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An Oasis Of New Music At The Cabrillo Festival

by Marin Alsop
Jul 31, 2009 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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In 1991, when Dennis Russell Davies first spoke to me about succeeding him as the director of his beloved Cabrillo Festival, he had been there for 17 years. That seemed like an eternity to me. Well, here I am starting my 18th season as music director of the annual festival, and I wouldn't trade in this unique and authentic experience for anything.

The Cabrillo Festival makes its home in the quaint and quirky city of Santa Cruz, Calif., where bumper stickers read, "Keep Santa Cruz Weird."

Cabrillo is more of a state of mind than a place. The Cabrillo experience is all about people and relationships: how we use art to express ourselves; how we communicate with and without words; how we learn and assimilate; how we form opinions and tastes; and, importantly, how we are bound together by creativity and the thrill of discovery.

If that sounds ephemeral, it is. And if it sounds unpredictable, it definitely is. The festival is like the music itself: It exists in the moment and never again in the same way. No two days at Cabrillo are ever the same.

Music And Community

Every summer, the 70 stellar musicians of the Festival Orchestra drop their normal lives to fly, drive or bike to Santa Cruz. They camp out with members of the community and come together to work like fiends for a very modest wage of about $62 per day. We rehearse six hours almost every day and perform all new music — tough, challenging and thrilling music.

Also converging at Cabrillo are the composers. Over the life of the festival, we've hosted many of the greats, from Aaron Copland and John Cage to John Adams, Arvo Part and Elliott Carter. We open up each rehearsal to the community, so people show up with their kids, dogs, friends and strangers. They absorb a creative exchange among players, conductors and composers, who join us to hear their works come to life.

This sense of shared community is part of Cabrillo's DNA. The seeds of the festival were sowed in the early 1960s at an informal concert series held at the Sticky Wicket Cafe, when a young composition student named Robert Hughes arrived in Aptos, Calif., from Italy to study with composer Lou Harrison. These bohemian events were born out of a shared curiosity about new sounds and new compositions.

This communal desire still motivates everything we do at Cabrillo, and has allowed me to expand to areas that drive my musical passions. For me, Cabrillo feels like coming home — back to special friends and colleagues and connecting in ways that make life feel full.

(The 2009 Cabrillo Music Festival runs Aug. 2-16.)

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Cabrillo Stats

-- 119 world premieres -- 61 U.S. premieres -- 27 consecutive ASCAP "Adventurous Programming" awards -- Composers at Cabrillo: John Adams, William Bolcom, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Carlos Chavez, Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, Michael Daugherty, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Keith Jarrett, Aaron Jay Kernis, Libby Larsen, Tania Leon, Thea Musgrave, Arvo Part, Christopher Rouse

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