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10.08.08

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Phaedra

MUSIQUE CONCRETE: Santa Cruz's classical avant-gardists perform Jon Scoville's 'Hats' and other greatest hits from the past 30 years

'Hats' Off To New Music Works

Symphony Silicon Valley started its season with a nod to music written for movement

By Scott MacClelland


TO OPEN its 30th anniversary season, New Music Works, Santa Cruz's contemporary classical group, is "Stepping Out" with a program that revives a brace of its greatest hits. Jon Scoville's Hats was an NMW commission premiered at Watsonville's Mello Center as part of a Tandy Beal–choreographed and Pickle Family Circus–danced program in 1998. This piece gave the composer the opportunity to "shamelessly indulge my childhood love of polkas, marches, tangos and other circus and dance forms." Quartet by Timothy Bell, one of the NMW founding composers, hasn't been heard since its premiere in 1984; it calls for clarinet, viola, cello and piano. 

What can one expect from this evening of six works? According to an NMW advance piece, Hats and Cabrillo Festival favorite Christopher Rouse's Compline, of 1996, promise "dazzling ensemble repartee and the most infectious riffs this side of Tin Pan Alley." Music director Phil Collins calls the program a "synoptic of the season." He says that the Scoville and Rouse pieces are not likely to be found together on the same program "anywhere." Hats, he reminds those who heard it before, combines popular music elements and classical procedures "with integrity." It is scored for clarinet, saxophone, violin, cello, double bass, percussion and piano.

Collins portrays most of the Rouse as "everybody fireballing all over the place." When rehearsing it, the wrung-out musicians complained at how it could be called a prayer. (Compline is the last prayer of evening, before retiring.) By way of description, Collins says, "Most of the piece is rushing counterpoint and dramatic configurations with a melodic-rhythmic ostinato running through it." Citing Rouse's "industrious" use of materials, Collins characterizes the composer as predictably "there for the fight; he makes me visualize 19th-century boxers duking it out." Yet, in its closing pages, it slows down and, with the harp joining the flute, clarinet and string quartet, floats into "extended chorales."

Favorite local mezzo-soprano Michelle Rivard will be on board for two works: Morton Feldman's Only, of 1947, and Bernard Rands' Ballad 2, of 1974. The Feldman, for unaccompanied voice, is an early work that Collins characterizes as a "very sensuous, tonal setting of a Rilke poem, almost a jazz ballad," and references popular music, which is not what one usually expects from the composer. The Rands is a "minitheater" piece, calling for lighting, choreography and plenty of absurdism, "like Brahms lieder in a lounge act." At one point, Rivard will be seen to "recline," he says vaguely. Violinist Rebecca Jackson (founder of Music in May) joins the program's only composer-in-residence, Susan Alexander, who will play her own "otherworldly" Eikos on synthesizer. The violin part urges its player to improvise. 

Although the eleven-piece NMW Ensemble was formalized in 1997 as the organization's resident performance group, their concert series has regularly featured guest artists and ensembles of acclaim from throughout the United States and abroad. Before and after Collins became official music director (in 1982), he followed a lonely road during many of those early years. Today, NMW enjoys respect and strong community support that vindicates all those near-death experiences. The list of NMW commissions and U.S. and world premieres is staggering.

The fact is, Phil Collins is a local treasure. Actually, better to call him a treasurer whose New Music Works has opened more boxes of new "nuggets" locally than any other music producing institution by far. Composing, which is what inspired him three decades ago, must sometimes feel like an afterthought. And then there's the regular schedule of teaching—currently Performing Arts Attendance Appreciation at Cabrillo College, and Ethnic Music in the U.S. and guitar at Hartnell College—including a stable of private composition students. Not surprisingly, there remains a certain chaos in the man who, to our great benefit, continues to fireball all over the place. Despite all the loose ends to chase and unexpected disasters that occasionally blow up, Collins admits he feels pretty good about where NMW is today.


  NEW MUSIC WORKS performs STEPPING OUT on Friday (Oct. 10) at 730pm at UCSC Music Center Recital Hall, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10–$20. (831.459.2159)


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