Sō Percussion with Caroline Shaw | Credit: Shervin Lainez

One discernible trend in the current concert season in Santa Barbara has been a focus on the distinctive and accessible work of high-profile new music composer-vocalist Caroline Shaw. So far, her music has spoken for itself, via the agency of other performers. In an eagerly awaited new music event on April 21, the woman behind the music herself shows up in the flesh and in voice this week, in collaboration with the masterful and maverick Sō Percussion. 

Peripherally, the season of Shaw began last summer at the Music Academy, when Sō Percussion played a concert, whetting the appetite for their return to town with Shaw onstage. Her music entered the 805 atmosphere in March, through both the local debut of the Brooklynite Attacca string quartet at Hahn Hall and in the performance by another respected string quartet, the Miró, as part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s beloved chamber music concert series. On that night, the Miró memorably served up Shaw’s tantalizing pandemic-era-inspired small-plate project, Microfictions.

Concepts and inspirations from beyond classical music norms is, well, normal for the ever-curious Shaw, who can draw from pop culture and literature, ancient sources, and last week’s news in her writing process. As has been said, Shaw’s world — creating her own new vocal/choral music paradigms — leans into ABBA and James Joyce, with unexpected stops between.

For the concert presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures, the Pulitzer-winning Shaw showcases a special project, Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part, written in collaboration with Sō Percussion. Soil matters here, as subject and metaphor, in a piece that premiered in 2021 and was released on a Nonesuch Records album that year. To sink into its unique musical embrace is to give into some fresh artistic world, elaborately concocted by the parties involved. Pulsating rhythms and songful harmonic materials make it a piece at once sophisticated and seductive, even to ears not tethered to classical music values.

Also on the program is an opening set of works by Sō Percussion member Eric Cha-Beach, Angélica Negrón (who premiered a new work with the L.A. Phil last year), and Nathalie Joachim. The Shaw parade continues.

Sō Percussion with Caroline Shaw plays at UCSB’s Campbell Hall Friday, April 21, at 8 p.m. See artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.


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