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Diverse Music Reigns Under One Umbrella at Spring Fest

CalArts' annual event covers a broad spectrum, from jazz performers to Javanese gamelan players to the violin-marimba duo Marimolin.


There's a reason CalArts calls it the Spring Music Festival. No other name is broad enough.

For the next two weeks, the Valencia campus will be filled with the sounds of Indonesian music, African music and jazz.

If that seems an odd grouping, it makes more sense when you realize that CalArts used to have separate festivals for world and contemporary music. They fused them in 1991 to show that the two categories aren't mutually exclusive.

David Rosenboom, dean of CalArts' School of Music and a composer himself, said much of modern music draws inspiration from Southeast Asian and African cultures. "The idea of contemporary music is really a global idea," he said. "When we're talking about contemporary music, we're not just talking about European music. . . . We're talking about what's going on in various cultures."

Guest performer Muhal Richard Abrams comes closest to embodying all the aspects of the Spring Music Festival. In the 1960s, pianist and composer Abrams founded the Assn. for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which spawned some of Chicago's leading experimental jazz musicians. Abrams' music is as diverse as the festival itself, taking elements of blues, swing, big band, 20th-century classical and traditional African music--all with a large dose of improvisation.

The concert March 8 by the Muhal Richard Abrams Quintet will reunite him with trumpeter and AACM member Wadada Leo Smith. Smith, who currently teaches music at CalArts, said Abrams and the AACM have had a broad influence on musicians, composers and music theorists. "He is responsible for, in the Midwest, laying down the foundation for a new musical language."

That's tough to explain, Smith said, but not difficult to listen to. "Music is a non-discussive entrance into knowledge, information and sensation. Because of those things, we don't have to know anything about it," he said. "Jump into it like you would on a nice spring day when you know the water is going to be a little cool."

Rosenboom said that's the approach to take to all the festival shows: Have an active and open mind.


The Balinese performance Friday, as well as the African one Sunday, will feature traditional dance, said production manager Bob Clendenen. "Their concept of music and dance and words are all intertwined. They don't separate them," he explained. "So if they play music, they have to dance and they have to sing because it's all one thing."

At the Javanese concert Saturday night, CalArts will dedicate its new Javanese gamelan, Clendenen said, "the nicest, newest, best gamelan in the entire U.S. of A." Gamelan actually means "orchestra," and the Javanese variety is a set of pitched bronze percussion instruments played by as many as 25 people. CalArts' acquisition--which cost more than $30,000--has been christened Kyai Dorodasih, or "The venerable dream come true."

"That's because they've been waiting for it for 25 years," said Clendenen.

A concert March 9 has combined northern and southern Indian music. Rajeev Taranath will play the sarod, a plucked string instrument similar to the sitar, but bigger. Faculty member Swapan Chaudhuri will play the tabla, tuned Indian drums. Guest artist Shankar, who invented the double violin, will also play.

Other shows include a free string concert Wednesday and a performance March 10 by Marimolin, a violin and marimba duo that plays contemporary classical and jazz music.

This multicultural musical fusion is natural at CalArts, which has leading jazz, classical and world-music programs. But, Smith said, it is also the wave that contemporary music will ride into the 21st century.

"Music that we're hearing today is preparing people how to understand each other, that is, to understand differences, and really affect a more harmonious union among styles of people and culture and government," Smith said. He put it more bluntly: "This is going to be our environment for the next 100 to 200 years. . . . You might as well get used to it."


* WHAT: CalArts Spring Music Festival.

* WHERE: Walt Disney Modular Theatre, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Monday, 5 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. March 7-19.

* HOW MUCH: $8 general, $3 for alumni, $2 for students and seniors.

* CALL: (805) 253-7800.

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