Music & Clubs

Magnificent Mizuno

SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER: Composer Shuko Mizuno acknowledges applause after Saturday's U.S. premiere of his symphonic work 'Natsu' ('Summer').

VARIETY is a goal of her Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music programming, claims artistic director Marin Alsop. Plenty of that was heard in the festival's two full orchestra programs last weekend. Nine of 10 works heard Friday and Saturday nights at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium were composed since 2003, while one of the best, Shuko Mizuno's Natsu, dates from 1988. Born in 1934, the shy Mizuno seemed a bit shocked by the orchestra's brilliant performance and the boisterous audience response. Alsop described the work-whose title is Japanese for summer-as "harmonically dense" and its composer as the "Japanese Rouse," referring to Christopher Rouse, one of the Americans she has long championed at Cabrillo.

Mizuno's symphonic poem does indeed bear comparison with some of Rouse's single-movement scores, especially where the full orchestra explodes in a tapestry of mind-boggling complexity. Yet for all its denseness, Mizuno keeps the texture transparent, no small achievement when everyone on stage is furiously engaged. Otherwise, however, Mizuno's textures tend toward a warmly sonorous character, in contrast to Rouse's predictable edginess. Moreover, Natsu provides moments of intimacy, calling on only a few players and cameo solos of great delicacy.

The Saturday program also delivered some refreshingly welcome news from Iran, in the form of a grand, romantic piano concerto by ex-pat Behzad Ranjbaran. Redolent of Khachaturian's grand piano concerto, this 2008 work also carried its fair of local folkloric colorisms. The dramatic first movement, with powerful outbursts against soulfully fragile moments, was followed in turn by Distant Dreams, a nocturnal fantasy, then a festive finale.

Among dangers composers face is completing a work that turns out to be more personal than communicative. On Friday, Rouse's Odna Zhizn (A Life) painted a portrait of "the love of my life," Rouse introduced it by remarking on its "code," which wouldn't be understood anyway. Oops! That comment charged the audience with an expectation and/or distraction. The piece proved to be a thorny ride but overwrought and expressively arcane.

James MacMillan's Piano Concerto no. 3, Mysteries of Light, sparkled with the Scotsman's distinctive orchestrations and craftsmanship, though the piano part, realized by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, tended more toward the decorative than the substantial. It nicely recalled some of Olivier Messiaen's enchanting bird songs. The Friday program also included an "airborne" postcard by Mason Bates called Desert Transport and opened with a tasty and energetic morsel by Margaret Brouwer titled Pulse.

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

Runs through Aug. 14

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