Ensemble for Contemporary Music (ECM)
At UCSB’s Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, Thursday, March
The tingly, mind-massaging sense of discovery one gets at
concerts by UCSB’s ECM is a double-edged sensation. On the plus
side, ECM, bravely and smartly led by director Jeremy Haladyna,
clearly fills a void. On the other hand, the rarity of such
contemporary music here — and its too-small audiences — imply
conservatism and fear of new music in a region otherwise rich in
These, of course, are just subsonic reflections: What matters
most is the music, and there was plenty worth admiring and
pondering at ECM’s concert last Thursday. Each year, the trick with
ECM is to play up the strengths of resident student musicians,
allowing for added variety of repertoire and contexts.
Last week’s concert, for instance, opened with Kelli
Johennesen’s performance of the solo horn piece “Interstellar
Call,” opening Olivier Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars
(heard in its full splendor at the Ojai Festival a few years back).
Student composer Ryan Andersen’s tonally (and microtonally)
challenging My Story opens with musicians (soprano Agatha Carubia,
flutist Shivhan Dohse, cellist Devin Burke, and pianist David
Shere) mock performing, in silence. This moment of Zen was not a
prank, but a fitting gesture for a setting of Carly Sachs’s
fragmented, poetic text, about the confusion and disembodiment of a
Faculty composer Kurt Rohde’s affecting Six Character Piece for
Viola and Piano gives deserved expressive equal time to the “lowly”
viola, played with focused skill by Sarah Carsman, alongside
pianists Humberto Almeida and Haladyna. For the token “accessible”
piece on the program, flutist Dohse charismatically performed Ian
Clarke’s Zoom Tube, leaning too close to the riff-based realm of
Ian Anderson and Herbie Mann for comfort.
This evening’s ensemble piece was 1978’s Amarantos (Greek for
“unfading”) by British composer — and onetime UCSB student — John
Casken. Casken ingeniously manipulates time and tonality, ending
its melodic kaleidoscope on a note of shimmering mystery.
The best came last: Acclaimed British composer Judith Weir’s
three-movement 1980 piece, Several Concertos, cleverly showcases
the instrumentation of cello, piano, and flute/piccolo (Hilary
Clark, Haladyna, and Emily Noble, respectively), with a shifting
soloist spotlight. In the cello “concerto,” piano and flute
negotiate spidery unison lines while the cello slips in and out of
their musical logic. The piano movement is wittily anti-virtuosic,
full of smeary sweeps and banged-out clusters (a k a fistfuls of
notes) rather than technical precision, and the final, teasingly
brief piccolo “concerto” has an air of tremulous suspension.
Overall, the musical landscape provoked and inspired, and the
status quo was duly ravaged. Bring it on. Next up: ECM performs at
LLCH on April 19.