When one thinks of classical music, one’s mind immediately gravitates toward names like Beethoven and Mozart — toward certain notions of genius that reside in Europe. In fact, the very term “classical music” conjures up images of fancy orchestras and men in suits which have tailcoats, conducting while wearing monocles. “UCR is Composing,” is an exhibition of new classical compositions by graduate students, completely upturned those ideas for me.
Walking in, I was surprised to see only three individuals on stage, along with three instruments: A violin, played by Pasha Tseitlin, a piano, played by Nic Gerpe and percussion by Justin Dehart. Moreover, the performers were dressed like anyone at a formal event: Collared shirts and nice pants, but nothing as overblown as I was expecting. Long banished was my notion of fancy men with fancy mustaches playing fancy music. The overall presentation felt more intimate, and appropriate for an artistic practice.
The five pieces performed were primarily experimental, and featured intricate harmonies, progressions and chords. “Curl” by Alvaro Lopez was a dreamy and fluid song, which paid homage to musical scales and harmonics from other traditions of music, such as “old gypsy melismatic songs.”
The performance was far shorter than expected, lasting about 45 minutes. Each of the songs performed were beautiful, showing the creative potential of UCR’s music department. For example, Christian Dubeau’s “Crash Dance” was played with traditional harmonics and silences to create musical arrangements which were transcendently beautiful. After the event, I spoke to faculty coordinator, Ian Dicke, and asked him about the student composers. He stated “Some are graduating and some are continuing students, all of whom have demonstrated conspicuous skill. Sometimes it is too easy to take for granted the skill it requires to understand composition. One has to know how to write for these particular instruments, one has to understand form and melody.”
“UCR is Composing” was an intimate event that placed the work of UCR composers front and center. The entire event provided a foray into the world of contemporary classical music.