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Empyrean Ensemble showcases new music from the British Isles on Saturday

Matilda Hofman will conduct the Empyrean Ensemble on Saturday, Nov. 17, in Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at Mondavi. Courtesy photo

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From page A11 | November 16, 2012 | Leave Comment

Check it out

What: Empyrean Ensemble performs music from Britain

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, with a pre-performance talk at 6:15 p.m.

Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

Tickets: $20 general, $10 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 754-2787

A rainbow, a riot and a lullaby. These are among the components of Saturday night’s concert by the Empyrean Ensemble, the resident professional new music group at UC Davis.

“This concert tries to provide a miniature panorama of music from Britain, providing both a wide variety of styles and a sense of continuity,” said conductor Matilda Hofman, who is British. “Contemporary music becomes ‘dated’ quickly, and music written 20 or 30 years ago can easily be forgotten.” So this program will examine some of works from that timeframe.

“Robert Saxton’s ‘Sentinel of the Rainbow’ was written in 1984,” Hofman said. The title refers to the Teutonic god Heimdal, who guards the bridge that leads between the dwelling place of the gods and the realm of men. Heimdal carries a trumpet (which can be heard around the Earth) and so the music puts an emphasis on high, bright sounds.

Another piece, Jonathan Harvey’s “The Riot,” was composed in 1993. According to the composer’s notes, “the game is to throw around themes which retain their identity sufficiently to bounce off eachother sharply … each theme belongs to a distinctive harmonic field. From time to time, energy runs out and a mechanical repetition of an element takes over, dying away like an electronic ‘delay.’ ”

Other pieces are by younger composers, like “Equilibrium” by Stuart Macrae, born 1976. “Equilibrium” is a sort of mini viola concerto that will feature Empyrean’s Ellen Ruth Rose as soloist. According to the composer’s notes, “the piece destroys its material in various ways: through imitation, repetition, digression, deconstruction, delayed resolution, distortion and negation. This expressive identity of the viola’s opening material is constantly called into question and redefined.”

Another piece on the program is the “Lullaby” for cello and electronics by Elspeth Brooke, which mixes live cello notes with electronic processing to create “granulated” echoes.

Hofman noted that the composers on the program also represent some geographic diversity within Great Britain: “Macrea comes from Scotland, Naomi Pinnock (whose string quartet is on the program) is from Yorkshire, Honathan Harvey is from Birmingham.”

Mika Pelo, co-director of the Empyrean Ensemble, said, “The U.K. has always been an interesting place for new music in Europe. It’s literally on the side of the French-German historical struggle on the question of what new music should sound like — the French with their sensualism and hedonism, as opposed the Germans with their more systematic and philosophical approach. The British have been able to cherry-pick the best ideas. And our conductor Matilda Hofman has done a great job curating this program.”

Musicians taking part will include Mary Artmann (cello), Hrabba Atladottir and Benjamin Krieth (violin), Tod Brody (flute), Chris Froh (percussion), Peter Josheff (clarinet), Michael Seth Orland (piano) and Ellen Ruth Rose (viola).

The performance will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre. A pre-performance talk is planned for 6:15 p.m., and is highly recommended given the unfamiliar nature of the music.

Tickets are $20 general, $10 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.

 

 

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