Category Archives: Arts and Music

Simply Fun

Contributed by John Menier

32822In his remarks from the podium, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Conductor Steven Schick notes that the 2017 edition of the “Young People’s Concert” features music by two composers with differing influences, temperaments, and styles: George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. While acknowledging the contrasts Schick also points out some surprising similarities shared by the two men: both were born to Russian-Jewish parents in Brooklyn, both studied in Paris, both had an interest in jazz and popular music, both experimented with different genres, and both came to prominence in the Jazz Age. First and foremost, Gershwin and Copland were American, with all that implies; as Gershwin put it, “True music must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today.”

Perhaps the best expression of what’s been called “the American touch” may be found in two of Gershwin’s most popular scores, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris.” Both pieces reflect Gershwin’s abiding interest in jazz and blues, two indisputably American art forms, and both touch glancingly upon some of the conflicts and contradictions of American life (then and now). Ultimately, though, the most profound and appealing quality shared by the compositions is that, in the words of the Conductor, “they are simply fun.”

By comparison to the high-stepping confidence of the Gershwin tunes, Copland’s “Quiet City,” originally written for a failed play, reflects another, more contemplative aspect of the American character. One reading holds that the longing and unfulfilled aspirations evoked by this piece warn of the consequences of not being true to one’s self, an ever-present danger in a fast-moving, ambitious society. Perhaps. However one interprets “Quiet City” (if it needs any interpretation at all) there’s no denying the work’s beauty, the result of a perfect balance between string orchestra and two soloists on trumpet and oboe.

Throughout his remarks, Steven Schick notes the empathy and intricate interplay between the various sections of the orchestra, by turns tempestuous and serene as required by the score, and the absolute need to serve the music and the composers.

Watch Young People’s Concert 2017 – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

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UC San Diego Jazz Camp

8232Since its inception 15 years ago, UC San Diego Jazz Camp has stayed focused on a single goal: ensuring the continued vitality of jazz music by identifying, instructing, and nurturing new talent. The camp accepts students ranging in age from 14 to adult, and from a variety of educational or vocational backgrounds. Prior to attending the camp, students attend placement auditions based upon which they are assigned to one of two proficiency levels, intermediate and advanced. Most of the camp’s instruction is designed for one of these levels.

The camp’s faculty is made up of internationally renowned musicians who are experts in a variety of jazz stylings, from be-bop to contemporary open-form. The rigorous and immersive curriculum covers a broad range of topics and techniques, including Jazz Improvisation, Listening to Jazz, Master Classes, and individual lessons. There is a particular emphasis on jazz as a performance-oriented art form through participation in small ensembles and informal jam sessions, and attendance at faculty concerts.

The week’s activities culminate in a finale concert in which all students perform as a member of an ensemble under the supervision of a faculty member. Concert sets feature an assortment of instrumental combinations and an eclectic repertoire that includes standards as well as new compositions by faculty and students. Each student gains valuable performance experience and an opportunity to shine in front of a supportive and appreciative audience. In turn, audience members have the opportunity to witness some fine young musicians at the start of their career and older musicians embarking on a new chapter.

Watch UC San Diego Jazz Camp 2017 and explore the archive.

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Trans Media Makers

8232Transgender issues have been represented on film for some time and have an enormous impact on society because it is through media that most Americans learn about transgender people. This series from the Carsey-Wolf Center at UCSB looks at contemporary media work in television, feature documentaries, and fiction films that explore the dreams, challenges, successes and everyday lives of trans people. These unapologetic films challenge the often rigid binary view of the world.

Take a look at these fascinating discussions:

Raising Zoey
The film follows 13-year-old Zoey and her family as they navigate Zoey’s transition from boy to girl, highlighting the legal battles they wage against discrimination in Zoey’s public school. This Q&A session with the film’s director Dante Alencastre is moderated by Abigail Salazar of UCSB’s Resource Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity.

Transparent
The critically-acclaimed comedy-drama series debuted in 2014. It strives to demystify the trans experience and make it visible. Amy Villarejo, professor of performing and media arts at Cornell University, joins Patrice Petro, professor of film and media studies at UCSB, for a discussion of transgender emergence, Jewish identity and queerness within this TV series.

Free CeCe
The documentary confronts the culture of violence surrounding transwomen of color. CeCe McDonald survived a brutal attack, only to be incarcerated for defending her life. A Q&A session featuring director Jacqueline (Jac) Gares and CeCe McDonald is moderated by Lal Zimmerman, assistant professor of linguistics at UCSB.

Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen
Director Kortney Ryan Ziegler’s documentary centers on the stories of six diverse transmen. This Q&A session with Ziegler is moderated by Jennifer Tyburczy, a professor of feminist studies at UCSB.

Tangerine
The critically acclaimed indie film offers a compelling and unique look trans street culture rarely seen on film. The Los Angeles sex trade story was entirely shot using modified iPhone 5S cameras. This Q&A session with actress and transgender woman Mya Taylor is moderated by professor of film and media studies Patrice Petro.

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Verdi’s Requiem

8232George Bernard Shaw once remarked that “the English take a creepy sort of pleasure in requiems.” I can’t speak to the truth of this statement, but there’s no denying that requiems are among the most popular works in the orchestral/choral repertoire, in England and elsewhere. Composers as diverse as Haydn, Brahms, Berlioz, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, and Britten have assayed the form, each bringing their own unique sensibilities to the challenge of interpreting a liturgical service in musical terms.

Arguably, the two best-known examples of the requiem are those written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (considered by many to be the template for the genre) and Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, which premiered in Milan in 1874, is based on the Roman Catholic funeral mass and scored for four soloists, double (sometimes triple) choir, and orchestra. Verdi composed the piece in memory of poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, whom he greatly admired. It consists of seven major sections, within which are several sub-sections of varying and often contrasting moods. In order to heighten the inherent drama and poignancy of the liturgical mass Verdi brought to bear the skills and devices he’d mastered as a composer of operas: expressive orchestration, assertive rhythms, beautiful melodies, vocal pyrotechnics, and dramatic contrasts over an exceptionally wide dynamic range. Indeed, following the Requiem’s premiere many traditionalist critics complained that the music was far too “operatic” in style and not appropriate for the solemn subject matter. Fortunately for us, that view has not prevailed.

Undertaking performance of such a mammoth work, involving 300+ performers on stage, requires both abundant skill and a degree of intrepidity, traits which La Jolla Symphony & Chorus have amply demonstrated in their programming choices. Under the baton of conductor Steven Schick the musicians and vocal soloists render the complexities and subtleties of the piece with both confidence and sensitivity, and if it’s not sacrilegious to say so, the result is thrilling.

Contributed by arts and humanities producer John Menier

Watch Verdi’s Requiem.

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Oliver Stone on Conversations with History

8232Years ago (I won’t say how many) I was sitting on the steps of a Cinemobile truck parked near a film set (I won’t say which one), practicing “hurry up and wait.” I was chatting with a grip, a veteran of countless productions with decades in the business. At one point he sighed, looked off in the distance, and said, “Just once I’d like to work on a picture that’s about something real.” Even at that tender age I understood that desire; it’s what compelled me to become a documentarian, while my fellow film students aspired to be Spielberg or De Palma.

I recently recalled that encounter while watching an episode of Conversations with History featuring filmmaker Oliver Stone, and realized that my enthusiasm for factual filmmaking also informed my interest in Stone’s work. Beginning with his sophomore film, “Salvador,” and throughout his career, Stone has incorporated elements of documentary style in heightened narratives that are often based on real people and historical events. In his pursuit of what he’s termed “emotional truth,” as opposed to literal truth, Stone has never shied away from controversy. Stone’s detractors – and they are legion – accuse him of being “undisciplined’ and “reckless” in dealing with facts, labeling him as a “propagandist” and an “amateurish would-be historian.” In fairness Stone has never claimed to be either objective or an historian in the academic sense (though his films are heavily researched); rather, he has stated that his goal is not to provide definitive accounts but to spark debate while hopefully entertaining his audience. In this he has often succeeded, and even those self-same detractors can’t deny his prowess as a filmmaker.

Stone’s work in documentary and docudrama is just one of the many topics discussed in a wide-ranging interview with “Conversations” host Harry Kreisler. Of particular interest is Stone’s discourse on the changes that have overtaken him since his last appearance on the program some twenty years earlier. He’s an older artist who’s fallen out of favor in Hollywood, and his once-prodigious output has slowed as a consequence, but Stone remains committed to his beliefs and fearless in expressing his viewpoint.

One of the consistent themes in Oliver Stone’s work is a determination to explore the complexities of character, and in this interview Stone himself emerges as a complicated figure – by turns insightful, dogmatic, worldly, parochial, passionate, and analytical; at times exasperating, but, like his films, never dull.

Browse this program and others on Conversations with History.

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