very end.”

About Naoumoff: “He played his own piano concerto at age 10 (!) under the direction of Lord Yehudi Menuhin, and was Nadia Boulanger’s last real protégé. Her famous quote about him tells the story: ‘I do not have to teach Emile. I only have to peel the orange.’ Naoumoff’s Viola Sonata ... is nonetheless the work of Naoumoff’s maturity, having only just had its premiere in 2010. Its intriguing structure and basic melancholy work hand-in-hand, the one revealing the other in an uncanny way. In a single unbroken movement, the piece has the effect of a tone poem and a cinematic score all rolled into one, fitted to a scale appropriate to just two instruments only: viola and piano.”

I am assuming that, for now, Harrison and Ginastera are reasonably familiar figures to anyone likely to attend an ECM concert.

Tickets to the ECM concert are $10 for adults, $5 for non-UCSB students and free for UCSB students with ID.

— 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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