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Premillennial Expression

[whitespace] Gregory Fulkerson Sticking with It: Gregory Fulkerson, violinist with the Cabrillo Music Festival, was one of the featured performers in the festival's impressive opening week.

Lisa Kohler

Cabrillo Music Festival enters its 36th season with a futuristic bang

By Scott MacClelland

AS IT ENTERS THE 21st century, American music is on solid ground, due mainly to many of the composers brought to Santa Cruz over the last few summers by Cabrillo Music Festival music director Marin Alsop. Today's leading lights--including Christopher Rouse, Michael Daugherty, Joseph Schwantner, Richard Danielpour, Paul Schoenfield and the late Stephen Albert--have come to represent a vast diversity of styles.

Festival veterans Rouse and Joan Tower return for performances this weekend along with John Corigliano-- now something of an elder statesman-- in his first appearance here. Last weekend, Daugherty "leaped tall buildings in a single bound," previous resident composers Danielpour and Schwantner resurfaced through their music, while Albert-- who never made it to Santa Cruz--was paid memorial tribute in Schwantner's Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra.

The latter overwhelmed the Civic Auditorium last Saturday night when, for some 35 minutes, soloist John Kasica delivered a breathtaking, virtually flawless performance, applying hard- and soft-headed drumsticks, mallets, brushes and bare hands to tom-toms, gongs, marimbas, xylophone--in short, every percussion instrument except timpani.

Surprisingly, the work is no mere demonstration piece. Its tone is serious, its feelings run deep. The long, slow second movement--a threnody for Albert, who died at age 51 in a car crash--develops a broad elegy that swelled with increasing dignity and dramatic authority. The driving first movement favored extensive marimba ostinatos, and the finale, a frenzy of syncopation, made way for a stunning solo cadenza that spun off into a whole new dimension of colors and effects.

The concert opened with Uruguyan composer Miguel del Aguila's 13-minute Conga Line in Hell, a tongue-in- cheek charmer that reveled in the popular Afro-Cuban- flavored dance, but only delivered its promised fire and brimstone in the "chaos" of its final moments.

Without dependence on a soloist but with no less authority, Aaron Copland's most continually dissonant symphonic work, Music for a Great City, concluded Saturday's program in an excellent reading by the orchestra, proving that dissonance no longer daunts the hungry ear. The piece's imagery of New York, mostly told in moods and impressions (pictographic in the third movement, "Subway Jam"), couldn't be about any other city in the world.

Michael Daugherty dominated the festival's Friday night kick-off concert with the West Coast premiere of his Metropolis Symphony, a 35-minute acid trip of riotous entertainment that all but masked the composer's considerable talents. Daugherty at his best controls enormous orchestral resources with a deft hand. He uses saturated and impressionistic timbres to colorize, focal events (violin solo, slapsticks, sirens, flexotones) for fireworks, and vernacular styles (rock, jazz, Broadway) and programmatic background (in this case, the adventures of Superman) to give the first-time listener a deja-vu familiarity.

Daugherty keeps the textures clear, the images in focus and still finds room for impulsive asides without befuddling the outcome. Conductor Alsop somehow kept the kaleidoscopic pageant on track and lucid.

Danielpour's rousing Toward the Splendid City, the program opener, used syncopations, accents and contrasting orchestral choirs, much the same way Beethoven did in the opening of his Symphony 3 Eroica, with similar clarity and high-energy results.

Christopher Caliendo's Trio Concertino turned out to be less than the "hot one" implied by the composer's name, owing to an added-on, half-baked orchestral accompaniment to what had been originally a trio for violin, guitar and contrabass. Trio bassist David Young struggled with the high register during his extensive solo cadenza in the final movement. On the plus side, a centrally placed lullaby with continuously unfolding melodies worked its charms with languid seduction.

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From the August 13-19, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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