Empyrean Ensemble to present new music with ‘Around the World’ theme

By From page A13 | January 23, 2014

Music from composers who were born in Sweden, New Zealand, Italy and Argentina. And compositions with titles like “dirty pixels,” “Verticalities and Indifferences” and “Cracks and Corrosion.”

That’s the theme for a concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, by the Empyrean Ensemble, the professional new music group based at UC Davis. The concert will be in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center.

Composer Michael Norris of Wellington, New Zealand, wrote “dirty pixels,” a trio for violin, cello and piano. In his program note, Norris (b. 1973) said he was moved to create this music after visiting a display of contemporary art from New Zealand that featured works with “a certain rough-hewn, gritty nature,” and then hearing a piece of music by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952) that was “an unremittingly wild and preposterous discourse of extremes.”

Norris writes that these influences spurred his interest in “the characteristics of roughness and raggedness, and how a ‘pure’ conceptual scheme … became ‘dirtied’ by intution … and by the reality of having (the music) performed.”

Also on the program is the Piano Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano by German-Argentine composer Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008). Kagel led a truly international life: His Jewish family left Russian in 1920, and he was born in Buenos Aires. Kagel grew up to become a scholar, and moved to the German city of Cologne in 1957, where he lived for most of the rest of his life.

Kagel also came to the United States and taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1964-65 (a time when composer Lukas Foss was music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the city was noted for performances of ambitious new music). This trio was completed by Kagel in 2001, when he was 70.

“Cracks and Corrosion II” is a piece for guitar and electronics by Swedish-born composer Örjan Sandred, a music professor in the Canadian province of Manitoba. Sandred (b. 1964) writes in his program note that “the piece is based on the interaction between a guitarist and a computer. The computer creates an extended memory of what the guitarist plays, it uses fragments of the peformance to build responses and accompaniments.”

The program also includes two quintets (for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) that will be conducted by Matilda Hofman. “Ballata” is a piece from 2011 by Italian composer Filippo Perocco (b. 1972), incorporating “special mutes and resonators for winds and strings to produce a sort of buzz sound in the ensemble.”

The other quintet — which will be receiving its premiere — is “Verticalities and Indifferences” by Argentine composer and guitarist Ezequiel Menalled, who studied guitar in New York with John Abercrombie and others, and has lived in the Netherlands since 2002.

Conductor Matilda Hofman said ” ‘Ballata,’ by the Italian composer Filippo Perocco, and ‘Verticalities and Indifferences’ by Argentine composer Ezequiel Menhalled are both works which use a wide range of unusual colors. ‘Ballata’ also uses a harmonica, as well as the more typical Empyrean ensemble instruments.The intensity of the beginning gradually gives way to a meditative variation on a very ancient melody. ‘Verticalities and Indifferences’ explores the boundary between sound and silence.”

The 7 p.m. concert will be preceded by a 6:15 p.m. talk featuring Empyrean Ensemble co-director and composer Mika Pelo, speaking with visiting composers Ezequiel Menalled and Örjan Sandred. These pre-concert talks always illuminate the music to be heard during the concert that follows.

Tickets are $20 general, $8 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.

Jeff Hudson

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