UCSB Music faculty members will present works by composer Elena Ruehr, including two world premieres, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. Featured artists include violinists Ertan Torgul and Jonathan Moerschel, cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, and pianists Paul Berkowitz, Natasha Kislenko, and Robert Koenig.
The program will include “Lift” (solo cello), “Errinerung” (solo piano/world premiere) and “Red” (solo violin), as well as Ruehr’s “Viola Sonata” and “Piano Quartet” (world premiere). Ruehr will be in residence at UCSB Jan. 23-24, and will work with UCSB College of Creative Studies Composition students.
Ruehr, who teaches music theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is known for her lyrical and rhythmically vibrant compositions, which The New York Times has praised as “sumptuously scored and full of soaring melodies.”
A former Guggenheim Fellow and composer-in-residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Ruehr is known for her collaborations and projects with a number of today’s leading artists and ensembles, including the Cypress, Borromeo, Lark, and Shanghai string quartets.
Her collected works include compositions for chamber ensemble, orchestra, chorus, wind ensemble, instrumental solo, opera, dance, and silent film.
Ruehr has worked closely with UCSB assistant Professor Kloetzel, having received three commissions from Kloetzel’s former chamber ensemble, the Cypress String Quartet. Kloetzel also commissioned or premiered three other cello works by Ruehr: “Cloud Atlas” (concerto for cello and chamber orchestra), “Cello Sonata,” and a work for solo cello.
“It is special to have a close relationship with a composer and to have a front-row seat for the creative process,” said Kloetzel, who organized Ruehr’s residency and concert at UCSB. “Elena is a brilliant composer who writes lyrical music with a complex rhythmic framework. I love spending time in her world.”
The program will open with Kloetzel’s performance of “Lift” for solo cello. Written in 2013, the work was Ruehr’s first piece for solo cello, inspired by Nobel Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school pupil and education activist.
Next, Berkowitz, professor of piano at UCSB, will give the world premiere of Ruehr’s “Errinerung” (“Remembrance”) for solo piano. Reminiscent of Schubert’s writing, especially his “Piano Sonata in A Major D959,” “Errinerung” evokes “the dreamy sense of time that occurs while sleeping,” according to the composer’s program notes.
Violist Moerschel and pianist Kislenko will perform “Viola Sonata,” which received its world premiere in 2017 at the University of Toronto with violist Ethan Filner (formerly of the Cypress String Quartet) and pianist Jamie Parker.
Violinist Torgul will play Ruehr’s “Red” for solo violin, written in 2007 for violinist Cecily Ward, also a former member of the Cypress String Quartet.
The program will close with the world premiere performance of Ruehr’s Piano Quartet, presented by Torgul and Moerschel, cellist Kloetzel, and pianist Koenig.
Tickets: $10 general admission; $5 non-UCSB students; free for UCSB students and children under 12. Tickets are available at music.ucsb.edu/news/purchase-tickets or by calling 805-893-2064.
Ruehr, who was born in 1963 and grew up in Houghton, Mich., was taught the piano by her mother, and began composing as a child. She studied composition formally with William Bolcom at the University of Michigan and with Vincent Persichetti and Bernard Rands at Juilliard, where she earned her doctorate.
Her music reveals a variety of influences, particularly dance, which was a major preoccupation in her childhood, and jazz. As a performer, she also studied African drumming and was a member of the University of Michigan Gamelan.
Ruehr’s own work frequently is suffused with an organic sense of movement via sensual melodic lines, irregular but strongly pulsed rhythm and meter, and vibrant timbral combinations.
She has written a great deal of music for voice, including several stage works, and her instrumental melodies frequently evoke vocal music.
More broadly, Ruehr’s music is often inspired by natural processes and visual imagery. She has compared her approach to rhythm and meter to the fluid periodicity of waves, for example, or to the rhythms of breathing and walking.
“The idea is that the surface be simple, the structure complex,” Ruehr says of her music.
— Adriane Hill for UCSB Department of Music.