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Mesut Ozgen: A Guitar Odyssey

Mesut OZGEN - Photo by Paul Schraub

by Adam COTTON

In the same way most people can enjoy a good movie without any pretenses of what the story may be about, classical music concert producers are constantly faced with the challenge of making their programs appeal to unfamiliar concert goers. Especially in the world of contemporary music where even experienced audience members are hearing pieces for the first time, how can performers and producers utilize all available resources to make such a presentation as effective and memorable as possible? One artistic solution to this question may reside in an emerging breed of multimedia classical concert presentations.

At the forefront of this embryonic trend is New Dimensions in Classical Guitar, a collaborative effort of a multidisciplinary team featuring Mesut Özgen on guitar. Frequently collaborating with accomplished, innovative composers, award-winning guitarist Özgen champions new music for guitar. With eclectic tastes rooted predominantly in traditional and folk musics of the world, he has worked with many composers to combine avant–garde compositional techniques with traditional tunes and rhythms.

New Dimensions in Classical Guitar, the prototype of a planned international tour, will see its first three performances during March of 2004 in Santa Cruz California. The show will feature Özgen performing innovative, contemporary pieces in fluid worlds of light and subtly shifting imagery. All around him his team will be creating subdued optical worlds akin to watching the reflection of a sunset on the surface of a placid lake, as the watery images of clouds slowly but majestically transform from fiery oranges through sweet pinks and soft violets and finally finding their way into lingering dream-laden shades of indigo and blues. In such a setting, Özgen and his talented artistic team: Gustavo Vasquez, video; Peter Elsea, digital images; and David Lee Cuthbert, scenic/lighting design, aspire to create an artful world where the music stays in the forefront of an intriguing but delicate ever-shifting visual wonderworld that peaks the listener's interest throughout the show without overpowering the music. Seeking to avoid the repetitiousness that plagues most current concert imagery (the screen-saver syndrome), the crew has been working with the pieces as individual entities, visually bringing out musical contrasts through lighting shifts, stage manipulations and digital-optical effects.

Mesut OZGEN - Photo by Paul Schraub

Özgen began playing guitar while studying medicine in his native Turkey in 1981. During his seven years as a medical doctor in Sason and Ankara, he also played concerts to sold out audiences and taught guitar at two universities. American guitar virtuoso and composer Benjamin Verdery, after witnessing two of Özgen's performances at the Paco Peña Guitar Festival in Cordoba, Spain in 1989 and 1990 invited Özgen to study with him at Yale University. Mesut decided to take the invitation, giving up his medical practice which included delivering babies and performing surgeries, and come to the states to study music. After receiving his Master of Music and being the first guitarist honored with the Dean's prize, the highest award of the Yale School of Music, Özgen traveled to Arizona State University to study with the acclaimed guitarist Frank Koonce and work on his DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) in solo performance. Özgen has been on the University of California, Santa Cruz guitar faculty since 1998. During his time in Santa Cruz he has given several notable concerts including "Folkie Classical Guitar", a program based on Turkish, Spanish, Greek, Argentinean, and American folk cultures and featuring special stage decorations and outfits. He also conducted the world premier of Verdery's "Pick and Roll" for guitar ensemble, featuring a basketball player in rhythmic dialogue with the guitarists. In addition he has performed on lute, baroque guitar, and 19th century guitar with the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival's Lux Musica ensemble. Also, Özgen has collaborated in other concerts with non-western musicians, such as Deepak Ram, Indian bansuri player, and Ihsan Özgen, internationally renowned Turkish classical kemençe player (also Mesut's uncle).

The idea for a multimedia classical guitar presentation grew out of Özgen’s experiences with audiences’ reactions to classical guitar recitals. Speaking mainly of non-musician audience members, he observes that people like the concerts but have difficulty holding their attention through the end of the show. For such audience members who also attend more active or decorative theatre performances, pop concerts, or even movies, the absence of anything else happening on the stage becomes monotonous. After a while to many in the audience, the music starts to sound the same, regardless of the quality of the performance. Özgen and his team are working to remedy this common experiential occurrence through the idea of looking at the concert as a holistic, artistic, audio-visual experience. Elements such as stage props, imagery, colors, transitions, and lighting will be carefully considered both from the perspective of the individual piece and in the context of the larger production. Using this synergetic combination of ingredients, Özgen and his crew are engineering a colorful mutant unlike any classical guitar concert ever produced before.

