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Staff Picks Featuring UCTV’s Arts Producer, John Menier

Choosing a few favorites from among hundreds of worthwhile programs is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Let’s begin…

SummerFest: Tan Dun’s Water Passion
I’ve twice had the privilege of interviewing Chinese composer Tan Dun, best known for his movie scores (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero) and ceremonial music for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Water Passion, which draws from traditional Chinese music for inspiration, is an excellent example of his signature use of organic materials to fashion instruments.

San Diego OperaTalk: Pagliacci
UCSD-TV’s association (and mine) with San Diego Opera and OperaTalk host Nic Reveles stretches back over 20 years and dozens of operas. In the Pagliacci episode Dr. Nic brings his playful erudition and stellar musicianship to bear on Leoncavallo’s verismo masterpiece.

Pay Attention: The Stuart Collection at UC San Diego
The Stuart Collection of 20 site-specific public art installations is one of the glories of the UC San Diego campus. UCSD-TV has documented various artworks from the Collection over time, and Pay Attention is the first comprehensive history and overview.

Malashock Dance + SACRA/PROFANA: Snakeskin
San Diego choreographer and UCSD-TV creative partner John Malashock is a leading exponent and practitioner of dance theater, wherein movement is used in service of a narrative. In Snakeskin Malashock combines forces with composer Krishan Oberoi from the ensemble SACRA/PROFANA to tell a mythic story set in a small Southern town.

High Notes: The Case for Music Education
Your Humble Correspondent has a longstanding interest in arts and music education as a vital component of the curriculum. In High Notes Dalouge Smith, the president and CEO of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory, guides us through an exploration of the value of learning music in school. Students in music programs have shown improvement in test scores, class attendance, cognitive development, self-esteem, and the ability to work with others.

UC San Diego Library: Celebrating Paper Theater
UC San Diego Library’s Scott Paulson is renowned for innovative live events and exhibitions, including the Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra and Short Tales from the Mothership. The 16th Annual Paper Theater Festival showcases over 50 items from Paulson’s personal collection of miniature dioramas and books, table-top re-creations of vintage European theaters, and hand-made projects Paulson designed himself for student-penned plays.

Author Luis Urrea in Conversation with Steven Schick
Born in Tijuana, raised in San Diego, and a UC San Diego alumnus, Luis Urrea writes about “border life” from a uniquely bicultural perspective. Urrea’s lively conversation with Distinguished Professor of Music Steven Schick highlights the same wit, erudition, and compassion he brings to his work.

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus: Copland’s Quiet City
La Jolla Symphony & Chorus is a mainstay of UCSD-TV’s programming, and their performance of Aaron Copland’s haunting Quiet City is a personal favorite of Your Humble Correspondent. Copland’s urban nocturne features beautifully melancholy interludes for trumpet and oboe, performed by Stephanie Richards and Carol Rothrock respectively.

Jewish Music – From Bessarabia to Broadway
UC San Diego Professor of Music Emeritus Cecil Lytle serves as impresario, host, and performer for this entertaining survey of Jewish musical traditions ranging from liturgical songs to Klezmer to Yiddish theater. Lytle’s guests include bassist Bertram Turetzky, singer Eva Barnes, and the Second Avenue Klezmer Band.

Patricia Patterson: Aran Canvas
As a young art student in 1960 Patricia Patterson traveled to Inishmore (Inis Mór), the largest of the rugged islands in Ireland’s Galway Bay. The simplicity of life there affected her deeply, as did the relationships she developed during stays over the next 30 years. Patterson’s memories of Aran became a source of inspiration for numerous paintings, sketches, and photographs.


Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights

UCLA’s Critical Race Studies Program, Promise Institute for Human Rights, International and Comparative Law Program and Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs presented a one-day conference at the UCLA School of Law exploring critical topics in contemporary international human rights law from the joint perspectives of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL).

