As Delta-variant-inflamed pandemic conditions ratchet up angst surrounding live music’s return, at least one upcoming concert will be a model of distancing. On Saturday, August 28, at 1 p.m., UCSB carillonist Wesley Arai will take the “stage” of his lofty instrument, 175 feet above the scattered audience below, from high atop Storke Tower.
Welcome to the COVID-time realities of the sixth annual UCSB Summer Music Festival. Like the fifth annual, it will be almost entirely virtual, but despite this, it remains a valuable asset to the local “serious” music calendar — especially during August’s otherwise sparse offerings.
Founded in 2016 by enterprising UCSB alum Federico Llach, the festival serves up a willfully diverse range of sounds, including new music, varied global idioms, experimental and traditional classical sounds, and more. Many artists have links to UCSB and beyond. This untraditional tradition continues Saturday-Sunday, August 28-29, with a program including the double-cello CRUSH duo of Chenoa Orme-Stone and Katrina Agate, Daniel Ohara and Shashank Aswathanarayana, Duo Con Fuoco, and Gamelan Sinar Surya, as well as Professor Scott Marcus joining Aswathanarayana for a performance.
This year, directorial reins were handed to Alexandra Jones, who recently completed her first year as a graduate composition student. Jones quickly found herself grappling with inherent challenges in creating a festival online. But, she comments, “At the end of the day, the show must go on. At UCSB, it really seems like there is nothing that can get in the way of these musicians. Musicians everywhere have easily transitioned into being more online and have been ingenious in discovering new ways to get their music out to audiences.”
More broadly, with an eye to her own future, Jones relates to the DIY organizing impulse inspiring Llach’s initial creation of the festival. “I would attach music curation to my own ideals of composition,” she says, “which ultimately is to bring in all of these separate interests and inspirations and weave them into something.”
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In the case of Under One Sky, she observes that “our own situation with coronavirus actually gave me the most inspiration for the program. I really wanted to focus on the fact that we are all ‘under one sky,’ and no matter how far we stretch, UCSB is still a community. That is the same musically. I really wanted to focus on music from all over the world and how Eastern music intertwines with Western to create our own community.”
The festival naturally also extends UCSB’s vibrant online concert life in the past year-plus, dispersed on its YouTube channel — also home to this weekend’s festival.
Frustrating as the lack of live music is for audiences, Jones suggests that “the largest toll this takes is actually on the performers. Live music pushes performers to their best and helps raise them to a performance mindset that just does not exist in the virtual world.”
“At the same time, virtual performances have opened so many opportunities for the festival,” she adds. “We now do not have to focus on performers who are right here in California and can bring in anyone from across the world. The same goes for our audience. A virtual festival opens up the possibility for the entire world to see our performers. With UCSB being so scattered throughout the world, we all can now enjoy this festival no matter where we are.”
Locally speaking, those yearning for a real time/real space experience can bring folding chairs to the lawn below Storke Tower, before retreating to our screens of choice for the rest of the fest.