The Trees are the Instruments

“I’m profoundly influenced by the natural world and a strong sense of place…I hope to explore the territory of sonic geography–that region between place and culture…between environment and imagination.”
– John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams has been hailed by the New Yorker as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century.” After studying at the California Institute of the Arts, Adams embarked on a prolific career encompassing a variety of genres and media, including television, film, children’s theater, voice, acoustic instruments, orchestra, and electronics. His Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning orchestral composition, Become Ocean, has become one of the most popular concert pieces in the modern repertoire.

Much of John Luther Adams’ work as a composer and, increasingly, a conceptual artist is rooted in his love of nature combined with what he calls the “resonances” of a particular environment. For the Wind Garden, his installation commissioned by the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, that environment is a eucalyptus grove located in the campus Theater District. Based on a carefully determined site plot, 32 accelerometers were attached to the highest branches, measuring the movements of the trees in the wind. As the velocity of the wind changes so, too, does the amplitude of the sound. Tonal variations and harmonic colors are provided by two virtual “choirs,” a Day Choir tuned to the natural harmonic series, and a Night Choir tuned to the sub-harmonic series. The results are broadcast by 32 small loudspeakers hidden among the trees. Both volume and pitch change in real time throughout the day and with the sun’s movement over the course of the seasons.

Because the composition is driven entirely by wind and the sun’s light, it never repeats itself. The listener is surrounded by sounds that vaguely recall bells, voices, strings, and other acoustic instruments, but it’s impossible to describe them in just those familiar terms or to know their exact source. Like some of Adams’ other recent pieces, the Wind Garden has been described as “indeterminate,” but the composer argues that it’s more accurate to call it “self-determining,” not reliant on musicians or conventional instruments. Rather, Adams notes that “the trees are the instruments” while acknowledging the sophisticated technology employed to “give voice” to the trees.

Adams hopes that each unique encounter with the Wind Garden and its rich, ever-shifting harmonic palette will encourage both “deep listening” and an enhanced appreciation of the natural environment.

Watch The Wind Garden by John Luther Adams – Stuart Collection at UC San Diego

Meeting Flicka (The Incomparable Frederica von Stade)

8232A confession: I’ve been interviewing celebrities of varying renown or infamy for more years than I care to admit, and thought that I’d long ago ceased to be star-struck. Yet, when I first met celebrated mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade (known affectionately by family, colleagues and fans as “Flicka,”), I alternately gushed and stammered like a schoolboy. I doubtless made a fool of myself, but Flicka was much too gracious to point this out; instead, she immediately put me at ease.

Why was I uncharacteristically giddy? Consider that the phrases “living legend” and “national treasure” are nearly as abused and overused as the term “genius,” and may denote nothing more than exceptional longevity. Occasionally, though – just every so often – an artist comes along who is fully deserving of these accolades, by dint of both their creative achievements and an inspirational personality. Flicka is one such artist, and great fun to be around, besides.

As well as being an iconic performer in traditional operas (both her Cherubino and Octavian are considered definitive), Flicka is known for encouraging modern American composers, and one of her most fruitful and enduring creative partnerships has been with composer Jake Heggie. She was an early champion of Heggie’s work and he has written both song cycles and opera roles for her, most notably in “Dead Man Walking” and “Three Decembers.” Their most recent collaboration is “Great Scott,” which had its West Coast premiere at San Diego Opera in May 2016. During her sojourn in San Diego Flicka sat down with SDO General Director David Bennett under the auspices of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC San Diego, for a wide-ranging conversation about her life and career. As one audience member noted, Flicka proved to be as far from the popular image of the temperamental artist as one can be, displaying an easy charm and a modesty that belies her status as one of the music world’s most beloved stars.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with her resumé, which includes stints on “Prairie Home Companion” and appearances with Carol Burnett, as well as singing at the White House, the Winter Olympics, and with Monty Python’s Eric Idle, where she appeared as a Valkyrie in a winged helmet for a duet rendition of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Not the sort of thing one would expect from a more, shall we say, conventional diva. In the course of her long career Flicka has proven to be an immensely effective advocate for the arts and arts education, and an enthusiastic popularizer of opera and art song. She continues to work to further the careers of talented young singers and composers.

I was star-struck so you don’t have to be. Watch Flicka’s conversation with David Bennett and I think you’ll learn, as I did, that all of the exceptional things said about her – about her talent, her integrity, her generosity, and her sweetness – are true.

Watch A Conversation with Frederica von Stade.

——-

Contributed by Producer, John Menier

An All-Access Pass to Opera

8232UCSD-TV – in the form of Your Humble Correspondent – continues to chronicle the adventures of San Diego Opera with two award-winning series, San Diego OperaTalk (in its 17th season) and San Diego Opera Spotlight (now in its 19th year, it’s “the opera series that’s old enough to vote”). Taken together as companion programs, these shows offer viewers an “all-access pass” that goes beyond sound bites and packaged promos with in-depth analysis, rehearsal and performance footage, and interviews with key participants. The result is an entertaining and informative portrait of the creative processes and personalities that bring opera to life in San Diego.

