LA JOLLA — At UC San Diego, where new music is the established religion, composers are cultivated with the assiduity of novitiates at a Tibetan lamasery. Not surprisingly, the regular presentation of new works by the university's resident and graduate student composers takes on the air of ritual.
Thursday evening in the austere confines of Mandeville Recital Hall, six new works, most of them written in the last year or two, were offered. If this program is a barometer of the department's current compositional theology, what was once a temple for jaunty iconoclasts has become populated by earnest and slightly mystical devotees.
Hiroyuki Itoh's haunting duo for flute and piano, "Figuration II," pitted a languid but highly ornamented flute line against crashing keyboard punctuations. Xavier Chabot's sweet flute tone and refined sense of line seemed more congruent to the work's intent than the composer's heavy-handed thumping at the piano. Another well-constructed work with mystical overtones was Chaya Shwartz's three-movement "Resin" for string quartet and soprano. UCSD faculty member Carol Plantamura intoned the vocalise, a kind of abstract but impassioned chant, over static instrumental clusters.
Two works struck this listener as particularly meditative, although non-musical factors may have induced this state. During Ignacio Baca-Lobera's work for prepared tape, "Paper or Plastic?" the room was darkened except for a warm red glow projected on the backdrop of the empty stage. This dense, sonic cluster sounded like an explosion about to happen, although the materials were handled with disciplined economy. Flutist John-Sebastian Winston performed Kaija Saariaho's solo "Laconsime de l'aile" illumined by a single overhead spotlight. This effect gave the Finnish composer's already rarefied incantation an otherworldly quality.