KBPS: MAY 9, 2012
When you think of surf music, musicians like Dick Dale, The Surfaris, The Ventures and The Beach Boys may come to mind, along with the genre’s signature staccato electric guitar riffs, and classic tunes like “Wipeout” and “Surfin’ Safari.” However, a new composition premiering this Friday at San Diego’s Orchestra Nova may expand your notions about surf music. The work combines elements of classical, rock, pop and electronica to re-create the experience and freedom of riding the waves.
The work is called “Surf” and it’s part of Orchestra Nova’s new concert series, a musical homage to Mother Nature called “Nova Goes Green”. The series pairs two classics, Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony” and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” with two contemporary works. In addition to “Surf”, audiences can enjoy Steve Heitzeg’s “Aqua”, a tribute to Jacques-Yves Cousteau featuring natural percussion instruments including driftwood, coral, river stones and even plastic six-pack rings.
“Surf” composer and SDSU professor of music Joseph Waters was commissioned by Orchestra Nova to create a piece about Southern California. Inspired by the central role that surfing plays in the Southern Californian lifestyle, he composed a double concerto, which he describes as his “wild ride for orchestra and two soloists”, in a recent interview with UT San DIego. “Surf” features soloists Lindsay Deutsch (violin) and Todd Rewoldt (saxophone), who will perform with Orchestra Nova this Friday, Saturday and Monday.
Waters tells the U-T San Diego: “Like much of my recent work, ‘Surf’ has one foot in classical and the other in rock. Doing a rock piece for orchestra can be an extremely cheesy affair—destroying the rawness of rock & the nuance of classical and leaving one with a saccharine hangover. But my underlying intention was to create a work that draws from folk influences and infuses them with additional layers, in the tradition of Mahler. It took a lot of work but I am proud of this piece—and to get it right I recomposed it over 230 times, until it finally passed muster with the conductor.”
KPBS Midday Edition speaks with Waters and Jung-Ho Pak, artistic director and conductor of Orchestra Nova, about the green concert series and composing a musical ode to SoCal’s surfing culture.
Orchestra Nova’s “Nova Goes Green” concert series will be performed Friday, Saturday and Monday at various locations. Visit www.orchestranova.org for more information. *
* Unfortunately, both Orchestra Nova and their web site have closed.
Composer Joseph Waters has a mission, and that’s to make classical music as vibrant, exciting and accessible as the best pop music. A Yale graduate and now professor at SDSU, Waters grew up immersed in rock music, and sees no reason why he should have to deny an important part of himself when he writes his own compositions. His newest work, “Surf,” will be premiered by Orchestra Nova May 11 (at the Coronado Performing Arts Center), May 12 (Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall, Sorrento Valley) and May 14 (MCASD’s Sherwood Auditorium).
Here are Waters’ thoughts about his new piece:
The ocean and surfing are deeply embedded in San Diego culture. Surfing transcends age, class and education. Go to any of the beaches from dawn to dusk and there they are — sitting on their boards between sets, waiting for the chance to negotiate the moment with tons of water squeezed up into a majestic hurling fist. It’s thrilling, dangerous, deeply engaging and transformative.
So when I started talking with Maestro Jung-Ho Pak 3 years ago about a commission to create a work about Southern California, the place and the community — surfing had to be center.
(No I don’t surf beyond occasional boogie boarding — I’m too much of an intellectual nerd and that much intense physical engagement frankly scares me — but I am fascinated by the practice.)
It’s important for me to compose honest, sincere music that connects with the music that is produced spontaneously by our culture. I hate the term “pop” music because for many it has pejorative undertones — implying that it is intrinsically superficial, lacking in depth or subtlety. The reality is that the body of music with wide appeal (i.e. “pop”) is diverse — from forgettable ditties to sublime masterpieces. I feel that when a tune reaches iconic status — when it enters our lexicon of discourse — then it is giving voice to something that resonates strongly with us, something that speaks to and for us, reveals who we are without pretense.
Like much of my recent work, “Surf” has one foot in classical and the other in rock. Doing a rock piece for orchestra can be an extremely cheesy affair — destroying the rawness of rock & the nuance of classical and leaving one with a saccharine hangover. But my underlying intention was to create a work that draws from folk influences and infuses them with additional layers, in the tradition of Mahler. It took a lot of work but I am proud of this piece — and to get it right I recomposed it over 230 times, until it finally passed muster with the conductor.
But what flavor of rock would be right for this? In the post WWII, pre-hippie days, surfing had music associated with it, think Dick Dale’s “Miserlou,” the Surfaris “Wipeout,” the Chantay’s “Pipeline” or the Beach Boys “Surfin’ USA.” This was music that I had experienced as a middle-schooler playing keyboard in rock bands far from the ocean in Madison, Wisconsin.
