New music in Berkeley: Leaping into unexpected realms

Caption: Cal Performances and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present Project TenFourteen, a series of four concerts featuring world premieres commissioned from 10 different composers. Credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
Cal Performances and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present Project TenFourteen, a series of four concerts featuring world premieres commissioned from 10 different composers. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Contemporary Music Players

There’s something irresistible about experiencing a composition at its premiere, about the possibility of witnessing an imaginative leap into unexpected musical realms. On Friday, East Bay trumpeter Ian Carey reprises his new work Interview Music: A Suite for Quintet + 1 at the Hillside Club, where he’ll be recording the suite with his talent-laden ensemble. And on Sunday, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) launch Project TenFourteen at Hertz Hall, an unprecedented season-long collaboration with Cal Performances featuring 10 newly commissioned works premiering over the course of four concerts.

Sunday’s inaugural program looks auspicious indeed, with Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s commission “Corpórea” for an orchestral nonet with a balance of strings and winds, and Elena Ruehr’s “It’s About Time” for a string oriented sextet. The program’s defining presence is 85-year-old éminence grise George Crumb, who’s represented by three works, including two premieres. The latest of his many settings of poetry by Federico García Lorca, “The Yellow Moon of Andalusia” features mezzo soprano Tony Arnold, Kate Campbell on amplified piano, and percussionists William Winant and Nick Woodbury, while “Yesteryear” is a radically reworked piece for Arnold and pianist Kate Campbell.

“We have a long association with George Crumb,” says percussionist Steven Schick, the artistic director and conductor of the SFCMP. “He was commissioned to write one piece and ended up delivering three. Who says no to George Crumb? We’re doing these two pieces with the first program and bookending Project TenFourteen with his third piece on the last concert, March 29. It’s a percussion quintet, his first piece he’s ever written for percussion ensemble. You can imagine how I felt as a percussionist coming home one day and finding the manuscript for the only Crumb piece for percussion alone.”

Project TenFourteen isn’t just about premieres. Each program is interspersed with modern touchstones. Sunday’s concert includes Crumb’s 1962 masterpiece Five Pieces for Piano, and Georges Aperghis’s Récitations 9 and 10 for solo voice, which will also be sung by Arnold. Each TenFourteen concert kicks off with a pre-performance talk (free to ticket holders) with Schick, who will be joined Sunday by Ortiz and Ruehr.


The scope of TenFourteen is the latest sign that Schick’s arrival at SFCMP about five years ago has vastly expanded the scope and vision of the nation’s second oldest new-music ensemble. Taking over as artistic director at the start of the organization’s fifth decade, he’s worked assiduously to bring new music into new venues while seeking to partner with other arts organizations.

TenFourteen came together as an initiative of the Jebediah Foundation in partnership with Cal Performances (and is dedicated to the late Boston composer Lee Hyla, who died in June). Schick, who also serves as music director for the 2015 Ojai Music Festival, which returns to Cal on June 18-20, credits Cal Performances’ Matias Tarnopolsky for bringing the ensemble to Berkeley for the first time.

“They invited us into their house,” Schick says. “San Francisco is just too small to have balkanized relationships between people trying to do the same thing.”

Collaboration is also at the heart of Ian Carey’s music. A poised improviser with a lustrous tone and vivid melodic imagination, he has recorded a series of brilliantly conceived albums. His latest project is a four-part suite that premiered in September at the California Jazz Conservatory. Written with the support of a grant from San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, the hour-long suite features his impeccable sextet with Kasey Knudsen on alto sax, Sheldon Brown on bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute, bassist Fred Randolph, pianist Adam Shulman, and drummer Jon Arkin.

The title is a typically Careyian meta-commentary on the state of jazz, where the proclivities of funders have led many musicians to chase grants and fellowships with ever more high-concept projects. He borrowed the term “interview music,” from the late piano master Mulgrew Miller, who noted that “more and more funding for jazz pieces was coming from grants and grant committees that favored a particular kind of thing,” Carey says. “Musicians were adapting too, writing music about historical figures, visual artists, poets, mathematical formulas, all about the idea behind it, rather than the music itself.

“I had been guilty of that, applying for things and racking my brain for some concept that would get their attention,” Carey continues. “It’s always depressing. I should be saying ‘This is my music and I want to write more music for my band.’ I’ve been playing with these guys for 10 years, and I wanted to challenge myself to write a longer cohesive piece that’s about whatever it turns out to be, maybe nothing.”

Having heard three of suite’s four parts, I think it’s clear that Carey doesn’t need to hang a composition on an extra-musical source.

Don’t miss: Sherie Julianne at the California Jazz Conservatory

Sherie JulianneMarin vocalist Sherie Julianne celebrates the release of her lovely new CD 10 Degrees South at the California Jazz Conservatory on Saturday. Enamored with Brazilian music, she studied for years at the Jazzschool with pianist/composer Marcos Silva, and eventually graduated from student to peer. Working closely with Silva, she’s honed a verdant repertoire filled with songs rarely covered by American artists (by the likes of Dori Caymmi, Chico Pinheiro, Joao Donato, Sergio Mendes, and Silva himself). Her stellar band features Silva, bassist Scott Thompson, drummer Phil Thompson, and Zach Pitt-Smith on flute and saxophone.

Andrew Gilbert writes for Berkeleyside, the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.

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