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SOUNDS AROUND TOWN : New Music Maker : Composer William Kraft will officially get UC Santa Barbara's Sherril C. Corwin Chair this weekend.

February 13, 1992|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a new guy on the block in the UC Santa Barbara music department. He walks briskly through the hallowed halls and has a wry sense of humor, twinkly eyes and a serious interest in the music of our time. He also carries a distinguished resume as a prominent composer, with an international reputation and a West Coast residency--a rare combination.

This weekend, William Kraft will officially become the second occupant of the coveted Sherril C. Corwin Chair in Music, a position funded by the Corwin family, owners of the Metropolitan theater chain. The first occupant, Peter Fricker, who held the position for many years, died two years ago.

At the Corwin Investiture Concert on Sunday, the powers that be will issue ceremonial words at what amounts to a sort of coronation--free and open to the public. Then the games will begin: Kraft's chamber works, "Quartet for the Love of Time," "Gallery '83" and "3 Settings from Pierrot Lunaire," will be performed.

As Kraft explained in his campus office last week, the funds involved in the position are "to be used in connection to my career or in my connection to the university. In other words, to bring attention to me--which automatically brings attention to the university and the music department in particular. There are a lot of things I have in mind to do with that, to support recording of my works and bring new music groups here."

Kraft would also like to form a self-sustaining group that could regularly present new music and travel throughout the UC system and beyond.

"It's a dream of mine that this new music ensemble will eventually be able to travel around the country and have an East Coast tour.

"Back east, if you have a group in New York or Philadelphia or Boston, all of New England knows about it and probably the whole country will know about it. But when there's something out here, it's localized. I'm talking about Los Angeles too."

Kraft is no stranger to the Southern California music scene--particularly where contemporary music advocacy is concerned. Chicago-born and Columbia-trained, Kraft had a long relationship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was a tympanist for 20 years, the founder of the Philharmonic's New Music Group in the early '80s and a prolific composer whose works were often performed by the orchestra.

At his new job last week, Kraft gave a presentation to a group of composition students, giving background on two of his pieces, the Tympani Concerto and the Piano Concerto (both will appear on a CD release this year).

After playing the slow, eerily sensuous second movement of the Tympani Concerto for the class, Kraft said: "Now the old ladies are really ensconced. You can do anything now." Sure enough, the third movement is a more jagged-edged, aggressive section with outbursts alternating with hypnotic rhythmic murmuring.

Therein lies part of the secret to Kraft's success as a composer, finding a balance of artistic integrity and general appeal. His inspiration "comes out of impressionism, jazz (he played jazz piano while studying music) and Stravinsky," although serial and 12-tone writing is basic to his musical language. But Kraft is crafty at keeping his serial music lively, with rhythmic vigor or other conceptual elements.

In the case of his now-four "Contextures" pieces, music is wedded with social concerns. Kraft wrote of the original "Contextures: Riots-Decade '60," written in 1967: "As the work progressed, the correspondence between the fabric of the music and the fabric of society became apparent, and the allegory grew in significance. . . . I found myself translating social aspects into musical techniques."

Almost 20 years later, Kraft's ambitious "Contextures II: The Final Beast," premiered by the L.A. Philharmonic in 1984 and available on CD (on the Nonesuch label), asserted its anti-war statement by using historical texts.

While sometimes dryly chilling, it is also a poignant work that juxtaposes sections of an early music ensemble within Kraft's serial music. Similarly, a far-off sounding jazz band is inserted into the thicket of the original "Contextures," as a sharp point of contrast and also a variation on the idea of fiddling while Rome burns.

"After the performance of 'Contextures II,' two ladies came up to me and said, 'We were crying at the end of your piece. Is that all right?' " Kraft said, laughing. "Can you imagine? The stigma that's attached to emotion is wrong."

As a busy composer, conductor, new music proponent and teacher, Kraft has worn many hats in the pursuit of a better musical environment.

"I guess I'm antsy," he said, grinning. "I have two great loves. One is music and the other one is humanity. The idea of performing in public and delivering the message, so to speak, is a way of encompassing those two things."

Not one to adhere to a single-minded school of compositional thought, Kraft hopes to impart to his students the same recipe for self-expression that he's followed.

"I tell my students that composition, to me, is an interaction of the intuitive and the intellectual. Don't ignore the intuitive because that's the gift. That's why you got into music--because you heard something. You wanted to say something. But you have to control it so that it's said in the best way, so that it communicates and stands as a work of art.

"Somebody complimented me on my piece 'Interplay' by saying, 'It's so attractive and accessible, but it's also so good.' I said, 'If you're going to be accessible, you better show a lot of skill and craftsmanship so that it will be respectable.'

"I think the greatest music of all time has been that which was attractive. I'm talking now about Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn--music that everybody likes, but that is very skillfully done. That's my aim."

* WHERE AND WHEN

Corwin Investiture Concert, music by William Kraft at UCSB's Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, on Feb. 16 at 4 p.m. Free admission. For tickets or information call 893-3535

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