Music Academy (they lopped off “of the West” from the name this summer) doesn’t just have a new moniker, they’ve also created a brand-new series to continue the celebration of its milestone 75th year. Think of the new Mariposa Series as “homecoming” recitals held on campus to showcase what Academy alumni and faculty are up to during the year, having them reconnect with the community and bridge the gap between summer festivals.
The honor of the inaugural event goes to pianist Conor Hanick, who began his nine-year tenure as an assistant to half-century veteran Jerome Lowenthal just a few years before the pedagogical-performance wonder retired. Hanick, who is now the chair of the department, will be bringing back one of his favorite pieces, The Book of Sounds by composer Hans Otte, reprising his performance that delighted the discerning audience at the Ojai Music Festival last June, just days before MA began its season.
Hanick started exploring The Book of Sounds a decade ago after a respected colleague described it as “the most beautiful piece that’s ever been written for the piano,” Hanick recalled. “Some listeners consider it very much not beautiful because of its seeming repetitiveness and complexity, but I was completely enamored after hearing just 30 seconds.”
Hanick said he finds the minimalist work endlessly fascinating and continuously captivating, particularly because of what it does with what he called “modest means.”
“There’s no musical embellishments,” he said. “It just focuses on the most important distilled elements and burrows down even deeper into them from movement to movement, which each has only a couple of ingredients. Over the course of the movement, the essence gets rediscovered in profound ways. The repetition invites the listener and certainly the performer to consider and reconsider, and then reconsider again, what the piece is trying to say, creating a hypnotic effect. It’s like when you say a word over and over again, the meaning melts away and you’re left with the raw contour of the sound. Otte is trying to unlock these vistas of our mind and imagination and memory by having us dwell on these objects until they start transforming before our very ears.”
Hanick said that performing The Book of Sounds is a mind-boggling journey, one that he happily takes up again and again among other great works of art.
“It makes you consider aspects of not only your own musicianship but your approach to music, and even things that don’t have anything to do with music – what you’re aiming to express and why it’s important.”
The piece also asks the audience to actively participate in unveiling its meaning in real time, turning the experience of performance into a communal event.
“It’s very meditative,” he said. “As we’re all looking at, or listening to, the same object through all of its repetition and nuance and subtle shifts of character, we’re all getting closer to whatever real thing there is to feel about this piece.”
Hanick, who spends most of the year in New York City, said he’s looking forward to returning to the Music Academy and the opportunity to share the hour-long work at his summer home away from home in Santa Barbara where he got married and started his family in years past.
“It’s really a very special place.”
After Hanick’s performance on October 27, the Mariposa Series continues December 4 with celebrated alumna soprano Michelle Bradley, a former winner of the Marilyn Horne Song Competition and Metropolitan Opera star, in a collaboration with former faculty pianist Brian Zeger, before the series closes on December 17 with the newly-formed Music Academy Alumni All-Star Cello Choir. Visit musicacademy.org.