Category Archives: Arts and Music

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 (& UCTV) is delighted to accompany you backstage and seat you, front row center, for what promises to be a vibrant season of opera.

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Contributed by Arts & Humanities Producer, John Menier

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Re-thinking Lilith

8232Leonardo da Vinci famously observed that “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” However, it’s also been noted many times that art must breathe and evolve. In this spirit, artists occasionally seize an opportunity to re-examine and re-fashion an earlier work, with the goal of imbuing it with fresh insights and nuances gained through time and distance.

Such is the case with Lilith, an opera by composer Anthony Davis and librettist Allan Havis that premiered at UC San Diego in 2009. Lilith explores and celebrates the ageless erotic myth of Lilith, Adam’s apocryphal first wife who preceded Eve in the Garden of Eden and was subsequently exiled. That premiere production featured a cast of veteran singers supported by a jazz-influenced ensemble in a “concert” (i.e., unstaged) version of the complete work.

8232Forward to Fall 2015, and a workshop production of the first five scenes of Lilith semi-staged for a small audience. Workshop productions, common in theatre (though less so in opera) allow the creators to explore and refine the work in an intimate setting. Freed from the pressures attendant to a full staging, the artists are encouraged to experiment and take risks. Acclaimed Stage Director Keturah Stickann, Visual & Interactive Designer Peter Torpey, and their collaborators bring their combined theatrical experience to bear on this “re-creation” of the opera, making extensive use of windows, mirrors, screens and shadows to reflect the myriad contours of a female identity – Lilith – betrayed and split into two halves. Projections are strategically employed as visual representations of the paradoxes of Lilith’s roles in Paradise and in contemporary life.

The music also takes a different form. The cast is composed of young, up-and-coming singers, and rather than a larger ensemble Music Director Alan Johnson leads a piano/bass combo. Combined with the compact setting and innovative staging, the overall effect is to sharpen the focus on the eon-spanning conflicts between Lilith and Adam, and Lilith and the Creator.

Watching the original production, the supplemental features, and the new workshop production – cleverly titled [Re]Creating Lilith by Your Humble Correspondent – offers the viewer a rare opportunity to trace the creative evolution of a work from inception through refinement to re-definition. Da Vinci would be intrigued.

Watch [Re]Creating Lilith.

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Contributed by John Menier, UCTV Producer

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La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest: Evolution in Music

8232An anonymous wag once dubbed chamber music “Short Attention Span Classical Music.” Clever, perhaps, but grossly simplistic. What the best chamber pieces lack in length compared to, say, a symphony or an opera is more than compensated by their complexity and depth.

Chamber music originated as divertimenti for the aristocracy, but over its four hundred-year history the genre has adapted to encompass new schools of thought as music itself evolved. From its inception composers have considered chamber music as fertile ground for exploration and experimentation in both form and instrumentation, refining existing styles while creating new ones. Many of these composers, such as Beethoven and Brahms, would employ the lessons learned creating chamber pieces to great effect in their larger works, and chamber music remains an excellent means for young composers to find their voice and for musicians to hone their chops.

All of which is by way of noting that La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, now in its 29th year, epitomizes the afore-mentioned history, breadth and diversity of chamber music, as evidenced by the three UCSD-TV programs which represent this year’s festival. The first, “Viennese Masters,” presents works by three fabled citizens of that “City of Musicians” writing in the recognizably “classical” forms they helped to define. The second, “In Memory,” features early 20th and 21st-century composers who stretch and, at times, gently subvert the old forms in their quest for new expressions of melodicism. The third program, “Music of Our Time,” showcases four renowned contemporary composers premiering adventurous works of great melodic and rhythmic complexity that are nevertheless accessible.

If you’re a fan of chamber music you’ll find much here to delight, and if new to the genre there is no better introduction than La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest.

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Pay Attention – New Documentary Features UCSD’s Stuart Collection

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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.

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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.

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