UC Santa Cruz Arts & Lectures director offers up her second season of innovative programming

It's only fitting that the UC Santa Cruz 2003-04 Arts & Lectures season kicks off with the Turtle Island String Quartet performing a tribute to legendary trumpet player Miles Davis. Crossing boundaries and merging genres is the order of the day as UCSC's innovative performing arts presenter offers up a brand new lineup of 23 original performances by some of the world's most inventive artists.

"There is a lot of music as well as cross-disciplinary works in the season," observed Arts & Lectures director Michelle Witt. "It's fascinating to present a wide variety of top folk, jazz, world, classical, and early music, and see where the genres intersect."

Along with performances by ten-time Grammy winner and vocalist extraordinaire Bobby McFerrin, revolutionary performance artist Laurie Anderson, and acclaimed classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, UCSC Arts & Lectures will also present comedy, theater, and dance from such groundbreaking performers as Chicago's legendary touring comedy troupe Second City, the hilariously eccentric monologist Spalding Gray, and San Francisco's boundary-smashing Joe Goode Performance Group.

Virtuoso country and bluegrass fiddler Mark O'Connor will bring his new band, the Hot Swing Trio, for an evening of jazz inspired by the 1930s union of violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt. "They just performed at the San Francisco Jazz Festival and they're getting great reviews all over the country," Witt noted.

The Ghazal Ensemble will also showcase an intricate blend of two distinctive types of classical music for a passionate evening of Indo-Persian fusion. "These performers are superstars in the field of Indian and Persian music," said Witt. "And they've intertwined the classic traditions to create something entirely new."

Cutting-edge artist Maya Beiser, formerly known as the cellist for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, will additionally present a brand-new multimedia solo concert featuring the premiere of a Steve Reich multitrack cello piece, plus other new works--employing text, vocals, dramatic lighting, as well as interactive video created by Irit Batsry, winner of the Whitney Museum's prestigious Bucksbaum Award.

And in a fascinating career reinvention, Dan Zanes, former lead singer and songwriter for the Boston rock band The Del Fuegos, will bring his new band that specializes in performing award-winning music for kids. As the Nashville Scene put it: "This rock veteran reinvents children's music, and parents everywhere are thankful."

This is the second season programmed by Witt, a classical violinist who came to UCSC in 2001 after spending five years as director of performing arts at Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Idaho. She holds a graduate degree in music from UCLA and spent several years at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she taught violin. An experienced performer, "mostly chamber music and with orchestras," Witt will display her own musical talent this fall in the UCSC Music Department's faculty recital series with pianist Mary Jane Cope.

It's no surprise then, that she's excited about booking artists such as The Artis Quartet in their first-ever appearance at UCSC. "They're a young string quartet out of Vienna that is absolutely wonderful," Witt enthused. "They have an unbelievably beautiful sound and are some of the most intelligent interpreters of the standard repertoire that I've ever heard."

Witt described her criteria for selecting artists to create a new season.

"The most important thing I look for is excellence--there are so many artists out there that I try to find the truly exceptional ones that are doing work a cut above in whatever genre," she said. "I also look at originality--what is their vision? Are they creating something new? And how well are they able to engage and draw in the audience, because performances really are opportunities for interaction."

Witt added that she strongly considers the needs of both the UCSC and Santa Cruz communities.

"Some communities won't support work that is politically and artistically challenging, and some organizations are afraid of alienating audiences," Witt said.

"But at UCSC, I have found the institution and the audiences are really receptive to material that asks difficult questions. There's a sense of curiosity, openness, and knowledge here that our artists greatly appreciate. The artists always tell us how wonderful our audiences are here--they feel appreciated and want to come back. "That's a huge compliment to audiences in Santa Cruz and ensures that we can continue to bring unique and important voices to our community," she added.


Subscription tickets for the 2003-04 season are now available through the UCSC Ticket Office at (831) 459-2159 or http://events.ucsc.edu/tickets. For more information, see the Arts & Lectures web site at http://events.ucsc.edu/artslecs.