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Rim Shots

UC-Santa Cruz's Pacific Rim Festival brought Asian and Western musical styles together

By Philip Collins

CONTEMPORARY MUSIC had its day in the sun for the better part of April in Santa Cruz, when the Pacific Rim Festival crammed 24 works into four concerts. Festival director Hi Kyung Kim (associate professor on the UC-Santa Cruz faculty) assembled what was certainly the most diverse, interesting and auspicious new music festival yet at the university. A wealth of substantive music was offered via accomplished, and often virtuosic, means. Even so, as titles go, the Pacific Rim Festival was only marginally applicable. A good number of the featured works were evidently inspired by Asiatic traditions, but the majority of repertoire smacked of European-based pedagogy.

The opening concert offered an exceptional departure from the norm in Chou Wen-Chung's mysteriously compelling percussion quartet Echoes From the Gorge (1989). Chung's treatment of the percussion's timbres as sounds in space--as opposed to rhetorical building blocks--conjured an entrancing continuum of sonic imagery. Western traditions were especially honored in the second program, performed by EARPLAY of San Francisco. Wayne Peterson's chamber quartet Labyrinth displayed the facility and imagination that won him the 1992 Pulitzer Prize, but Hi Kyung Kim's recently completed piano trio Breaking the Silence turned the ears inside out with its explosive chemistries of Western aesthetics and Korean performing techniques.

Pacific Rim influences poured forth abundantly in the final two programs. Chinese émigré Chen Yi demonstrated beguiling sensitivity in her Song in Winter (1994) for flute, piano, percussion and gu-zheng (Chinese zither). Cambodian/American Ung's ...still life after death (1995) provided a haunting blend of Cambodian death ritual and transparent orchestrations. Lou Harrison and John Cage, two of America's foremost instigators of East/West musical relations, headlined the final concert. Cage's modestly conceived quartet Living Room Music was balanced by his hourlong Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. Harrison's Threnody for Carlos Chavez for viola and gamelan and John Luther Adams' aggressive snare drum quartet Dust to Dust also created memorable impacts.

The Pacific Rim Festival made important steps toward linking Santa Cruz to the greater new music community. Not only were guest artists hosted locally, but two of the programs were toured to UC campuses at Berkeley and Davis, thus providing the all-too-rare opportunity for repeat performances of these recent works.

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From the May 2-8, 1996 issue of Metro

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