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October 23, 2000

Critics laud the musical risk-taking of a UCSC alumnus

By Barbara McKenna

Edward Houghton and Kent Nagano
Edward Houghton (left) and Kent Nagano
"Sprengladung!" proclaimed Berlin's Der Tagespiegel following the season opening performances of the German Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus, conducted by UCSC alumnus Kent Nagano.

The headline, which translates as "explosive charge," "bombshell," or "dynamite," summarized the mood of the 4,000 audience members, who applauded for a solid 15 minutes after each of the two performances.

For his inaugural season as music director of the symphony, Nagano (who graduated in 1974) wanted to try something daring. Enlisting the help of his former teacher and colleague, UCSC dean of arts Edward Houghton, Nagano came up with a concert featuring Mahler's "Ninth Symphony" and a Renaissance mass by Johannes Ockeghem called Missa Au travail suis that Houghton researched and translated into modern musical notation for this performance. The Der Tagespiegel reviewer asked, "Ockeghem and Mahler, does this work?" And answered, "It works wonderfully!"

Houghton says that Nagano's programming, combining works from the 20th and 15th centuries, is unprecedented. Audience members came from as far away as London, Paris, and California to attend the concert.

"Kent gave an electrifying interpretation of the Mahler," said Houghton, who was on hand to watch his former student conduct. "It was dramatic and passionate and represents a daring expansion of musical perspectives. I, my musical colleagues, critics, and Berliners in general, all agree that Kent is transforming the German Symphony and the musical life of Berlin. I also think that his programming bombshell will echo in many other places."

Read previous article in Currents about the performances

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