Preview of Cabrillo Festival


Cabrillo locks and loads—Santa Cruz new music festival opens Friday

Dedicated musicians have been gathering from across the country this week to descend on Santa Cruz for a two-week festival that hasMarin Alsop become THE preeminent contemporary music showcase for North America. Entering its 48th season, the Cabrillo festival has been conducted and guided by Maestra Marin Alsop since 1992. While maintaining the spirit of adventure that Lou Harrison, creator of the festival, offered with unique instruments and jazz-gamelan fusions, Alsop has added a level of professionalism that makes her essays into the unknown successful experiments. Accordingly, her musicians and audience are as committed as she, with tickets selling fast.

This year 13 composers will have their works performed, with many of them on hand for panels and residencies. Newcomer composers will mingle with big guns like Philip Glass and John Adams, augmented by festival favorites Jennifer Higdon and Kevin Puts.

At the Aug 6 opening prominent British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage brings Scherzoid, which premiered in 2005 with the London Symphony Orchestra, a high-octane work that alternates three-fold and four-fold rhythms and symmetries.

The eagerly awaited West Coast premiere of Higdon’s On a Wire follows. She conceived this for the young and dynamic sextet, eighth blackbird, a group that Higdon called “a classical rock band.” Before working their usual instruments, they gather and glide horsehair over the strings of an open piano for an eerie opening to a work described as “exceptionally difficult and colorful.”

Matt Albert, violinist for eighth blackbird, called On a Wire “…a concerto grosso…She took on the challenge of writing a piece that had not one soloist, but six…Mine happens to be a viola solo that is lyrical and gorgeous.”

This past April Higdon was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music for her violin concerto, which Hilary Hahn performed this year.

Jennifer HigdonThe concert concludes with a world premiere, Michael Hersch’s Symphony #3. After his Symphony #2, which Cabrillo audiences highly praised, Hersch spent ten years writing solo piano and chamber works. He remarked on the hiatus:

I needed some distance. While the orchestra has always felt a natural source of inspiration for me, it was not until early 2009 that I felt compelled to re-engage and to commit to paper once again the music in my mind’s ear; music requiring a large orchestral ensemble and a relatively broad canvas. This work is the result.”

On Saturday, Aug 7, the Festival continues with rewind by Anna Clyne, a work inspired by the sounds of fast rewinding of analog video tape, composed in 2006 for the Hysterica Dance Co, and a tape’s “skipping, freezing and warping” is cross-suggested in movement. 

Higdon returns with Percussion Concerto, featuring Colin Currie, for whom it was written. Alsop knows that piece well, for her recording of it with Currie and the London Philharmonic won a Grammy this year for best contemporary classical composition.

Turnage also returns with Chicago Remains and Drowned Out. Chicago is a tribute to that city’s architecture of bold grays, its blues clubs and gospel choirs.

Philip GlassThe festival continues with eighth blackbird and the Kronos Quartet on Sunday, and concerts the following weekend. On Saturday Michael Shapiro’s fast-paced Roller Coaster, Sean Hickey’s Dalliance, Kevin Puts’ Night (in which he also performs), and John Adams’ City Noir, which Gustavo Dudamel premiered in Los Angeles (May 18 Piedmont Post) make for a heavy line-up.

And then on Sunday comes the blowout finale in a program titled In Aeternam. Elena Kats-Chernin’s vivid Heaven is Closed was composed as her emotional journey detailing the incurable illness of her son, and will fittingly be performed in the vaulted 200-year-old Mission of San Juan Bautista. Cellist Wendy Sutter performs Philip Glass’ 2007 Cello Concerto, a study in the lyrical side of minimalism.

Oakland Symphony regulars may have heard Pierre Jalbert’s Fire and Ice, and in the Mission his award winning In Aeternam will next be performed, followed by Foils for Orchestra by George Walker, the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for composition and the only living composer-pianist to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

The full schedule is available at


—Adam Broner

Photos from top: conductor Marin Alsop, photo by Grant Leighton; composers Jennifer Higdon, and Philip Glass, photos courtesy of the Festival.