Contemporary global and national political crises, many of which threaten the human rights of millions and even the international human rights system itself, call for novel, radical ways of re-imagining the role of law and legal institutions for a more just and humane future. The national oppression of politically marginal groups cannot fully be understood apart from the global structures that condition national dynamics. Similarly, global systems cannot fully be understood apart from the national contexts that give them content. Racial structures and systems central to colonization and neo-colonialism are crucial dimensions of the overall framework.

The aim of this conference is to foster a transnational, interdisciplinary academic dialogue among human rights, TWAIL and CRT scholars on some of the most pressing issues of our time. The TWAIL umbrella brings together scholars with diverse interests and methodologies who begin from the premise that the “Third World” is a political reality that unifies much of the world outside Western Europe, the United States and Canada. Nations of the Third World remain politically and economically subordinate to the powers in these two regions, and this subordination cannot be understood apart from European colonialism and its legacy. TWAIL scholars locate international law in this colonial project; attempt to understand and deconstruct the ways in which this genealogy still defines international law as a system of empire and subordination; and some reconceptualize international law in ways that disrupt hierarchies of power.

Critical Race Theory scholars seek to understand the deep interconnections between race and law, particularly the ways in which race and law are mutually constitutive as well as the imperviousness of racism to efforts at legal reform. They have done so mainly with a focus on the United States and other former British colonies, though increasingly with an eye on the broader international context including the role of American imperialism in the Third World. Contrary to the traditional notion that racial subordination represents a deviation from the liberal legal ideal, CRT scholars recast the role of law as central to and complicit in upholding racial hierarchy as well hierarchies of gender, social class, sexual orientation, and disability among others.

The conference brings the TWAIL and CRT frames together to bear on questions of law, history, political economy, and others as they relate to the field of human rights, broadly construed.

Browse more programs in Transnational Legal Discourse on Race and Empire.


Adventures in Tonality

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Music Director Steven Schick is renowned as a champion of new music and contemporary composers, and the Symphony’s February 2020 concert program features two such contributions.

Works by Los Angeles-based composer Michael Pisaro have been performed frequently in the U.S. and Europe, and are particular favorites of music festivals. Pisaro’s Umbra & Penumbra is a concerto (of sorts) for amplified percussion and orchestra featuring virtuoso percussionist Greg Stuart. Stuart’s sounds as soloist function as the foundation of the piece rather than as an ornament “hung” on the orchestra, which is often the case with conventional concertos. Here the role of the ensemble in each short section is to draw out, and expand upon, the colors each sound casts. These evolving tonalities form a three-way conversation between soloist, orchestra, and listener.

Emerging Iranian-born composer Anahita Abbasi, recipient of a Steven and Brenda Schick Commission, premieres an adventurous work entitled why the trees were murmuring that expresses the perspectives of a diverse community through the interplay of multiple soloists and the orchestra. Abbasi is known for her experiments in the electro-acoustical space. The instrumentation and staging for this piece is itself unusual, consisting of four percussion ensembles (two on stage, two in the venue’s technical booth), four trombonists (one improvising soloist on stage, two next to the audience, one in the booth), and the orchestra. The various solo ensembles and performers form a sort of “round robin” as sounds and textures are passed among them. As with Pisaro’s piece, why the trees… plays with conventional forms, sometimes subverting them and sometimes expanding upon them in novel ways. Improvisation also plays an important role in both works.

The two contemporary selections are bookended by treasures from Johannes Brahms. The program opener, Academic Festival Overture, was written to celebrate Brahms’ receipt of an honorary degree, and he described it offhandedly as “a potpourri of student songs.” However you characterize it, what emerges from Brahms’ unusual treatment of sonata form is one of those rarities in symphonic music: a fun piece, full of sly jokes and antic humor, that invites the listener to laugh along with the composer. The piece closing the concert, Symphony No. 3 in F Major, needs little if any introduction to classical music fans. A perennial audience favorite, the Third is the subtlest and most concise of Brahms’ four symphonies. Each movement demonstrates Brahms’ mastery of the orchestral palette as he ranges in tone from boisterous to ominous to introspective, ending on a note of dignified restraint.

