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Inexplicable inspiration
Jorge Liderman believes writing music is an act of devotion

| 03 June 2005


Jorge Liderman traces the "pulse-based, motoric quality" of his music back to Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who experimented with classical music at the beginning of the 20th century. (Wendy Edelstein photo)
Jorge Liderman is tired of listening to new music that appeals only to the intellect.

"I think contemporary music has been divorced from the audience for quite a long time," observes Liderman, a composer who has been a professor of music at Berkeley since 1989. "We've been living in a ghetto of composers writing music for other composers."

Liderman endeavors, he says, "to write music that is visceral that can move you not just intellectually but also emotionally and physically. I think something has to grab you on a subconscious level in the music. In my case, it's usually the music's rhythm."

Two of Liderman's rhythmically driven compositions will be featured at this weekend's second biennial Berkeley Edge Fest, produced by Cal Performances in association with the Department of Music and the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT). Faster, a composition in three movements for cello, piano, and marimba, will make its world premiere at the new-music festival. "The two outer movements have a rhythmic, pulsating, and dynamic quality, alternating between slowly changing textures and brief statements of contrasting musical materials," says Liderman. Also on the bill is Flautando (2004), a one-movement concertino for flute and chamber ensemble, which, like Faster, has a pulsating quality.

Cutting-edge composers who span generations

"This year's Edge Fest cuts across generations," says Liderman. Edge Fest's opening concert on Friday, June 3, is a 70th-birthday celebration for Terry Riley, a leader in minimalist and electronic experimentation who has influenced such composers as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and John Adams. Performing with Riley will be a large group that includes cellist Joan Jeanrenaud (formerly of Kronos Quartet), Zakir Hussain on tabla and percussion, and poet Michael McClure.

The music of maverick composer John Zorn, who recently turned 50, will be featured in concerts on Saturday evening, June 4, and Sunday, June 5. On hand to perform Zorn's music will be new-music violinist Jennifer Choi; longtime Zorn collaborator, pianist Stephen Drury; the Masada String Trio; and the Crowley Quartet.

The Buenos Aires-born Liderman, who is in his 40s, will be the featured composer on the Sunday-evening program, which also includes works by several of his former graduate students in their 30s. David Milnes will conduct the Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players' performance of the works by Liderman and his protégés.

Liderman's emphasis on reaching beyond established models and conventions into new territory is something he conveys to his students. "I think it's imperative," he says, "for a composer to take risks and try new harmonies, new instrumental combinations, new ways of playing on these instruments, new technologies, new architectural models, even without being entirely certain of how they'll sound or work out in real performance. One can always revise things at rehearsals or after the premiere if they don't work out exactly the way one imagined, but as a composer one must always try to express a unique and unheard voice. If you don't take risks, you are likely to repeat what has already been said."

Composing is an act of devotion or prayer, a way of entering a deeper spiritual realm, says Liderman, who says he has experienced moments when an idea has come into being with no real explanation for its inspiration and cannot be improved upon. "That's when you feel like there's some kind of perfection that's inexplicable," he says. "I think those moments are what makes a piece of art something special."

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The 2005 Berkeley Edge Fest runs Friday to Sunday, June 3 to 5, at Hertz Hall. A free "Discussion With the Composers," moderated by Sarah Cahill and featuring Liderman, Fernando Benadon, Reynold Tharp, Keeril Makan, and Adriana Verdie will take place Sunday, June 5, 6 to 7 p.m., in 125 Morrison Hall.

Tickets for the Terry Riley concert on Friday, June 3, at 8 p.m., and the John Zorn concerts (Saturday, June 4, 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 5, 3 p.m.) are $32; tickets for the concert featuring the music of Jorge Liderman and recent Berkeley graduates on Sunday, June 5, at 7:30 p.m. are $26. Subscribers to all four concerts receive a 20-percent discount off the single-ticket prices. Tickets are available through the Cal Performances ticket office at Zellerbach Hall, at 642-9988 to charge by phone, online at calperfs.berkeley.edu, and at the door.