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  • Mondavi Center

    The indie-classical band Build will perform with pianist Lara Downes at the Mondavi Center this weekend.

  • Mondavi Center

    Pianist Lara Downes will perform at the Mondavi Center this weekend.

Crafting music with a sense of place

Published: Friday, Mar. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 26TICKET
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 24, 2013 - 11:15 am

The musical ideas from the indie-classical ensemble Build range from Bjork to Beethoven.

Emphasis is on musical cross-pollination and mining the recent classical music past to serve a cutting-edge collaborative spirit.

That spirit will be the operative word Saturday and Sunday when the Brooklyn-based Build appears at the Mondavi Center. The five-member ensemble will appear in a shared program with another artist who prizes such collaborations: pianist Lara Downes.

The concert, titled "Moving in Place," was designed by Downes, the Mondavi's pianist-in-residence, to explore the musical links between new music and the music of composers who toiled in exile. Downes has been making a splash by playing the music of the latter, namely the works of composers Chopin, Bartok, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Mohammed Fairouz.

Build will anchor the first half of the evening with original music written by the ensemble's leader and violinist, Matt McBane. Downes will hold down the second half, which is being presented in the cabaretlike Vanderhoef Studio Theatre.

Build will emphasize music that conveys a sense of place, which forms the central idea running throughout all seven tracks on the ensemble's latest CD, "Place."

Downes will perform works from her latest CD, "Exiles' Cafe," which explores the notion of displacement as a universal part of the human condition. The CD, which has garnered positive reviews, includes seldom-heard works such as Prelude No. 1 by Paul Bowles. Most people will recognize Bowles as the author of "Sheltering Sky" and may be surprised that he was also a composer.

McBane sees Downes' kind of eclecticism as a good fit for exploring linkages between the classical musical present and its storied past.

Build's inclusive nature is parsed out in McBane's unique compositional style, which owes a debt to the recent past.

The three pillars of Build's sound are "minimalist chamber music, modal jazz and instrumental rock," said McBane via phone from his apartment in Brooklyn's Greenpoint section.

"More than one of our pieces has examples of where I've taken an idea from a Radiohead song," he said.

McBane said he likes to mine minimalist classical music and put it in a rock music context. He cites bands like Sonic Youth and the music of Bjork as big influences.

The five Build musicians and Downes will perform together at the beginning of each set

"This collaboration will be like creating a collage of music by using fragments of pieces from each of our sets," McBane said. "In a lot of Lara's music there is also this real sense of location, at least as much as can be created in music that has no text."

For McBane, the sense of place is paramount. To Downes, it's the notion of how the musical past visits the present.

"There are different strands that are developing now, and McBane is very much in the forefront of one of them, which involves classical music merging with pop culture and bringing indie rock and the classical world closer together," Downes said.

"I like what Matt does with Build; he's created an interesting sound profile and position for his band," she said. "Obviously, our musical influences are totally different, but that was the idea here – to throw all of our working ideas together and see what comes up."

Downes' set will include Dvorak's "Three Hungarian Folksongs From the Csik District" and a Jed Distler arrangement of Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars."

"What started this whole progression in my head was my interest in the Romantic tradition and how that got transplanted to Hollywood and gave birth to film music," she said. "To me that was a tremendous moment and coming together of events."

That transplantation was tied to world developments like the rise of fascism.

"In the last century there was hardly anyone who did not encounter a global event where people moved around when they really did not want to," Downes said.

Many composers fled Europe on the eve of World War II and some, like Bartok and Schoenberg, ended up in the United States.

"Their music is rooted in the past, but I'm not," Downes said. "When I perform this music I feel like I'm bringing it into the present, and this is what this concert's narrative is all about."

Downes believes her part of the concert opens a door where the past can play with the present.

"Everything that you will hear in my set – all of it would not have happened except for events that defined a new future," she said.


What: Lara Downes and Build When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center, UC Davis

Cost: $47

Information: (530) 754-2787;

Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

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