Conor Hanick | Credit: Laura Desberg


The pianist persona has come a long way since Schroeder ignored Lucy in the comic strip Peanuts. A new generation of performers and composers are demonstrating a level of social engagement previously unimaginable among keyboard specialists, and two of the most interesting examples of this trend will be performing in Santa Barbara over the next two weeks. Conor Hanick, director of the solo piano program at the Music Academy of the West, will take part in a chamber music recital on Thursday, July 29, at Hahn Hall alongside other fellows and faculty members. He will play three compositions by Nico Muhly, including the world premiere of a new piece called “Crosswise” that was commissioned by the Music Academy. Muhly’s opera Marnie, based on the Hitchcock film, was staged by the Metropolitan Opera in 2018, a couple of years before he turned 40. 

A second work on the program by an even younger American composer features Hanick along with a percussionist (Michael Werner), a clarinet player (Gerbrich Meijer), and a soprano (Anush Avetisyan). “I Will Learn to Love a Person” reflects the sophisticated and passionate style of contemporary music that has earned Christopher Cerrone commissions from artists such as Jennifer Koh and groups like the Industry and Wild Up. 

Conrad Tao | Credit: Brantley Gutierrez

Hanick and fellow MAW faculty member Richie Hawley released a great album this spring as the Hanick Hawley Duo. Named after the Jennifer Higdon composition “A Gentle Notion,” it features three brilliant clarinet sonatas — Higdon’s, plus those by Aaron Copland and Pierre Jalbert. With Hawley’s student Gerbrich Meijer performing with Hanick on the Cerrone, we will get to hear how that collaboration influences yet another generation of musicians. 

Next week, another rising star of the keyboard arrives at the Music Academy as a Mosher Guest Artist. At 27, Conrad Tao has only a few years on the fellows he will be coaching, but his career as a performer has been underway for well over a decade. Known for his embrace of new media and his unorthodox collaborations, Tao relishes opportunities to connect music to history and politics. On American Rage, his 2019 recording for Warner Classics, he includes two pieces by the late Frederic Rzewski, the radical pianist/composer whose innovative approaches have exerted an enormous influence on this new generation of musicians. Fans of the Music Academy of the West will likely remember Christopher Taylor’s extraordinary performance of Rzewski’s “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” in July 2010. Tao’s program on Tuesday, August 3, features works by John Adams, Jason Eckardt, and Robert Schumann. Here he is recorded at home during the lockdown performing Rzewski’s “Which Side Are You On? (For Florence Reece)” from the 2020 Bang on a Can marathon.

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Those looking for something special in the way of a road trip might consider stopping in Monterey for a Sunday visit to Ansel Adams Portraits: By and Of at the Monterey Museum of Art’s La Mirada Cultural Center. This elegant historic estate opens only for special MMA events and programs. Beginning on August 1 and continuing through September 19, it will offer the Adams exhibition and spotlight tours hosted by an array of professional photographers. If you can’t make it to the La Mirada location on a Sunday, don’t despair. The main museum on Pacific Street in Old Monterey is open Thursday-Saturday from 11am-5pm and features another excellent photography show, Transformations: Photography by William Giles


Kaija Saariaho and Peter Sellars | Credit: Courtesy

If you’ve gotten this far, chances are you enjoy challenging contemporary music. Those who attended the 2016 Ojai Music Festival will remember the multiple productions of works by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho that guest artistic director Peter Sellars programmed that year, along with Saariaho’s charming presence and shock of bright-red hair. Saariaho’s new opera, Innocence, recently premiered at the Festival Aix-en-Provence. France’s Arte television network captured this groundbreaking work in full video, and it’s now available online. The work examines the impact of an incident of gun violence through the perspectives of multiple survivors who speak and sing in just as many different languages. Susanna Mälkki conducts the London Symphony and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and the results are at once splendid and shocking. To get an idea of what’s happening, and to see what American audiences will be getting when this work travels — it’s already been booked by both the Metropolitan and San Francisco Operas for upcoming seasons — check it out now. 

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