Give the UCLA tenure of Elvis Costello as artist in residence a grade of incomplete.
After the English singer-songwriter was able to oversee only one event--a concert tribute to jazz composer Charles Mingus in September--the university’s performing arts department has put Costello’s trumpeted residency on suspension.
But the artist and the school have already scheduled a makeup test--Costello will give a concert at the UCLA Ackerman Grand Ballroom on May 28, two days before he plays the Kodak Theatre. Tickets for the show--his first in a nonseated facility in more than 20 years--will go on sale Monday.
Costello is also being given an extension on his duties, as it were. “We’re rescheduling further events of his residency for next year,” said UCLA director of performing arts David Sefton, who named Costello the inaugural artist in residence last spring.
What the postponed events will actually be is still to be determined, Sefton says. A ballet based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with orchestral music composed by Costello for the Italian dance company Aterballeto, originally planned for this summer, is probably not going to happen at all because of scheduling conflicts, though the music may be performed in another context.
Costello’s residency was part of an ambitious roll-out of new programs overseen by Sefton, the former head of contemporary culture for London’s Royal Festival Hall who took the reins at UCLA in October 2000. He also introduced the Los Angeles debut last month of the three-day All Tomorrow’s Parties--a festival concept imported from England in which an artist serves as “curator"--and last year brought in “The Harry Smith Project,” producer Hal Willner’s program of music and film honoring the late folk archivist and avant-garde figure.
Costello, who has collaborated with artists ranging from Burt Bacharach to the classical Brodsky Quartet and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, seemed a perfect choice to bridge the worlds of pop culture and academia. But work on “When I Was Cruel,” his first new rock album since 1994, and the fact that he lives in Dublin made the implementation of plans more difficult than anticipated.
“It’s really nobody’s fault, but the machinery of Elvis producing a new record proved impossible to schedule around,” Sefton said this week. “It’s not through any want of trying, but the record and things being planned around it turned into such a big deal that by mutual consent we had to agree on making [the artist-in-residence duties] a back-burner thing.... At the start it was going to be four [events] in the year, and perhaps he hadn’t grasped how much time would be taken up by the record.”
A representative for Costello said that the musician was working in a London studio and was not available to comment.
The problems, Sefton said, will be taken into consideration when he chooses his second artist in residence.
“There are names being thrown around,” he said. “But scheduling is very hard. The world of rock ‘n’ roll is driven by record sales and promotion, and it’s quite difficult to break out of that system. I would be reluctant to give up ever working with someone from that world again in this format, but you do learn. Elvis, by his position, interest and talent, was definitely the right choice. But pity he doesn’t live here.”
The next artist in residence will almost certainly be based closer to L.A., which will not only facilitate the production of formal events but also allow for the possibility of some more casual elements, such as student workshops. Sefton also said that the curator for the next All Tomorrow’s Parties--which he is close to confirming but would not disclose--will be based closer to here than the debut’s Sonic Youth, which is from New York.
Talks are also ongoing with a number of artists for special events, including Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale, who is discussing such ideas as a concert of his album “Paris 1919.”
“There are enough people doing straight rock gigs, and I don’t need to do those,” Sefton said. “I want to do events. I want a program that creates things like ‘The Harry Smith Project’ and the Mingus concert. The Smith show was done three times and will never be done again. Mingus was done just a few times, and if you weren’t there, then it’s gone. I like that one-off quality. I love the word ‘happening.’ I want to rediscover that--the sense that you’re at something that’s a big deal.”