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January 17-24, 2007

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Joan Jeanrenaud

Photograph by Jay Blakesberg

Kronos Encore

Cellist Joan Jeanrenaud slated for Saturday's New Music Works concert

By Scott MacClelland

Using words to describe music is at best an exercise in metaphor. For example, "Convergence," the title of this coming Saturday's New Music Works concert, doesn't quite cut it as promotionese. "Convergence of Legends" would grab more attention, and actually gets closer to the truth. Because outside our provincial precincts, the participants are known for star mystique in their fields of special endeavor.

The composer Alvin Curran has been a force in avant-garde music and "installations" for nearly five decades, particularly in the United States and Italy, and brings to the party "a volatile mix of lyricism and chaos, structure and indeterminacy, fog horns, fiddles and fiddle heads." Harpsichordist Linda Burman-Hall is widely recognized for her scholarship in Baroque music and understated adventures at the cutting edge. For decades, percussionist William Winant has been the first choice of every composer of new music west of the Mississippi, premiering countless original commissions. Violinist Timb Harris enjoys a similar reputation for his advocacy of new music with Estradasphere, the widely traveled and recorded, stylistically eclectic Santa Cruz-launched band. And, up until she stepped aside in 1999, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud was one quarter of the truly legendary Kronos Quartet.

For Saturday's concert at UCSC Music Recital Hall, Jeanrenaud teams with regular colleagues Winant and Curran (on keyboard electronics) for the world premiere of Curran's Passing Notes. The program also includes two major keyboard works by Lou Harrison (one for harpsichord, one for tack piano, each with its own special tuning) featuring Burman-Hall, and John Cage's Four6 for cello, percussion violin and electronics.

Says Curran of his colleagues: "Joan and Willie are like trees whose flowers bloom perennially. ... Not only have they given hundreds of local and international composers a raison d'être, but they have given new music a reason to live. They, unlike many other sometime players, are dedicated purveyors of the most ancient mysteries of sound, and they do it as naturally as selling hot links at a ball game."

After leaving Kronos, Jeanrenaud had improvisation on her mind. "I found myself in a different place," she explains. "Ninety-nine was my sabbatical year. It became clear that I was happier not being in the group. Kronos travels so much ... and as a musician I wasn't learning anything anymore. I wanted to explore." It was in that time that Jeanrenaud was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "Now I see it was the MS. I had my first episode in '96. My health is really good now but I have a weakness in my right leg." Still, she adds, "Artistically, I was ready for a different direction."

Since her early training Jeanrenaud has nurtured a hearty interest in improvisation and jazz, which she studied at Indiana University. But joining Kronos, that interest had taken a back seat. After Kronos, she worked with sax players Hal Stein and Larry Ochs, and studied with Rova Sax Quartet. "All my composer friends said, if you start improvising pretty soon you'll start composing." Meanwhile, she teamed up with Ochs and koto player Miya Masaoka to perform and record. And she began to compose in earnest. Owing to her two decades with Kronos, she wrote a lot of music for four parts, then seven and now even more. Her techniques include electronics and tape loops. A recent piece is for two cellos and two violas da gamba. A new CD of her works, titled Transitions, includes some arrangements of Baroque composers Marais and Telemann, plus Philip Glass. She has recorded with Tom Gray, a computer whiz who "used to be the sound guy for Kronos." Her artistic credo: "I am a cellist dedicated to experimentation and innovation in the arts."

I asked Jeanrenaud to describe the new Curran piece. "Sometimes it's in unison," she said, "then diverges, on both stopped strings and harmonics. Its unisons then drift slightly apart, going out of phase. Timbres give it lots of color." Then, from a different vantage, "it starts thin and keeps building, in both activity and density. Willie has some loud hits, then I come in soft--pretty much me building while he adds.. ... When I have a solo part, it's really high, and intensity dramatic."

In talking about music, metaphor works on one level. But you can never go wrong with a detailed action plan.

New Music Works presents Convergence on Saturday, Jan. 20, at 8pm at the UCSC Music Center Recital Hall; tickets are $18 gen/$15 senior/$12 student. (831.459.2159)

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