By Kate Rix
Something completely unique—or close to it, in the United States at least—is brewing in the Bay Area’s new music scene. Armed with resources beyond the wildest dreams of most classical ensembles, and artistry from the frontiers of composition, the Eco Ensemble offers an innovative and robust schedule of music in the coming spring season.
As U.C. Berkeley’s ensemble-in-residence, Eco brings something entirely new to the region’s musical landscape: an intimate professional ensemble, slightly larger than most, staffed by some of the best new music specialists and led by a world-class conductor.
Eco brings altogether new voices to the Bay Area’s discerning audiences.
Collaborating to foster the ensemble are the teaching faculty of the Department of Music, including professor and conductor David Milnes, and researchers at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT). The combined talent and artistry of these campus units gives Eco a rare depth and muscularity.
Beginning in January Eco will deliver a series of concerts that showcase an international class of composers, including works by emerging composers from the university’s graduate program in composition and pieces by premiere composers, some from Berkeley’s faculty. Featured in upcoming concerts will be music by American, Russian and Taiwanese graduate students and a full-length concerto by music professor Edmund Campion.
A later event spotlights a work by young composer Nico Muhly, whose piece Clear Music is an interpretation of a 16th century motet. The audiences that evening will also hear the highly percussive piece, What the Blind See, by Berkeley composition graduate Aaron Einbond.
“Eco is the summing of all the talents that we have here at Berkeley,” says Campion, a co-director of CNMAT. “There’s a great potential in the faculty of the Music Department, Cal Performances, the region’s musicians, the audience and the critical community. All of these things come together in a vibrant ecology.”
Last year Eco Ensemble performed two pieces by the modern music composer Pierre Boulez. One of them, Dérive, is “tremendously difficult and very satisfying,” says violist Ellen Ruth Rose, who plays with Eco Ensemble, as well as others internationally.
“Its viola part is 48 pages of fast playing,” she says, “and the instrumentation includes harp, piano, percussion and the host of other orchestral instruments. Having a big enough space for all of those musicians and instruments and all that sound takes a tremendous commitment on a very high level.”
But with the university’s support and conductor David Milnes at the helm, Eco is able to tap into the best New Music resources and technology to stage pieces no other like-sized group could ever tackle.
“We are interested in the intersection between technology and live performance,” says Campion, who will participate in the performance of his work Flow, Debris, Falls by performing the computer part. “Eco helps us to expose and generate new works that explore this area.”
The ensemble’s concerts are part of Cal Performance’s 2011/12 season.
“Through the technology at CNMAT and the new work today’s composers are coming up with, we are supporting a new kind of art,” says music professor and conductor Milnes. “And Berkeley is proper place for that.”
Eco Ensemble performs January 21, February 11 and March 24 in Hertz Hall. For information visit www.calperfs.berkeley.edu