Now Hear This!
Alumni ensemble enjoys surprising audiences.
By Sophia Fischer
PEOPLE aren’t always sure what to expect when the Now Hear Ensemble, made up of five UC Santa Barbara alumni musicians, takes the stage. There was the piece played from behind a ping pong table to the popping and bouncing sounds of a ball being hit by two players; and the performance that combined live action and video of the instrumentalists, in red shirts, as they spun on revolving chairs, lights flashing. Now Hear Ensemble gives audiences a dramatic experience, involving multimedia, theatrical components, the use of bicycle wheels, paper shredders, megaphones and custom-made instruments. One performance series was aptly titled, “Not for the Ears Alone.”
“People may not walk out humming the tune we just played but they will say, ‘Wow, that was cool,’” said Jonathan Morgan D.M.A. ’14, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who plays viola and violin.
Now Hear Ensemble’s goal is to introduce the public to “new music,” combining classical with other genres like rock and jazz. They take that approach a step further by adding technology and non-traditional instruments.
“I always think, ‘What would my mom say?’ Some things she might be freaked out by but that’s okay because what else could she grab onto in the show?” said Anthony Paul Garcia M.A. ’13, Ph.D. ’16, from Phoenix, Arizona, who plays percussion and electronics. “Our music is fun, playful and clever.”
The group enjoys watching audience reaction. During a recent UCSB show, two students seated in front had exactly the desired response.
“When they saw everything come together- us, the action, video and sound- one girl said, ‘What?!’” Morgan recalled. “We want people to have that ‘aha’ moment.”
In addition to Morgan and Garcia, Now Hear Ensemble includes Adriane Hill M.A. ’15, from Orlando, Florida, who plays flute/piccolo; Amanda Kritzberg M.A. ’13, from Castaic, who plays clarinets; and Federico Llach Ph.D. ’17, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on double bass and electronics. All have day jobs and perform separately in other venues in addition to ensemble activities. Hill and Kritzberg work at UCSB- Hill is the Department of Music’s Marketing and Communications Manager and Kritzberg is an administrative assistant in the Office of the Chancellor.
Founded in 2012 at UCSB, Now Hear Ensemble has performed at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in Los Angeles, Carlsbad Music Festival, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, Stanford University, University of Southern California, Center for New Music in San Francisco, Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire and in multiple Santa Barbara venues. They recorded an album entitled “Made in California,” and premiered more than 25 works from composers statewide, including students who might not have had their work performed. Now Hear has been the Resident Ensemble at the UCSB Department of Music since 2014.
“I have had the opportunity to work with numerous composers, performers, and producers from all over the world that I would never have otherwise,” Kritzberg said. “The relationships and connections that I have made as part of Now Hear Ensemble have been valuable to me.”
All five met at UCSB through musical groups or collaborations. Part of the motivation for starting a group was that Garcia and Llach are composers.
“I felt like I was in a rock band going on tour. I had never done anything like that in classical music and it was exciting.”
—Adriane Hill M.A. ’15, Now Hear Ensemble member
“The Santa Barbara music community is small. We wanted another outlet for our music to be heard,” Llach said.
Hill joined in 2014 after a member moved across the country for a new job. Her first gig with Now Hear was the Carlsbad Music Festival.
“I felt like I was in a rock band going on tour. I had never done anything like that in classical music and it was exciting,” Hill recalled.
The UCSB residency provided Now Hear Ensemble with space to rehearse and perform, resources to produce concerts, compositions created by music students, and mentorship from faculty including Clarence Barlow, Jill Felber, Jeremy Haladyna, Curtis Roads and Joel Feigin.
“The members are all skilled and innovative artists, and collectively, they boldly venture outside of concert norms,” said Felber. “This enterprising, risk-taking and innovative ensemble sets a great example for our campus community and undergraduates who may wonder what performance options they have after graduation.”
Each musician has additional roles including handling public relations, coordinating equipment, scheduling and producing. Garcia recalls one show with live video components that required multiple computers, cameras, click tracks and live audio processing.
“Sometimes we don’t program our music in a way that’s kind to us,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of setup but we really love doing shows like that. You have to be an entrepreneur.”
The first concerts performed by Now Hear Ensemble were of music by UCSB student composers.
“I love that we have the opportunity to premiere works. When there are no previous recordings or performances to compare ourselves to, there is a lot of room to be creative and experiment,” Kritzberg remarked.
Wanting to give composers beyond UCSB the same opportunity, the group invited students at other universities to collaborate for their “Made in California” tour. There were more than 50 submissions.
“We chose 11 pieces and toured with those around the state. It was our first big project and led to our first album, “‘Made in California,’” Llach said.
The album was recorded at UCSB in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall and was self-produced by the ensemble over the course of one week. Members put in 13 to 18 hour days, building and tearing down the studio daily.
“There are many things that I value about Now Hear Ensemble, but one of the most important is the spirit of collaboration,” Kritzberg said. “Each member plays a unique and important role as individuals, but we come together to present a final concert that represents our shared vision.”
When all five are together the strong bond of friendship and mutual respect is clear.
“Outside of work we hang out, we’re really good friends, and that’s part of what keeps us together,” Hill said.
The group is in the process of transforming into an official independent nonprofit organization.
“The dream goal is to have a sustainable budget and a full staff to help produce shows,” Morgan said. “We would continue performing regularly in Santa Barbara and touring California, and I would eventually love to see us have more of a national presence.”
The Ensemble returns to New Hampshire in September for the Avaloch Farm Music Institute to collaborate with other musicians and composers.
“Now Hear Ensemble has become a vital part of the new music community in Santa Barbara, connecting audiences with unique performances of repertoire, much of which has been created specifically for them,” Barlow said. “The ensemble’s exciting trajectory has produced innovative concerts throughout California, and I look forward to seeing what their future holds.”
Also Read: Arts/Dance: Connecting Across the Pond
UCSB alumna’s research explores the concept of home through dance and current students. Here.