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Immersive Springtime Festival Takes Music Students Far Beyond Concert Hall

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Pianist and music graduate student Xavier Beteta, who will perform at this year’s Springfest

In a departure from the traditional concert hall experience, pianist and music graduate student Todd Moellenberg will perform onstage to empty seats in the Conrad Prebys Concert Hall. The audience will view his six-hour concert, “Observation Dock,” backstage—from video monitors that present Moellenberg’s performance of pre-recorded sounds, movement and spoken word.

Moellenberg’s event will be right at home at Springfest, a showcase of work by UC San Diego Department of Music graduate students and various collaborators. The festival runs April 10 – 16 with events at Conrad Prebys Music Center, The Loft, Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Birch Aquarium and Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan near downtown San Diego.

“Springfest represents the most important departmental event for graduate students: a festival run by us, for our projects,” said cellist and music graduate student Judith Hamann, coordinator for this year’s festival.

Now in its 14th year, Springfest has built a reputation as a place to discover work by emerging musicians that ventures far beyond the concert hall. Performances take place indoors and out. Some incorporate media such as video, pre-recorded sound and computer processing. Others are interdisciplinary works that merge music with movement, spoken word and visual art.

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Soprano and music graduate student Meghann Welsh utilizes a carpenter’s saw for her performance at Birch Aquarium at last year’s Springfest

The annual music event opens April 10 from 6 – 8 p.m. with Immersion, a sort of mini-festival hosted by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at Birch Aquarium. Curated by music grad student and horn player Nicolee Kuester, Immersion will fill the aquarium with performances in strategic locations. Solo and chamber music will be heard in front of the Kelp Forest. Pianist Joshua Charney and bassist Tommy Babin will improvise in response to the movements of sharks. Joe Cantrell will present his piece “Disco Verité,” spinning 12-inch grooveless Plexiglas discs to which he has attached various materials to make a range of sounds as the needle scrapes across them. An ensemble that includes UC San Diego graduate students will premiere, “The People Upstairs,” a piece by San Diego composer Joe Garrison. In “Singing for Their Supper,” Chris Donahue will use live 3D video-tracking of fish in the Hall of Fishes to generate sounds. In another location, children can build their own “oceanic instruments” and play them in an orchestra.

Following Immersion are more adventures outside the mainstream:

  • A solo performance of his own compositions by UC San Diego pianist Xavier Beteta (April 11, Noon)
  • A screening of the cult classic horror film, “Suspiria,” with a live performance by music grad students led by percussionist Ryan Nestor of the original sound track composed by the Italian rock group Goblin. (April 12, 8 p.m.)
  • “Three Bodies Moving,” a 45-minute exploration of the relationships between violin cello and bass clarinet within composer Catherine Lamb’s harmonic framework. (April 14, 5 p.m.)
  • Autoduplicity presents, “Machaut + Rauschen,” a concert that juxtaposes the modern works of Peter Ablinger arranged by Jennifer Bewerse (cello) and Rachel Beetz (flute) of Guillaume de Machaut's 14th-century ballade, “Dame, ne regardez pas,” (April 14, 7 p.m.)
  • A tribute to experimental composer David Tudor by Southland Ensemble from Los Angeles—Tudor is known for using everyday objects as speakers, among other unconventional methods. Southland will also premiere a new composition by UC San Diego music alumna Carolyn Chen (April 15, 7 p.m.)
  • A featured performance by composer, violinist and improviser Malcolm Goldstein, co-founder of the Tone Roads Ensemble, who is known for producing unconventional sounds with his violin and voice (April 13, 7 p.m.)
  • “Late Nights at the Loft,” two nights of improvised music by UC San Diego musicians and guests (April 13 & 14, 8:30 p.m.)
  • A daylong closing event at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan near downtown San Diego, curated by Hamann and San Diego artist Armando de la Torre and including computer music workshops for kids and adults (beginning at 10 a.m.)

Moellenberg, who considers himself both a pianist and performance artist, is at Springfest for the third consecutive year. “Observation Dock,” like other of his projects, builds on his early training as a pianist—he began classical piano lessons at age six. His graduate studies at UC San Diego have helped him discover new modes of expression; for example, he has found himself increasingly drawn to performance art.

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Cellist and music graduate Judith Hamann, coordinator of this year’s Springfest

“My work as a pianist often involves the interpretation of highly detailed scores from the contemporary repertoire,” Moellenberg said. “In my performance art practice I am looking for a mode of expression that is largely unmediated.” He often incorporates video art, poetry readings and durational performances in public spaces.

For Hamann, who plans to graduate in 2018, Springfest and other experiences as a music graduate student have already launched her professional career. Drawn to UC San Diego in part by the chance to study with cellist Charles Curtis of the music department faculty, Hamann has developed a passion for the music of composers LaMonte Young and Alvin Lucier, from whose works she plans a new recording of their music.

“I became involved with Springfest through my work as a research assistant for the production arm of the music department,” Hamann said. “I have a long-running interest in concert-making and supporting collaborative work, so it has been challenging and rewarding to produce something on this scale.”