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CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : UCSD Gains Some Respect by Honoring Erickson

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As university music departments go, UC San Diego’s is just a youngster, and in its brief two decades it has carved out its avant-garde niche with a determined iconoclasm. But this youngster is now showing signs that it would like to acquire a bit of history, the cachet of lineage and a proper pedigree.

Sister campuses have shown the way. At UCLA, the music department is housed in Schonberg Hall, named after the celebrated composer who taught on that university’s music faculty during his California exile. At Berkeley, the music department’s concert hall, Hertz Hall, is named for the pioneering music director of the San Francisco Symphony, Alfred Hertz.

This week, UCSD is changing the name of Mandeville Center’s B-210 performance space to Erickson Hall. Robert Erickson, the 71-year-old composer and emeritus professor, helped found the UCSD music department in the late 1960s.

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“As he moves further away from us, we want to do more to hold on to him,” said Burt Turetzsky of the UCSD music faculty. Contrabassist Turetzsky and a few of his colleagues will present a recital Thursday evening in Erickson Hall to inaugurate the renamed--and freshly painted--facility.

In the spring of 1987, the department held a week-long Erickson festival to honor the composer upon his retirement. Those festival performances led to an invitation from the West German government that brought 50 UCSD performers to last summer’s Darmstadt contemporary music festival.

“When we were in Darmstadt this summer, we played quite a bit of Erickson’s music,” Turetzsky said, “and it was a big hit there. There’s still nothing quite like his music.”

Erickson’s health is fragile, and he does not leave his North County residence except to visit his doctor. According to Bonnie Harkins, a member of the UCSD music staff who visits him regularly, he is strong enough to compose 45 minutes a day after breakfast.

“He has just finished an orchestral piece and is about to start on a work for 10 strings and trumpet,” Harkins said. “He is still productive, cheerful, and curious. When we came back from Darmstadt he wanted to know every detail of the festival and trip, including what we had to eat when we were in Paris.”

Another milestone that is sure to cheer Erickson is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s world premiere of his composition “Corona” on Feb. 2. The piece was commissioned by the Philharmonic and will be conducted by music director Andre Previn in three concerts at the Los Angeles Music Center. Harkins doubted that Erickson would be well enough to attend the premiere.

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“He has only recently been able to view the tapes made of the department’s Erickson Festival,” she said.

Turetzsky noted that Erickson is at last winning the recognition that has eluded him during most of his career.

“He follows that great American tradition of the outlaw composer who never gets any attention until his final years.”

The first musical birth of 1989. Local organist and conductor Andrew Jongsma has announced the formation of Pro Musica-San Diego, a new performance group of singers and instrumentalists who will specialize in 18th-Century music. The ensemble’s debut concert will be given Jan. 29 at San Diego’s Grace Lutheran Church. For this performance, Jongsma has programmed Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, and a Vivaldi flute concerto.

Before moving to San Diego, Jongsma conducted opera and operetta in Europe, where he also made recordings with several radio orchestras. He began his music studies with Kurt Thomas, cantor of Leipzig’s historic St. Thomas Church.

Dueling banjos and then some. A trio of UCSD graduate students has been invited to compete in next month’s Gaudeamus International Competition in Rotterdam. Violinists Mary Oliver and Paivikki Nykter, along with pianist Daniel Koppelman, will be performing in Holland’s most prestigious new music forum.

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At Gaudeamus, each performer is required to present an hour-long recital of contemporary music. To give a perspective on the stage of contemporary music, one of the contest rules requires that at least two works be written out on traditional staff notation.

Each of the UCSD musicians will give a preview performance in Mandeville Recital Hall later this week. Oliver, a San Diego native, won a coveted performance prize at Darmstadt this summer. While at UCSD she has served as concertmaster for the La Jolla Civic-University Orchestra.

Gustavo watch update. For those who missed Gustavo Romero’s piano recital at St. Paul’s Cathedral last Friday night, there is another opportunity to hear Chula Vista’s most celebrated concert pianist. Romero will play Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto with the USIU International Orchestra under Zoltan Rozsnyai on Jan. 20, at the College Avenue Baptist Church.

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