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[whitespace] The Final Frontier: New Music Works takes 'Quantum Leaps' through the 20th century with Saturday's program, which also presents the premiere of a new work from spatial composer Henry Brant.

Musical Spaces

New Music Works heads for new dimensions with the premiere of a new piece by leading avant-gardist Henry Brant

By Rob Prat

IT'S NOT THE BEST spot to generate spatial effects, explains dean of avant-garde composers Henry Brant of the steeply pitched Recital Hall at UC-Santa Cruz's two-year-old Music Center. In Santa Cruz for a week-long residency with classical ensemble New Music Works, Brant comes to town for Saturday's premiere of Glossary, a new piece he composed for the performance hall and the New Music Works Ensemble. But despite the spatially challenged hall, he seems otherwise quite satisfied with Glossary, a musical pairing of the centuries-old cantata form with a vocal text derived from computer terms. For the piece, instrumentalists perform from the corners or the Recital Hall while the vocalist wanders through the space.

"One thing that is a substantial lack from my point of view is that there's no balcony," he says. "So the spatial deployment could be horizontal only. Any space designed for music has to have a balcony."

Since 1950, Brant, now 85, has led the development of a spatial understanding of musical performance by crafting works where the positioning of players onstage and through a hall are central to the musical score. More than simply outlining where instrumentalists and singers should sit or stand for a performance, Brant's works aim to construct a vivid musical experience, to outline the complexity of everyday reality which, from the 20th century onward, is characterized by a clash of themes and by many sound sources all competing for a listener's attention.

"It never seemed to me that life is easy ... and I like the idea that music should take influence from life, which is made up of many complicated things," he says. "A simple episode in everyday life is not a one-dimensional event. There are people passing each other unaware of the other's needs and necessities. It's only ordinary reality to try to represent such a complex of simultaneous episodes."

"It just seems like a young person wrote it," New Music Works conductor Phil Collins says of Glossary. "It has such ferocious energy. Everyone in the ensemble when they got their parts has just gone, 'Wow!' It's amazing the energy and motion each part has."

Like Brant's other spatial works, Glossary breaks the performing ensemble into groups, each following a different meter and playing parts thematically unrelated. Collins explains that sections at times evoke a "visceral" sense of counterpoint, but Brant is careful to point out that his method is to separate parts, to give each subgroup of the whole ensemble a distinct timbre and theme in order to emphasize the spatial effects. It's a complicated piece, Collins adds, one that challenges individual players and the group as a whole to develop new ideas of musical performance.

"The singer does sounds that are very cacophonous and contrasted with monk-like austerity," Collins says. "In no way can the singer rely on their traditional technique. As a whole, it's this meeting of human, technology, blood and guts, and they coexist, but there's no point in the piece where I see resolution."

Brant's Glossary is the concluding work on a New Music Works program that aims to survey the music of the 20th century in roughly 20-year increments. "Quantum Leaps" also presents pioneering American composer Charles Ives' Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano; Ruth Crawford Seeger's Music for Small Orchestra; Lou Harrison's Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra, presented with new choreography by Therese Adams performed by the Moving and Storage Performance Co.; and Morton Feldman's I Met Heine on the Rue Färstenberg, with new choreography by Tandy Beal.


New Music Works' Quantum Leaps concert is Saturday (May 13) at 8pm at the Recital Hall, Music Center, UCSC. Tickets are $14 general/$12 senior and student. (459.2159)

New Music Works also presents a preconcert talk and conversation with Henry Brant and Lou Harrison Thursday at 8pm at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Center St., Santa Cruz. $5 donation. (427.2225)


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From the May 11-17, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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