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Brass Monkey: Tom Heasley, who performs at the Avant Garden Party Sunday, is feeling pretty horny.

Garden of Edith

New Music Works' unpredictable botanical bash offers Piaf and eclectic composer mix

By Scott MacClelland

OFFICIALLY, it's billed as a fundraiser. But regular ticket buyers for New Music Works' annual Avant Garden Party know it to be much more.

They understand that it's really an ascent into surrealism, a nonpareil party for the senses, the most Felliniesque of local performance events. hey understand that it's really an ascent into surrealism, a nonpareil party for the senses, the most Felliniesque of local performance events.

Established in 1981 and held ever since at Santa Cruz's Topside Estates--an end-of-the-road promontory high above Harvey West Park--the annual benefit concert, which returns again this Sunday, has mixed spring flowers, savory cuisine and a century's worth of musical discoveries. An Avant Gardenist has heard countless beguiling if unfamiliar works, from early Stravinsky to dozens of local premieres by all the local leading composers to recent flights of fancy on the ethereal Ondes Martenot.

This Sunday's Avant Garden Party represents an unprecedented departure from those lofty heights when surrealism descends from Topside to Pasatiempo. For the first time, NMW will cast its spell at herbalist/healer Martha Benedict's legendary floral estate. Gardens bursting with colorful, exotic and medicinal botanicals--not to mention the bird aviary and butterfly farm--will provide the setting for an afternoon of music and sensual pageantry like nothing seen or heard before in Santa Cruz.

The Avant Garden Party has played host each year to all of the region's important composers and included scores of premieres and commissioned works. At the Benedict gardens, guest soprano Yanira Urguhart will be featured in folksong arrangements by Luciano Berio, selected Spanish songs by Cristobal Halffter and a recollection of the legendary Little Sparrow, Edith Piaf.

Composers expected to hear their own music include Lou Harrison, Barry Phillips (Reflections on Jaunpuri), Belinda Reynolds (Coming Around), Dan Plonsey (Two Eyes and a Nose and Cow with Ears) and Peter Elsea's "installation" of music boxes throughout the gardens (Windings).

Music director Phil Collins characterizes the program's fit to its environment as "bucolic." It also includes Lukas Foss' Music for Six, John Cage's Wonderful Widow of 18 and A Flower, and Veronika Krausas' Under the Open Sky for solo bassoon. Collins describes the Reynolds piece as a highlight, minimalistic "with great zeal." Tuba player Tom Heasley will be represented by Secret Garden, a "static and atmospheric" complement to the setting.

Regulars will recognize the attendance routine: park on the Highway 17 Pasatiempo frontage road and walk five minutes to the venue or ride the free shuttle. After that, leave it to New Music Works to offer transportation to a unique state of mind.

New Music Works' Avant Garden Party will be held this Sunday, June 9, at 2pm in Pasatiempo. A silent auction and gustatory spread will support the fundraising effort. Tickets are $25; for more information and directions call 429.2277.

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From the June 5-12, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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