.‘Listening to the Land’ Showcases Thrilling New Music

New Music Works features new compositions that explore our relationship with the planet

The fourth concert in New Music Works’ 44th season—sponsored by Roland and Pat Rebele— “Listening to the Land” offers an all-star evening of innovative work by composers who soar beyond musical norms. Featured are the 2022 Pulitzer Prize-winning composition “Voiceless Mass” by Raven Chacon—the first Native American to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music—and “The Light Within” by Pulitzer Prize-winning musician John Luther Adams, a sonic exploration inspired by the composer’s many decades living in the Arctic.

With Santa Cruz composer Michael McGushin conducting, the work of Chacon and Adams will be joined by “Blue Green Hill,” composed by England’s celebrated opera composer and concertmaster Judith Weir. Also on the program are two commissioned world premieres, “Continua” by Ben Dorfan and “Prologue—The Nightingale” by McGushin. Dorfan completed his doctorate in music composition at UCSC; he and McGushin are in demand throughout the Bay Area

Listening to the Land is among the contemporary music events that invite the composer into the hall for a pre-performance chat. Chacon’s pre-concert remarks may prove enlightening for those struggling with his new music’s a-harmonic aspects. A much-honored world performer and composer of visual and sonic artwork, Chacon was commissioned by the renowned Kronos Quartet to compose for their “Fifty for the Future” project. Noted for creating genre-crossovers intersecting video and sound, Chacon’s 11-minute award-winner, composed for pedal organ, is surrounded by bells, crotales, clarinets, timpani and strings; it represents one of the most exciting directions in contemporary sound and music design. Starkly contrasting dynamics often create the spiritual resonance of his work—timpani juxtaposed with bells and the pure oscillating pitches of sine tones, for example, as in “Voiceless Mass,” the piece chosen for this concert.

“One of the great wonders of music is that it’s so physical and yet so ephemeral,” Adams has said of his environmentally textured compositions. “I want to have it both ways at once.” The layered dreaminess of his work for untraditional soundscapes explores and probes this contradiction inherent within the formal heart of new music.

“The Light Within” is scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, vibraphone and electronic aura. Adams’ sonic poetry is nuanced yet grand, massive as the geologic landscapes that inspired them. 

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Bay Area musicians flutist Lars Johannesson, violist Kaethe Hostetter, bassist Stan Poplin, keyboardist Vlada Moran and percussionist William Winant will be joined by the New Music Works ensemble. 

Chacon will join Dorfan in a pre-concert chat at 6:30pm, moderated by NMW founder and artistic director Phil Collins.

Listening to the Land’ happens Saturday, March 11, at 7:30pm. $25-35 plus fees. Peace United Church of Christ, 900 High St., Santa Cruz. eventbrite.com/e/listening-to-the-land-tickets-516439714087

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