Ozgen's multidisciplinary artistic team consists of Gustavo Vasques, video and stage choreography; Peter Elsea, digital images and multimedia design; and David Lee Cuthbert, scenic/lighting design and stage choreography. Vasques has directed over thirty productions including documentaries, video installations and dramas. He currently has a multimedia exhibit called "Who am I?" for Chicano Now nationally touring museums. He is also a prooud recipient of The Rockefeller Media Fellowship and Eureka Visual Artist Fellowship awards. Vasquez currently teaches classes in The University of California, Santa Cruz's film and digital media department. Elsea, the current director of UCSC's amazing electronic music program, is a pioneer realm of software design for electronic musicians. His, "Lobjects" software has become standard in electronic music studios around the world. One of his current projects, which will be showcased in this concert, is devising an interactive tool kit of sound-sensitive computer generated imagery software that musicians can integrate into their live performances. David Lee Cuthbert has designed lighting for numerous by area and national threatres, plays and theme park attactions including The Adventures of Spider-Man, The Ride at Orlando's Universal Studios and Alice in Modernland at Sledgehammer Theatre.

The program features several world premiers, all written for Mesut, including Be Kind all the Time by Benjamin Verdery, Surya by Deepak Ram, Sortija by Pablo Ortiz, La Guitarra by Robert Strizich and the American premiere of Stars by Anthony Gilbert. Be Kind all the Time will be performed on a prepared guitar (using chopsticks and paperclips) in a non-traditional tuning with digital delay! Within Surya for bansuri (traditional Indian flute) and guitar, composer and performer Deepak Ram has found a colorful crossroads where the forms and feelings of Indian music meet with contrasting transitions and other freedoms of contemporary classical music. The show begins with the intricate and passionate work, Sonata: Ondas do Mar de Vigo, by UCSC alumnus/faculty Christopher Pratorius. Sortija, another solo piece in the program, written by UC Davis faculty composer Pablo Ortiz, is based around game children play with a large ring on merry-go-rounds in Argentina. Listeners can also look forward to a beautiful arrangement of the romantic frontier tune Shenandoah by Robert Beaser, the current chairman of the composition department at The Julliard School, and Variations on a Turkish folk theme (Asik Veysel's "Uzun ince bir yoldayim") by Carlo Domeniconi. Some of these works can be found on Mesut's new CD "Troubadour" released by Golden Horn Records (www.goldenhorn.com).

A marriage of classical music and visual arts, New Dimensions in Classical Guitar offers audiences an exciting and groundbreaking peek into the future of concert music presentation.

_ . _

New Dimensions in Classical Guitar premiere performances:

Friday, March 5 and Saturday, March 6 2004 at the University of California Santa Cruz Music Center Recital Hall as part of the 2003-04 Arts & Lectures season http://events.ucsc.edu/artslecs/ARTISTS.03-04/NewDimensions.html

Saturday, March 13, 2004 at the Mello Center for the Performing Arts as part of the 2004 season Artists in Residence Performance Series of Pajaro Valley Performing Arts Association in Watsonville, CA


E-mail to Mesut Ozgen: mozgen@cats.ucsc.edu




About Adam COTTON

Adam COTTON was born and raised in Austin, Texas. He started playing the acoustic guitar at age twelve, inspired by seeing how much fun some performers seemed to have and soon found a comfortable creative outlet in the instrument. In due time, he moved to Santa Cruz, California to attend the University of California. By his second year of college, he had become immersed in the music program, and was devoting the majority of his time to learning, practicing, and composing in the classical style. He recieved the Dean•s Undergraduate Award for his String Quartet No. 1: The Waves. His music has been performed in Tenessee, Indiana and California. Adam is now teaching and writing in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as pursuing various explorations and collaborations in composing and performing classical, electronic, and acoustic music. He can be contacted at adamcotton@skyhighway.com. Website: www.adamcotton.net

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