UC Santa Cruz faculty collaborate for innovative, multimedia classical guitar concert

Ever since he arrived at UC Santa Cruz in the fall of 1998, Mesut Özgen has been thinking about how to present a more theatrical version of the traditional classical guitar concert.

After years of discussion with a wide variety of artists, the UCSC music lecturer has come up with a multimedia concept--designed to visually enhance the solo guitar recital, and in the process, create a more audience-friendly format for the genre.

"I've been to many different concerts and festivals and in the traditional format, not much is happening onstage," Özgen explained. "It's dry and especially for non-musicians in the audience, it's very easy to lose focus after a while, no matter how great the playing is."

"We're also in a very visual age; we're constantly bombarded with thousands of visual images in movies and television," he added. "So my goal is to reach the widest possible audience for classical guitar--to make it accessible and more interesting. But I wanted to make sure it was done in an artful, subtle way--unlike the flashy visual effects of rock concerts."

The result is "New Dimensions in Classical Guitar,'' a multimedia concert featuring performances of innovative guitar works by Özgen--an award-winning guitarist, originally from Turkey--accompanied by video from assistant film and digital media professor Gustavo Vazquez; interactive computer images by music lecturer Peter Elsea; and innovative lighting design by assistant theater arts professor David Cuthbert.

The prototype for a planned international tour, "New Dimensions in Classical Guitar" will be unveiled on March 5 and 6 at the UCSC Music Center Recital Hall as part of the 2003-04 UCSC Arts & Lectures series.

The concerts will feature world premieres of a number of compositions written specifically for Özgen by such artists as internationally acclaimed guitarist Benjamin Verdery, Indian bansuri virtuoso Deepak Ram, UC Davis composition professor Pablo Ortiz, UCSC alumnus and lecturer Chris Pratorius, and former UCSC music lecturer Robert Strizich.

Verdery's piece will be performed on a guitar built especially for this composition, employing digital delay electronics and looping. "I'll also be playing it with paper clips and chopsticks," said Özgen.

The program will additionally feature the U.S. premiere of prominent British composer Anthony Gilbert's composition for recorder and guitar, which is based on a wood engraving titled Stars, by renowned artist M.C. Escher. Özgen noted that Elsea was working on computer animation for that piece from not only the final engraving, but also from Escher's analytical study sketches.

Vazquez has also attempted to link a video association with the origins of each piece of music he worked on. "This concert has offered me the opportunity to bring together my interests and training in painting, photography, and filmmaking," he observed.

Although the different UCSC faculty members bring their own individual artistic approaches to the music through visuals, Özgen stressed that the main objective of the project is to enhance and support the music--not to distract from it.

"Some pieces will just have special lighting, some will have a video emphasis with background lighting, and others will just use computer images supported by lights," he said. "But each composition will have very different types of video or computer images."

"I consider the lighting as connective tissue" Özgen added. "It supports the video and computer visuals--creating the atmosphere. David Cuthbert is crafting special colors to coincide with the videos and images to evoke the emotional mood of the pieces."

A champion of new music for guitar, Özgen has performed and taught master classes throughout the United States, Spain, and Turkey. He was the first guitarist to be awarded the "Dean's Prize," the highest honorary award of the Yale School of Music. Özgen has also performed as a featured soloist in the International Paco Pena Guitar Festival in Cordoba, Spain, and was a prizewinner in the International Portland Guitar Competition.


UCSC Arts & Lectures will present "New Dimensions in Classical Guitar," on March 5 and 6 at the UCSC Music Center Recital Hall. For ticket information, contact the UCSC Ticket Office at (831) 459-2159 or go to: events.ucsc.edu/artslecs. A reprise performance is scheduled at the Mello Center in Watsonville on March 13, as part of the Artist-in-Residence concert series, call (831) 763-4047 for more information.