UC San Diego's Department of Music
October 11, 2007
TWO NEW FACULTY JOIN UCSD DEPARTMENT OF MUSIC
Composer Lei Liang and clarinetist Anthony Burr have joined the Department of Music faculty. Liang is a Chinese-born American composer whose stage and chamber works encompass a range of influences from traditional Asian to 20th-century American artist who studied with Robert Cogan at the New England Conservatory and Mario Davidovsky at Harvard University. He taught at Middlebury College in Vermont before accepting his new position at UCSD. Burr has performed with Elision, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Sospeso, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, often as featured soloist. He has worked with composers Alvin Lucier, Helmet Lachenmann, Brian Ferneyhough, and Magnus Lindberg, and collaborated with artists outside the classical arena such as Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Chris Speed, and UCSD's own Mark Dresser. For complete bios visit the Faculty section of this website.
We recently spoke with Burr about his life and work (our conversation with Liang is coming soon):
Q: Why did you decide to take the position at U.C. San Diego?
A: It's a great job. I wasn't necessarily looking for an academic post given that I've mostly been focused on performing new music. But UCSD is one of the only places I could imagine being. It's more open to new and experimental music than most university music departments, and the setting provides me with an ideal situation where I can continue with my own music while having an impact on new generations of young musicians.
UCSD has a reputation that dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s as being the most 'out there' place within the classical/new music world. It's a place that's still associated with Harry Partch and Pauline Oliveros and others on the cutting edge of new music. There's an understanding that it's a place where people with idiosyncratic ideas can thrive. More recently, the faculty has included people like George Lewis (now teaching at Columbia University).
Q: What are you teaching?
A: This quarter I'm teaching a theory class, in 16th-century counterpoint, as well as a graduate performance seminar where I force them to think about context in the music they play, taking something that has context and existing meanings and shifting it somewhere else.
Q: What do you see as your mission as an educator? How does the college experience prepare music students for real-world careers?
A: What's appealing about UCSD is you're not dealing with a conservatory environment, so students are more free to structure their programs around their strengths and interests. These days, who knows what one needs to function as a musician in the world. Some musicians do well without a degree, but that does not invalidate graduate degree programs. My ideal UCSD grad student would be one who wants to create something original, who doesn't know exactly what that is, but who wants the structure and environment to support their explorations.
Q: You've collaborated with some UCSD faculty members over the years...
A: The first person I met was Miller Puckette. We were both at a festival in Avignon, France, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I was very young and Miller was at IRCAM (the experimental music center in Paris). He was one of the few people who spoke English. I met Charles Curtis when I was a grad student here and he joined the UCSD faculty. There are many people I worked with before I got here as a grad student, including Mark Dresser. I've performed a lot with Mark.
Q: When you began learning music as a young student in Brisbane, Australia, how did you choose the clarinet?
A: I started in the grammar school band in public school in fifth grade. I had some piano lessons when I was young, then in public school you take an aptitude test. My sister and I both scored well, I got assigned the oboe, she got the viola. I put my foot down, I didn't want to play oboe, I wanted to play clarinet. I think it's because my parents had a couple of great albums: Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall in 1&Gammaθ, and Mozart's clarinet concerto. I liked both of those when I was a kid. I heard jazz and modern music on Australian public radio, they even played John Cage. A certain amount of free jazz like James Blook Ulmer and Ornette Coleman was on punk rock stations. My mom had Stravinsky, Bartok, Messaien. My dad had '40s-'50s-'60s jazz. Through friends, I started trying to play new music on clarinet, and when I went to jazz camp, I was the kid who knew about Ornette Coleman.
There was a weird jazz/punk thing going in Australia. One of my good youth orchestra friends, Graeme Jennings, would up in the Arditti Quartet. And my friend Martin Mackerras, his uncle is Sir Charles Mackerras, former conductor of the London Symphony. Martin was part of this eccentric, intelligent Bohemian Australian family.
Q: Do you have new recordings in the works?
A: I have a couple that should be out within the next six months. One is a recording, with Charles Curtis and Graeme Jennings, of Morton Feldman's Clarinet and String Quartet. There's another CD that should come out soon as well, a collaboration with Skuli Sverrisson. On one piece we have a Tibetan singer named Yungchen Lamo, and we're going to have Arto Lindsay sing on another.
Q: How's the change of location for you thus far?
A: I was living in Brooklyn, moving to San Diego is pretty radical, even though I've lived here before as a grad student at UCSD. I miss New York, where I have a lot of artistic and professional acquaintances, but on the other hand the position I have at UCSD doesn't even exist there. Weirdly enough, there's less work for experimental musicians in New York than there used to be even though the whole scene is still there. In my first month at UCSD, I was invited by Joe Waters to perform at an electroacoustic concert at San Diego State University.
Q: Where are you living in San Diego?
We're in Ocean Beach. If we were going to move back to San Diego, we had to live near the beach. No, I don't surf, which is weird because I grew up in Brisbane, Australia, which is adjacent to some of the world's best surfing beaches. We do have a dog, a Wheaten Terrier, and we're only a 10-minute walk from Dog Beach.
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