Watch Abbasi • Pisaro • Brahms – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Tom Hanks portrays beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers in the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, directed by Marielle Heller. Not quite biographical, the film’s story is loosely based on the 1998 Esquire profile “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod, and recounts the impact of Rogers’ friendship upon the life of a cynical, disaffected journalist named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Lloyd’s anguish stems largely from his troubled relationship with his alcoholic, philandering father (Chris Cooper) and his fears of inheriting his father’s worst traits. Assigned to write a short profile of Rogers, Lloyd is at first suspicious of the man’s essential decency, but over time his deepening friendship with Rogers helps Lloyd to overcome his demons and become a more forgiving son, a more responsive husband, and a more involved father. In short, to become a more complete human being.

Pollock Theater director Matt Ryan invites co-screenwriter/Executive Producer/actor Noah Harpster to Script to Screen to discuss A Beautiful Day’s genesis, its themes, and the process of collaboration. Harpster notes that the screenplay was “ten years in the making” and inspired by observing his toddler’s reaction to Mister Rogers. Harpster and his writing partner, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, knew that Fred Rogers didn’t have the dynamic personality necessary for a conventional movie protagonist. They created the character of Lloyd as a troubled person (and audience surrogate) who could be gently guided by Rogers into finding ways to channel anger – one of the few emotions traditional socialization allows men to express freely – into something more constructive. The film occasionally employs fantasy sequences and techniques such as “breaking the fourth wall” to underscore the effect on Lloyd of the two men’s evolving relationship.

Harpster relates that the only request made by Rogers’ widow, Joanne, was to “not portray Fred as a saint,” since the accomplishments of a saint would seem unattainable by mere mortals. The screenwriters understood that one of the central challenges of portraying such a relentlessly kind and optimistic personality would be avoiding maudlin sentimentality and a sense of phoniness (the very thing Lloyd initially expects of Rogers). Indeed, the filmmakers were repeatedly told, “Don’t make it cheesy.” One path forward was found in one of Rogers’ credos: “Anything mentionable is manageable,” and the film makes it clear that he didn’t shy away from potentially upsetting topics such as illness and death. Ultimately A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not about Fred Rogers’ work in children’s television but rather an expression of his philosophy that kindness is imperative to achieving understanding, forgiving, and acceptance.

Watch Script to Screen: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.


Spotlight on Bridges – UCLA Music Video

UCLA students and alumni worked together to creatively spotlight relatable issues of trying to fit in, overcoming depression, and forging a path forward in Bridges, a four-minute music video.

Bridges addresses what it’s like to break the mold as a young adult in college and embrace that sense of individuality through music, dance, and visual effects. The story was born out of real-life college experiences depicted in three acts, from gray and disconnected to breaking out of being a duplicate and a nobody with a blurred face, to truly feeling what is possible in claiming your own better self in all types of environments.

The visual effects throughout the video were all used with deep intention. The gray blur of not having an identity started the video and evolved to duplicates with a blur of searching for an identity. The final explosion of color shows the arrival of coming to finding the character’s best self.

The director Jay Weneta, from the Unmapped Cinema production team, stated, “The video is worth viewing because it’s cool and fun and it’s nice to see what these kids do when not bound to class. Expression outside of the mold of class is where the true beauty lies. The music video sheds light on the beauty of the college student being themselves and finding their potential outside of a classroom. Raphael [the main character] is part of the mold, then he breaks it, and he’s beautiful because of it.”

Executive Producer Dalida Arakelian recruited top tier talent from UCLA who were motivated to live and tell the story. The music drives a sense of determination to discover this bridge to claim the true self and true path, regardless of the societal pressures around. The music was a collaborative effort produced by Dalida Arakelian and Stephen Spies with guest rapper, Aristotle, a student of University of California, Berkeley.

The short film is a beautiful production featuring emerging talent across multiple disciplines at UCLA such as School of Film, Television & Theater, School of Music, and the Dance Department. Scenes filmed at iconic UCLA spaces such as Powell Library, UCLA School of Law, the UCLA Anderson School of Management Center for Health Sciences, and UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior.

Watch UC Student Life: Dance Edition – Bridges (Official Music Video).