ROGER REYNOLDS, UC SAN DIEGO'S PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING COMPOSER, was among four composers honored by concerts and symposia in early November at the 50th anniversary celebration of the influential ONCE festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Reynolds was a co-founder of the festival, along with fellow composers Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, and Donald Scavarda (a fifth co-founder George Cacciopo, is deceased).
"Being together again as a group after nearly 50 years was a remarkable experience," Reynolds said. "Most bracing was the fact that everyone remains now what he was then, in effect. We remain very different, yet we are still able to work together in the service of a common enterprise."
Concerts on Nov. 2 and 4 showcased Reynolds' early and more recent work, alongside compositions by his ONCE peers. Flashing back to the early years, the first program included Reynolds' A Portrait of Vanzetti (1962-1963), a mix of live narration, performance, and recorded sounds, inspired by the 1920s anarchist. "Everyone commented on the fact that the music still sounded fresh," Reynolds said. "I imagine that this was due to the remarkable ferment within which it was created. The early sixties were an extremely vital time socially in the United States. We had the idea for a festival that would embrace international musical innovation and were able to realize it."
ONCE began as a modest event that grew into a major forum for innovative artists including composers John Cage and Luciano Berio, painter Robert Rauschenberg, the Judson Dance Theater, and dancer-choreographer Lucinda Childs. The idea of bringing artists from diverse media together later became a thread through Reynolds work, such as in the recent Sanctuary project, a collaboration between Reynolds, UCSD percussion ensemble red fish blue fish, as well as computer and video artists.
"Last week it was evident that the level of awareness and capacity on the part of young performers had greatly increased in recent decades," Reynolds said. And, although ONCE was once an edgy and not widely accepted endeavor, Reynolds said that renewed interest in the music is evidence that innovative artists who push boundaries need to be patient while traditional institutions come to accept, and then honor their earlier work.
"The recurring theme in discussions at the Ann Arbor Festival," Reynolds said, "was that if you don't like the way things are, you should do something to change the situation."
At 76, Reynolds is as busy as ever. A new 2-DVD set of Sanctuary is due later this year, and he is engaged in creating a new Arts Program at the University of California's Washington Center, offering U.C. faculty and students a chance to research, work, study, and live in the nation's capitol.