Ensemble for Contemporary Music: "American Pickings"

Event Date: 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 - 4:00pm

Event Date Details: 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to construction, Parking Lot 3 (nearest lot to Music Building) is not accessible from UCEN Road until mid-March. To access Parking Lot 3 if you are traveling from the roundabout (Steck Circle), please turn right onto Channel Islands Road and follow this road until you see the UCEN on your left. Parking Lot 3 should be directly in front of you.

Event Location: 

  • Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall (UCSB)

Event Price: 

Tickets: general admission ($10), non-UCSB students with ID ($5), UCSB students with ID (FREE), children under 12 (FREE). For tickets, please visit www.music.ucsb.edu or call (805) 893-2064.

UCSB’s ECM takes the stage March 2nd in a program that is richly American and even replete with guitar and (!) ukelele.   The appearance of baritone ukelele definitely marks a first for this adventuresome new music repertory group, for decades now a Santa Barbara staple.   Given all the firsts and “finds” contained on this single ECM program, it’s been christened “AMERICAN PICKINGS.”

The public concert falls at a propitious afternoon hour for all the work and study-weary:  4pm on a Wednesday, in the welcoming surroundings of Lotte Lehmann Hall of UCSB’s Music Department.   

Director Jeremy Haladyna freely admits inspiration taken from the hit History Channel series, “American Pickers,” which has a duo of antique buyers combing through cobwebs looking for treasure in barns and garages all over America. “It’s going to be just like that here,” says Haladyna. “This program is full of odd treasures you never knew existed, alongside just a few things you knew did. Favorite composers introduce themselves to you in unfamiliar attire, as though they found their new/old clothes in some sort of musical attic trunk.”

The program will open with Aaron Copland’s “Vitebsk” trio of 1928, a powerful piece that uses a sorrowful theme from a White Russian Jewish village which Copland heard as a young composer.   This forms the middle of a piece not very well known, one whose opening and close are framed by statements using quarter-tones in the strings, and representing the ceremonial ram’s horn of Jewish service. Copland makes another appearance, too,  in one of two violin/piano pieces he wrote in the same year. “Ukelele Serenade” again uses quarter-tones and is a delightful romp that has the violin stretching its idiom in the direction of its fun-loving little cousin. The featured violinist will be David Fickes.

That little instrument itself takes the stage—two pieces on the program are played on baritone ukelele by an Australian, Jonah Vogelman. The first is originally for mandolin, by the down-under oboist and composer Graham Powning. Its title, “Eucalypts,” recalls native vegetation well-known to dwellers of Santa Barbara and Goleta, where transplanted trees of this same name flourish. This piece has been specially arranged for baritone ukelele by Vogelman, who will go on to play a second work by the American minimalist and process-oriented composer Tom Johnson, “Rational Melody No. 1.”

Minimalism returns in grand style to close the program with String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima,” of Philip Glass, performed by an ECM quartet of Danica Neuhaus, Sara Bashore, Johann Velasquez and Kathryn Carlson. This dramatic quartet score formed part of the accompaniment to a 1985 film on the life of the great Japanese novelist and playwright, “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.”

American idioms roundly complete ECM’s March 2nd effort. Clarinetist Hiroko Sugawara and violinist Zach Olea join the director in a performance of David Diamond’s Trio for clarinet, violin and piano [1st movement]. This is the first time David Diamond’s music has appeared on ECM. An important teacher at Juilliard for decades, his trio exudes a well-centered American optimism and comes from his last decade of life.

One of the most unsual items on “AMERICAN PICKINGS” is surely the set of balladeer songs from Benjamin Britten’s 1941 operetta, “Paul Bunyan.” ECM singer and guitarist Asanti Haynes performs these more or less as they were in the original stage production: only with guitar in lieu of banjo, where they served  as continuity between segments of the stage action. How strange to hear one of Britain’s greatest modern poets expounding the legend of Paul and Babe the Blue Ox--and in full American vernacular!

Another style of vernacular, the glorious loose musical “sashay” that is jazz violin, figures in the concert in a cameo appearance. Violinist Sara Bashore offers the last movement of William Bolcom’s Second Sonata for violin and piano, which is titled “In Memory of Joe Venuti.” The great jazz violinist died just before Bolcom completed the work in 1978, and so in this last portion he offers tribute.

Finally, the program cedes the floor briefly to France for an appearance of a French contemporary master whose music is among the most approachable: Bordeaux-born Jean-Michel Damase, who only recently died in 2013. Trombonist Nick Mazuk offers his satisfying trifecta: “Prélude, Elégie et Final” with piano by director Haladyna.

All-in-all, ECM’s “AMERICAN PICKINGS”is an assortment of beautiful one-offs, music written for a particular purpose or occasion, which we can now savor again as the best sort of unexpected musical attic-finds.   Don’t miss a chance to make so many first encounters in new and unexpected repertoire in a single afternoon!

"American Gothic" by Grant Wood