The Pacific Rim Music Festival combines musical masterminds from across the ocean
Any musician knows that collaborating with fellow musicians in your own town can be hard enough, but just imagine collaborating with musicians on a different continent. Fortunately, we live in a world in which compositions can now be swiftly sent across the Web in the form of Mp3s so that innovative fusions of culture and sound are possible. Take for instance, the Pacific Rim Music Festival (PRMF).
In its fourth installation since its inception in 1996, this year’s festival combines instruments and techniques of the Orient with those of the West. The Korean 12-string zither-like gayageum, the two-string fiddle (haegeum), the bamboo flute, the mouth organ, the bamboo oboe, Korean percussion, and the Indonesian gamelan tradition will find themselves embraced by Western performers and modern nuances—classical European strings, and even electric guitars, will be infused.
Founding artistic director Hi Kyung Kim, a UCSC professor of music, composer, and native of Seoul, Korea, has brought aboard an elaborate network of guest performers, including the esteemed Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea (CMEK), the New York New Music Ensemble, the Lydian String Quartet, the Del Sol String Quartet, San Francisco’s Gamelan Sekar Jaya and more. Under the guidance of nearly 30 composers, they will deliver 30 world premieres alongside UCSC ensembles and the Santa Cruz Chamber Ensemble. It wasn’t easy for all involved to understand the elements foreign to them, and the festival is a culmination of two years’ work.
“We had to send music over the computer through e-mail, or mail, and then we had to look at it and communicate through e-mail,” Kim says of the creative merging of minds. “We were doing this from different continents across the ocean and it was very difficult. It was challenging, still is challenging, and we expect to see how effectively we understood these two different cultures. This is our learning process in creating a new direction for all of us.”
Bridging the past and the present, East and West, PRMF is the result of Kim’s vision to “create our own culture by blending cultures,” as exemplified by the “Sympathetic Modalities” concerts on Thursday and Friday nights at UCSC’s Music Center Recital Hall. With faculty and students from UCSC, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego and Boston’s Brandeis University working closely (though often physically worlds apart) with the Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea, the result is what Kim describes as a “mix of traditions so that people can understand how it all fits.”
Looking at the poster for that very first PRMF, now up on the wall in her office, she remembers how the multicultural sonic experience started. “In the beginning the composers and performers were all from the West Coast, the Bay Area and local,” she remembers, before explaining that the festival has grown in scope to gain international participants—and international attention. Kim has been invited to be a keynote speaker at the UNESCO second conference on arts education in Seoul this May, and she says PRMF is a big reason why. “I’ll be talking about our direct experience with the Pacific Rim Music Festival because of the tension between traditional and contemporary practices, and a transcending of geocultural differences.”
The festival’s final concert, on Sunday, April 25, “From the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean,” presents two new works by Southern California composer Bill Alves for Indonesian gamelan, alongside traditional repertoire. With Linda Burman-Hall and Undan Sumarna directing UCSC’s Balinese and Sundanese gamelan ensembles, Gamelan Sekar Jaya (the most well known gamelan troupe outside of Indonesia) from San Francisco will also come down for the affair. The evening will juxtapose European ornamentation (Burman-Hall on harpsichord, plus two electric guitars) with the West Javanese zither and the gamelan percussion orchestra of bronze bell instruments.
“Gamelan is the most important influence from the 1880s and 1890s on western culture of nonwestern form,” Burman-Hall maintains. “Debussy heard the gamelan in Paris in 1881 and he wrote pieces that express his fascination with the Far East and the different scales he heard. We’re playing the legacy of great classic Sundanese melodies.”
With UCSC hosting the largest gamelan program outside of Indonesia—with more than 200 students dabbling in its bronze percussive instruments each year at all levels, Burman-Hall says the program completes the Pacific Rim Music Festival’s balance of American and East Asian hybrid. For the local Balinese gamelan players, composer Bill Alves threw in the striking contrast of electric guitars in the piece “Angin Listrik,” which translates as “Electrical Storm.”
Alves says he was excited to construct a piece for Balinese gamelan because “Balinese music embraces styles that are loud and dynamic, fast and intricate … Therefore, I decided to make a piece for electric guitars and gamelan.” He continues, “Balinese music is also music of community, of everyone fitting in precisely in interlocking parts and cyclic patterns. I knew it had to be two electric guitars fitting together with each other, as well as with these wonderful bronze instruments from Bali. I suppose you could call the whole endeavor ‘heavy metal!’”
The Pacific Rim Music Festival continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22, through Saturday, April 24, 2 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the UC Santa Cruz Music Center, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $27-48 for the entire festival, or $8-15 for each concert. For more information, call 459-2159 or go to pacificrim.ucsc.edu.