I remembered something real, vivid and beautifully naïve about that music — something rebellious, freewheeling and reckless, a sense of wild abandon, a joyfulness and exuberance, a celebration of life — that correlated with my adult observations and so I spent hours revisiting that body of work to see if I might find there a conduit through which my new classical work might connect with the vernacular.
The result is “Surf,” my wild ride for orchestra and two soloists, featuring violinist Lindsay Deutsch, and my bandmate Todd Rewoldt in the SWARMIUS ensemble.
Great music is not essentially about harmonic sophistication, but about the chords it strikes within. I’m hoping I can strike a few good ones with “Surf”.
© Copyright 2012 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.
San Diego Reader
Surf: A Double Concerto for Alto Saxophone, Violin, & Orchestra
May 12, 2012 Swarmius, with Orchestra Nova,
Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall
“I wanted to see how things sounded under water.”
This is how it starts for Joseph Waters. He gets curious about a sound, and then, about how he can use that sound in a recording project or a concert.
I’d first encountered the laptop artist/composer right after he moved to San Diego in 2002. He had a recording studio in his La Mesa home and on that day, wasps were flying about in it. A professor of Music and Director of Electro-Acoustic and Media Composition at SDSU, he’d released a jarful of the bugs in order to record them while they buzzed around a light bulb.
This time during the beginnings of the making of “Surf” Waters, 58, plunged a hydrophone into the sea.
“Surf” was commissioned by Orchestra Nova artistic director and conductor Jung-Ho Pak as part of a new concert series called Nova Goes Green. What Waters came back with was, as he described it, a classical-meets-rock-and-roll wild ride for orchestra and two soloists.
In this case the soloists were the violinist Lindsay Deutsch and a classically trained saxist named Todd Rewoldt who also figures in Waters’s side project Swarmius.
The piece opened with Fear No Music and Swarmius member Joel Bluestone making tense with a slow building gong crescendo followed by orchestral madness — perfect! It was West Side Story drama meets Metallica and Stravinsky with the dual soloists throwing fireballs at each other while the old drum roll from the Surfaris’ 1962 hit Wipeout riffed in the background.
It turns out that Surfaris co-founder Bob Berryhill was sitting right behind me in the Jacobs auditorium in Mira Mesa during night number two in the series of three concerts.
“I thought he did a fantastic job of trying to capture the world of surf.” Berryhill lives in Laguna Beach with his wife. His hair and beard have gone white, but he still surfs. “It’s hard to describe what it’s like when you’re out there on a board.”
Does Joe Waters surf? No. But he told the sold-out theater that he’d “been dumped off a boogie board enough times to respect the power of the ocean.” This is precisely what “Surf” conveyed: chaos, and ocean muscle.
I sat next to Judy and her husband Alex. First names only. “Wow. Wow. Wow,” was all she said at the conclusion. And those were good wows, she said, not bad. She was a seasoned concert-goer, but then again she had likely never heard anything quite like this.
You don’t go to Joe Waters expecting the usual. He once turned a foot bridge in Golden Hill into a giant xylophone and thinks it would be perfectly acceptable to put an audience into a swimming pool and have them breathe through hoses while he and Swarmius perform under water.
“It was just the most fun,” Waters said backstage in the green room following the performance. “I’ve always wanted to do it, but working with an orchestra is so expensive.” He thinks that, including rehearsals, the total cost to stage “Surf” may have approached $50,000 dollars. Later, he would say this: “It’s like painting with colors. I’ve never had a professional orchestra commission me to write a full piece.”
The Nova series paired Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony” with “The Lark Ascending,” “Surf”, and Steve Heitzeg’s “Aqua”, a tribute to Jacques Cousteau. Zuriel Waters, a Brooklyn artist, son of Joseph Waters created an original ocean/surf video which ran on a projection screen behind the orchestra in a live performance performed by Matthew Blessing who was reading the score and watching the conductor. A video program designed by Chris Warren allowed for real time cross fading so that the video kept pace with the performance.
I asked Todd Rewoldt about performing the thicket of 16th note runs written a full octave above the normal range of an alto sax that come at the conclusion of “Surf.”
“It was borderline ridiculous,” he laughed, meaning difficult. “At that point, you don’t even know if you’re playing it right.” He thinks being an ex-skateboarder has helped his perspective. “The trick is don’t over think it.” He and Deutsch had only been given a month to practice their respective parts. Together, with full orchestra, they had but three rehearsals. “Joe kept changing the ending. He and Jung Ho would talk, and then he’d work on it some more. He changed it like, I think, 100 times.”
Actually, it was more than that.
Waters: “I’m proud of “Surf,” but it took over 200 rewrites before it finally passed muster with the conductor.”
“Surf” premiered May 11, 2012 at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.
Left to right: Joseph Waters, Jung-Ho Pak, Todd Rewoldt, Lindsay Deutsch, Joel Bluestone.