Directed by Jeremy Haladyna, UCSB’s Ensemble for Contemporary Music (ECM) is known for its unconventional repertoire choices and daring performances. The ensemble will present its annual winter concert, entitled "The Ubiquitous Gesture: an evening of music articulated through signs, patterns, and signals," on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, at 4 pm in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall on the UCSB campus. The program will feature works by John Corigliano (featuring concerto soloist Sara Bashore), Meyer Kupferman, Marcel Mihalovici, Michael Colgrass, Arthur Honegger, Ursula Mamlok, Mauricio Kagel, Olivier Messiaen, Jean-Michel Damase, and André Jolivet.
UCSB’s ECM and “THE UBIQUITOUS GESTURE”
By Jeremy Haladyna (Director)
ECM, the probing, investigative new music ensemble at UCSB, returns to action Wednesday March 8th with a look at gesture in music. “The Ubiquitous Gesture” presents nine wide-ranging selections with the accent on wordless, musical communication. It’s a matinee concert, unfolding at 4 p.m. and one that is free to UCSB students with a valid ID. The venue is the comfortable Lotte Lehmann Hall at the Music Department.
“As the concert material began to gel, 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,” said ECM Director Jeremy Haladyna. “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!”
American composers on the program range from those in a neo-tonal style, such as John Corigliano, through to the high-modernist miniatures of Ursula Mamlok. Along the way Meyer Kupferman offers a work for alto sax alone, inspired by newer jazz.
European contributions range from an early duo by Messiaen, to a late duo by the Romanian Mihalovici, with the aforementioned Kagel work pairing trombone with organ. And there are three French contributions for trumpet and/or cornet, all with piano, by Honegger, Damase, and Jolivet.
An adopted Canadian rounds out the show: it’s a newer piece by Michael Colgrass based on that country’s Inuit traditions. Graduate flutist Cynthia Vong tackles this tour de force of interpretive gesture, which sees her literally transforming into a crazed shaman both paranoid and violent. The end of the piece makes the gesture of his death rattle, even as an appalled Anglo observer witnesses all.
No less gestural is John Corigliano’s concerto, 'The Red Violin,' based on his film score of the same name. Here 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. Sara Bashore is featured in an abridged performance suitable for the ECM format.
Kathryn Carlson steps out on cello with a beautiful, yet virtually unknown miniature by the Romanian Marcel Mihalovici, who died in 1985. 'Canto notturno,' or 'Night Song,' was his contribution to an anthology of new music for the instrument. 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.
The modernist tongue spoken by Ursula Mamlok is put to service in what would normally be a humorous vein, with her 'Five Bagatelles' for compatible trio of clarinet, violin and cello. The chattering, often imitative dialogue of the trio is full of playfulness in these five abbreviated panels. 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. Featured clarinetist is Hiroko Sugawara, joining violinist Sara Bashore and cellist Kathryn Carlson.
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. ECM’s young saxophonist Brian Leal offers the first of his 'Symphonic Jazz Etudes' for sax alone, from the year 1982. This beautifully plastic movement is rich with cues drawn from the blues.
The Lehmann hall pipe organ will be opened briefly to service Mauricio Kagel’s strange work, 'General Bass,' 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.
The French contingent we have saved for last: Messiaen’s 1932 '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. David Fickes is violin soloist.
Much lighter in tone are all three trumpet/cornet solos, which 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 in the competent hands of trumpeter David Nakazono. 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. David Nakazono delights with the cornet as per the composer’s intentions here.
THE UBIQUITOUS GESTURE offers a colorful, comprehensible, and international tour of recent music that is communicative without words.