8232Having stabilized after winning a very public battle to stay alive, San Diego Opera is now fashioning a new direction for the Company. New General Director David Bennett has assured long-time patrons that the Company will not forsake traditional repertoire; rather, the intention going forward is to mix large-scale productions at the Civic Theatre with intimate productions of the new & the unfamiliar at a variety of venues, and to markedly increase the Opera’s outreach, visibility and engagement in the community. In that light the 2015/16 season may be seen as both a summation of where the company has been – a producer of traditional grand opera – and as a harbinger of things to come – a presenter of new works by contemporary composers.

Tradition is represented in the best way by two of Giacomo Puccini’s most beloved works, Tosca and Madama Butterfly, in productions that are new to San Diego Opera but are directed by two SDO favorites, Lesley Koenig and Garnett Bruce respectively. The third production, the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, is SDO’s second staging of an opera by Jake Heggie, following the phenomenal success of his Moby-Dick. This original serio-comedy features a stellar cast and a libretto by Terrence McNally (Master Class), and is directed by former Old Globe Artistic Director and theatrical legend Jack O’Brien. Jack is no stranger to the UCSD-TV audience, from his appearances on our Backstage at the Globe series.

As in years past, UCSD-TV is delighted to accompany you backstage and seat you, front row center, for what promises to be a vibrant season of opera.

Visit Opera on UCSD-TV to learn more.

———

Contributed by Arts & Humanities Producer, John Menier

Pay Attention – New Documentary Features UCSD’s Stuart Collection

8232

An eternal question: What is “public art?”

The definition of public art continues to evolve, but at its most basic level public art can be defined as “work created by artists for places accessible to and used by the public.” In other words, there’s no velvet rope ‘twixt the art and the patron. It’s worth noting that the art/public art field distinguishes between “public art” and “art in public places.” The former term implies a contextual, often collaborative approach to the creation of art that takes the site and other local factors into account, while the focus of the latter is on the art itself, not where it will be sited. Put another way, “public art” is site-specific, or designed for a particular environment – for instance, a university campus.

“UCSD may not have a football team, but it does have the Stuart Collection.”
– A UC San Diego student

Established in 1982 by retired businessman James Stuart DeSilva, the Stuart Collection of public art at UC San Diego is unique in several respects:

Commissioned Works

Whereas other collections – for example, UCLAs Murphy Sculpture Garden – consist of acquisitions, all works in the Stuart Collection are commissioned; prominent contemporary artists are invited to survey the campus and develop proposals based on their site selection. Proposals are reviewed and approved by an Advisory Board, and most of the works are constructed on-site rather than in a studio.

Self-Funded

The Collection also differs in its funding model. Other collections, such as the J. Michael Bishop Art Collection at UCSF Mission Bay, typically rely on a percentage of construction budgets (1% is common) allocated for public art, but the Stuart Collection is entirely self-funded by grants and donations.

Variety of Forms

An unusual emphasis on variety is another hallmark of the Stuart Collection. Unlike a conventional sculpture garden the works span a variety of forms, materials, genres, etc., and are often “one of a kind” in relation to the artist’s body of work. As the pieces are varied, so too are the artists themselves, ranging from painters (Elizabeth Murray) to installation artists (Nam June Paik) to composers (John Luther Adams). Several of the artists who’ve created pieces for the Collection are not otherwise known for public art (John Baldessari, William Wegman, Terry Allen).

However varied in their form and function, all of the pieces in the Stuart Collection share a common goal. They don’t proselytize or attempt to define “good art” but, in the words of artist Bruce Nauman, they do ask the viewer to “pay attention,” to regard their familiar environment in a different way and, in the process, perhaps see themselves in a new way as well.

Watch Pay Attention: The Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, then browse more programs that explore UCSD’S Stuart Collection.

Jazz is Alive

“Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will.”
– J.J. Johnson

8232Along with baseball and barbecue, jazz is considered one of America’s greatest cultural exports, and one of its most adaptable. Since its inception in New Orleans in the early 20th century jazz has spread around the world, drawing on different regional, national and ethnic cultures for inspiration and spawning a bewildering variety of styles: New Orleans jazz, Kansas City jazz, Gypsy jazz, Dixieland, big band, ragtime, swing, be-bop, free jazz, modal jazz, Latin Jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, cool jazz, smooth jazz, jazz-rock, etc., etc. As a result jazz, though ubiquitous, is difficult to define; Louis Armstrong remarked, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

UC San Diego’s Jazz Camp, an annual intensive summer program inaugurated in 2003, reflects the diversity of the jazz idiom in its faculty, student body, and repertoire. Jazz musicians ages 14-adult work in a variety of styles with professional jazz artists, honing their compositional, performance and improvisational skills. The goal of the Camp is to prepare students for life as a musician through immersion in jazz history, theory, techniques and genres.

First and foremost, jazz is about live performance. The five-day workshop culminates in a free Finale Concert featuring student ensembles presenting a program of standards and new compositions under the direction of faculty musicians. Several of the Camp’s alumni have gone on to pursue studies at such prestigious institutions as Yale, Juilliard, and the Berklee College of Music, and the Finale Concert affords the public the rare opportunity to hear future jazz luminaries at the start of their career.

Watch the UC San Diego Jazz Camp: Finale Concert Highlights 2015.

Browse other programs from past seasons of Jazz Camp.