by Gerald Carpenter

MUSICAL GASOLINE: The opening concert of the
UCSB music department’s fall season will star guest artists Duo
Nuovo (Terry Rhodes, soprano and Ellen Williams, mezzo-soprano),
with pianist/composer Benton Hess and cellist Stephen Reis in
supporting roles. Bearing the somewhat deceptively austere title,
20th Century American Music, the concert takes place at 8 p.m. on
Saturday, October 7, in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall at UCSB.

The program consists of selections from the duo’s two CDs, To
Sun, To Feast, and To Converse and Grand Larsen-y (the latter
devoted to the music of Libby Larsen), from works they have
commissioned, and from Terry Rhodes’s far-reaching work as a
professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In one
combination or another, Rhodes, Williams, Hess, and Reis will
perform two songs about women named Margaret (“To a young child,”
“Merry Margaret”) by Timothy Hoekman; Chant by Richard Faith; three
selections from Beloved, Thou Hast Brought Me Many Flowers
(“Liebeslied,” “Do You Know,” “Music, When Soft Voices Die”) by
Libby Larsen; five settings of Calamity Jane’s letters to her
daughter Janey, 1880-1902 (“So Like Your Father’s,” “He Never
Misses,” “A Man Can Love Two Women,” “A Working Woman,” “All I
Have”); the “Color Duet” from the opera Dreaming Blue, also by
Larsen; two selections (“Older Woman Blues,” “Andromeda Rag,”) from
Irreveries from Sappho by Elizabeth Walton Vercoe; and Atrocities
(“Nothing But the Truth,” “Rhapsody on a Theme,” “Question I,”
“Facing the Facts,” “Question II,” “The Sensuous Woman”) by Benton
Hess, from texts by Judith Viorst.

I have given the program in full in hopes of intriguing you, not
driving you off. (Who would not be at least mildly interested to
hear what Calamity Jane would have said to her daughter by Wild
Bill Hickock?) Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to listen
to a good deal of this program, and if not the selections
themselves, at least what I take to be representative pieces by the
composers. If this is representative of the compositions coming
from the academy these days, then we have clearly undergone a sea
change into something rich and strange. Until fairly recently, the
academy was ruled — in totalitarian fashion — by ruthless and
unyielding serialists who seemed to utterly misunderstand what
Schönberg and company were trying to achieve. Then, a decade or two
ago, it all changed.

From the UCSB concerts I have heard in the last year or so — by
Jeremy Haladyna’s ECM, Jon Nathan’s Percussion Ensemble, and
others — and from the music I heard in the course of researching
this column, the old musical project of direct communication
between hearts and souls has been revived. I would say it is not a
moment too soon.

These performers, female and male, are obviously dedicated
feminists, and much of the music on this program is delicate and
sensitive — without becoming, as the French would put it,
précieuse — and these are qualities we often associate with
femininity. But these composers and performers also claim the right
to be raunchy and coarse, forceful and empirical, witty and
acerbic. What I hope they are saying is that, five centuries of
male hegemony notwithstanding, music runs on estrogen as well as it
does on testosterone.

All of the composers represented on this program — Hoekman,
Larsen, Walton Vercoe, and Hess — would reward further research and
wider listening. More than that, they suggest, by the sheer quality
and abundance of their music, that they are but the tip of a great
and shimmering iceberg. Tickets to 20th Century American Music are
$12 general, $7 for students, and will be available at the


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