In an ideal world, gender shouldn't be an issue. But there it is, a stubborn obstacle and ongoing topic of discussion. As in other realms of cultural life, the field of composition--at least as represented by music that gets performed and recorded--has long been male-dominated. But female composers have gradually been making their way onto the scene.
In a sense, the renowned composer Joan Tower has helped to pave the way. Tower, by now one of the most respected American composers, regardless of gender, will be in residence at UC Santa Barbara next week, and the public will have a chance to hear one of her pieces, the 1989 Concerto for Flute and Orchestra. The fine, UCSB-based flutist Jill Felber will perform the jazz-inflected work on a concert program of the Ensemble for Contemporary Music.
Also on this juicy program will be Toccata for Violin and Piano, by the late, great player piano composer Conlon Nancarrow, performed by new faculty violinist Margaret Batjer, and Nancarrow's "Two Canons for Ursula." Music of Luigi Irlandini, James Ieraci and Jeremy Haladyna rounds out the concert.
But the focus is on Tower. Her music, influenced by Stravinsky and other modernists, walks a fine, smart line. She has carved out an aesthetic with strong links to her musical century but with distinctive qualities.
She started as a pianist but worked her way deeper into composing and has written extensively for chamber settings--including the New York-based Da Capo Chamber Players, which she helped found in 1969. But she has also built up an impressive repertoire of orchestral works, including "Sequoia," "Silver Ladders" and what could be called her anthem, "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman (No. 1)." Sequels have followed, and Tower is now up to her fifth fanfare, with more, no doubt, to come.
* Ensemble for Contemporary Music, Tuesday at 8 p.m. at UCSB's Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. $5. (805) 893-3230.
A Rake's Progress: To the delight of a small but rapt crowd, the indefinable New Music-maker Eugene Chadbourne made his Ventura debut last fall, bringing to the Daily Grind his signature blend of warped folk music, free improvisation and absurd antics. He's known to play and abuse guitar, banjo and electric rake (a lawn rake fitted with a guitar pickup to carry the sound) but by show's end, he had dispensed with instruments, per se, and played the resident magazine rack like an ad hoc percussion tool. It was that kind of performance.
Chadbourne returns to town for a special performance of his "Insect and Western Music," Saturday night at Art City II. In this series of music, made of pieces both structured and free, Chadbourne draws on sympathetic local musicians to round out the ensemble, and here, calls on Jeff Kaiser, Vinnie Golia, Gene Doi, Jim Connolly, Rich West and ex-Camper Van Beethoven member Jonathan Segel. Should be a hot, weird time in the house.
* Eugene Chadbourne, "Insect and Western Music," Saturday at 8 p.m. at Art City II, 31 Peking St., Ventura. $6. (805) 648-1690.
Romantic Tendencies: It had to happen sooner or later. Rach III, star of screen and of Romantic piano literature legend, is coming to town. Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, a sweeping and technically formidable work, came into mass consciousness two years ago courtesy of the popular Australian film "Shine," which became a symbol of the virtuosity and inner passion of the film's subject, pianist David Helfgott.
The rest has been history, as Helfgott's recording of the piece soared to the top of the charts and he performed it on concert tours, to the delight of many and the general scorn of critics. That recent reputation precedes the work, through no fault of the composer's.
Now, here it is, played locally by Russian pianist Oxana Yoblanskaya, as the staple on this weekend's Romantic concert program by the New West Symphony. Filling out the program will be more things romantic and Russian--Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and the prelude to Mussorgsky's opera "Khovanshchina."
* New West Symphony, "Russian Giants," Friday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard; Saturday at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Both concerts start at 8 p.m. $12-$55. (805) 643-8646.