Roy Malan’s formal composure broke as he picked up his sleek brown violin. His eyes grew wide, and his demeanor became animated. Malan leaned against his violin, securing the dark wood under his chin and began plucking the taut strings with his nails, producing sharp sounds. Malan doesn’t look at the instrument, his fingers know where to go.
Malan, the former concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra for nearly 40 years, demonstrated a finger-picking technique. Musical Arts doctoral student Dohyun Jeon taught Malan to use this technique for Jeon’s piece “Etude for Solo Violin.” Malan performed this song virtually in the first concert of this year’s “April in Santa Cruz” series on April 2.
“Dohyun’s piece is one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to learn,” Malan said. “She invented fascinating techniques that I have never used on the violin. I had to learn many things.”
The “April in Santa Cruz” music festival has been a longstanding tradition at UC Santa Cruz for over two decades. Each year, students and faculty abandon the formal student-professor relationship and dive into music together, as was the case for Malan.
Festival organizers decided to postpone the 2020 concert, not imagining everything would still be partially shut down a year later. But the festival was determined to move forward remotely, with all seven performances pre-recorded and then made available at the festival’s Facebook page. The artists that were supposed to perform in 2020 now have a chance to do so, albeit not in front of a live audience. They trade the stage for recording from home.
“Performing without an audience has been a very strange experience for me,” said violinist and UCSC doctoral student Grijda Spiri. “The feedback from the live audience that we receive on stage is crucial for an artist. It is one of the biggest satisfactions I get as a violinist to see how the music captures and moves the audience.”
While the format took some time to get used to, Spiri was excited to have the opportunity to play “A Lament for the Lamen,” an original Albanian lament she composed. In the pre-recorded video, Spiri performed alongside images of Albania. She wanted to share a piece of Albanian culture that continues to inspire her musically- music that audience members might not be as familiar with.
Karlton Hester, a UCSC professor of music and professional musician, is this year’s festival director. Hester was inspired to create a variety of musical sounds and mediums at the shows.
“This year I aspired to represent music as a series of eclectic concerts and interdisciplinary events reflective of a broad spectrum of music, dance, visual, and other artistic styles and approaches,” Hester wrote in an email. “I wanted to involve a broad cross-section of our students, faculty, and visiting composers.”
“April in Santa Cruz” began on April 2 when the first concert, “Solo Inspirations,” was uploaded to Facebook. Each week the festival features a free concert with a new theme. Sheilla Willey and Colin Hannon kicked off the show by performing Michael McGushin’s “Oddities and Observations,” while I-Wen Wang closed with “Variations in Dancing Mood for Electronics,” a groovy piece by Melodie Michel.
Hester knew that all the performances had been pre-recorded and would be a challenging process for the musicians.
“With improvised music in particular, musicians constantly make spontaneous decisions in real-time that are based upon responses to their colleagues,” Hester said. “It has forced us all to have to find interim ‘pandemic era’ solutions that force us out of our usual box of performance practices.”
Malan’s solution was to have his wife sit in the room where he recorded “Etude for Solo Violin.” Even having one person in the room helped recreate the feeling of playing for a live audience.
Despite these concerns, the first concert was well-received, with people praising the artists’ work in the Facebook comments.
“Millions of people suddenly have access to entertainment options that they perhaps would never have seen in concert before,” Hester said. “The great thing about technology is that we can collaborate with others without geographical restraint in ways that were not available in the past.”
“April in Santa Cruz” will host a series of free concerts on April 9, 16, 17, 23, and 30, concluding with “Divine Quantum Elders Consciousness Vaccine.” You can access each concert by visiting the “April in Santa Cruz” Facebook page.