UCSB Summer Festival Unites School to City with Music

The Formalist Quartet, Now Hear Ensemble, Los Rumberos de Cali Among Acts

<strong>HEARING VISIONS:</strong> The Now Hear Ensemble bassist and UCSB Summer Festival initiator
Federico Llach (pictured second from right) says his ensemble emphasizes the visual aspect of
music as much as the sonic.

For all its importance and integration in our community, UCSB, or at least the individual and communal achievements of the students therein, can sometimes feel somewhat disconnected from the greater S.B. area; it’s a world, like many universities, unto its own. On Thursday, September 1, 4-9 p.m., UCSB will bridge this cultural gap with the first-ever UCSB Summer Festival, a collaboration between the Department of Music, the College of Creative Studies, and the UCSB MultiCultural Center (MCC). Taking place in UCSB’s MCC, Old Little Theater, and Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, the free festival, open to all, will showcase some of the projects and passions of the university’s musicians with a diverse bill spanning solo singer/songwriter sets to performances from larger avant-garde ensembles.

Festival organizer and music PhD student Federico Llach said the festival is a way of merging the students to the surrounding communities with music and vice versa. “In a sense, this festival represents the mission of trying to connect the Department of Music with its community of S.B.,” he said. Also, the festival will unite occasional disparate disciplines in music and other creative fields. “It’s clearly trying to connect different musics that sometimes are dissociated, and this is a celebration of music made by others. It’s summer, and it’s a good time to celebrate.”

Llach first came up with the idea for a festival when thinking of a place to debut a piece composed by headliners and collaborators The Formalist Quartet, a world-class string ensemble from Los Angeles. But he was also partly inspired by the interdisciplinary tour schedule of his own group, the Now Hear Ensemble, which has performed on a cross-university circuit as a way of engaging musical discourse across geographic or scholastic lines. The Now Hear Ensemble will play the penultimate set of the festival, and their expansive and exploratory sound will excite any who come seeking to have their thoughts stimulated and curiosity piqued. Their performances often feature a visual element — think alternating, fractured frames of the musicians playing between shadow-plays — with dissonant compositions that employ the mind-whetting sonics of bicycle wheels and paper shredders. “We would have a listener be in the dramaturgy of the stage, in a sense, and the visual aspect of music-making,” he said. “Music happens on a stage for a reason.”

Festival headliners The Formalist Quartet formed at the California Institute of the Arts with the intent of exploring all the string quartets of Shostakovich, but it branched out to be more than a mere school project. Within months, the band was playing REDCAT, the notoriously “formidable” quartet by Luigi Nono, said violist-violinist Mark Menzies. Inspired equally by the “miraculous,” “disrupts nothing, opposes nobody” ambience of Harold Budd as they are by the dissonances of more avant composers, The Formalist Quartet makes music written as “an ever-changing expressive relationship to the surrounding world,” varying in tonal densities and discretions. “Though we can speak in a common cultural language through music, what is most revealing in our converse, I think, is what characterizes our differences,” he said of the quartet and their varied methods.

One of the most exciting acts is Los Rumberos de Cali, an inclusive ensemble formed simultaneously with the student organization Cali2Cuba, which promotes cross-cultural exchange between the state, the island country, and the shared cultures between. The ensemble plays songs and rhythms from not just Cuba but Nigeria, the Congo, and Benin. “The goal is to unite, reinforce, promote, and preserve Afro-Cuban arts and culture here in our state,” said drummer Miguel Leon. Before their show, Leon will be teaching a master class on drumming, which will be as motivational and spiritual as it will be technical. The class will show “how to apply rhythm to your life, so that you can groove with life,” Leon said. “In order to live in peace, we must live in harmony with earth, and the drum is the voice of Mother Nature.”

Also playing will be singer/songwriter Christina Apostolopoulos, violist Jonathan Morgan, cellist Kathryn Carlson, and electro-acoustic composer Graham Bunce. For more information, see music.ucsb.edu/summerfestival.


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