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The Arts
May 30-June 6, 2007

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Piphat Ensemble of Wat Buddhanusorn

Globetrotters: The Bangkok-based musicians/dancers of Piphat Ensemble of Wat Buddhanusorn are the featured performers at this year's New Music Works Avant Garden Party.

Thai Paradise

New Music Works creates a tropical wonderland of food and global music in Santa Cruz for its annual Avant Garden Party

By Scott MacClelland

Recent news items among the major media zoomed in on the Chinese fascination for Western classical music. But it is worth remembering that Western classical music began to rear its lovely head in China immediately after Mao's Cultural Revolution entered to its last throes.

As it always has, Western classical music greened up rapidly and soon became a main squeeze with the urban Chinese. (In fact, we've been collecting Chinese recordings of traditional Western classical music, as well as new Chinese music for symphony orchestras, since the days of LPs, now more than a quarter-century ago.)

Lou Harrison, meanwhile, was doing everything imaginable to introduce Asian classical music to Americans, and his godchild, New Music Works of Santa Cruz, continues that adventure. At its annual Avant Garden Party on June 3, you can literally Thai one on.

NMW music director Phil Collins subtitled this edition of the annual fundraiser "Thai Getaway to Ellis Island," risking a little confusion for anyone who immigrated to this country through New York. This Ellis Island will be found in the exotic gardens at Eric Thiermann's tropical paradise, located at 2888 Sandy Lane, in a most unexpected quarter of the Live Oak district. Thiermann uses the Rodeo Gulch watershed to sustain a backyard lagoon with an island in its center "replete with tiki hut, stands of bamboo, clumps of iris and assorted tropical perennials," as Collins describes it.

The music Collins has selected extends the theme, naturally enough, with four Bangkok-based professional musician/dancers and associates, who will perform in colorful Thai traditional attire. The Thai musicians teach yearly residencies at Wat Buddhanusorn in Fremont.

As if divulging a treasured secret, Collins whispers, "Thai Piphat music hasn't been played in these parts since I've been aware of it." Then raising his voice to clarion authority, he declares, "Piphat music is a physically vibrant repertoire, and like Thai cuisine, it balances eccentricities in novel ways." In turn, legendary chefs Jozseph Schultz and David Jackman will conjure the spicy glory exotic Southeast Asian cuisine.

Australian guest composer Terumi Narushima will premiere an interactive electronic installation and also contribute Tritriadic Chimes for bells in just intonation, "a dry title for music of sensual elegance," Collins clarifies. Harpist Jennifer Cass, a regular member of the New Music Works Ensemble, performs Collins' own Stream on the shore of the lagoon. "I revised my harp piece a bit, and that will be played on the island's shore," says Collins. "Allen Strange asked me to arrange it for piano so it could be paired with 'pleasant dreaming' and I am, of course, so delighted by the economy of it. But I digress ..."

In addition, the Ariose Singers, conducted by Michael McGushin, perform Paul Hindemith's lovely Six Chansons, an homage to the early French chanson in settings of verses by Rainer Maria Rilke. Music director of Boston's acclaimed Spectrum Singers John W. Ehrlich writes, "Here is Hindemith's unmistakable harmonic language and syntax adapted to the most gracefully inflected and text-sensitive vocal declamation that can be found in his works for chorus. The unique liquid and soft sound of the French language, the pastoral subject matter, the very French-like curve of the melodic line, the seductive harmony--all are conscious, carefully considered components of a reflection of a French style of song."

At Ellis Island, expect to savor multiple sound stations and hidden speakers tucked amid bamboo, shrubs and grasses. "There will be tower music," Collins promises, "though the repertoire will not bear much resemblance to the horn calls that rang through European towns in medieval days. These performances, by the Mindless Ensemble--an offshoot of the UCSC Contemporary Music Ensemble--will broadcast experimental repertoire by the likes of Christian Wolff, Fred Frith and Mindless Ensemble members, including Joel Ford and Simon Hutchinson."

A silent auction remains a regular feature of the Avant Garden affair, tempting those in attendance with arts and crafts, and other opportunities, by local artisans and entrepreneurs.

The New Music Works Avant Garden Party takes place Sunday, 3-7pm, at 2888 Sandy Lane, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25-$40. (831.423.8597)

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