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Friday, October 22, 2021

Madness and Music Festival examines history of mental illness and music

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Headline: Madness and Music Festival examines history of mental illness and music

Layercake: Four-day festival to honor Robert Schumann and other composers at Mondavi Center

By LEA MURILLO and ROBIN MIGDOL

Aggie Arts Writer and Aggie Arts Editor

Mental illness is often studied in a variety of disciplines: biology, psychology and even sociology, to name a few. Now, UC Davis can add one more discipline to the list: music.

Tonight, the Mondavi Center begins a four-day long festival called Madness and Music. The festival will include six concerts and two discussions that aim to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Robert Schumann and explore how mental illness, or “madness,” affected him and other musicians over the years.

Concerts include an electronic/mixed media performance featuring several students in the technocultural studies department, a performance by innovative 20-member ensemble Alarm Will Sound, and a closing concert by the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra. Tickets are $9 for students.

Music professor Sam Nichols is one of the directors of the festival. He said the various programs hope to explore the link between music and mental illness.

“[The festival will explore whether] madness and music have a link, or if it’s just an old-fashioned idea,” Nichols said. “There’s Lord Byron the poet, people selling themselves to the devil, which is hard to verify, and [the tradition of] existing on the fringes of society as an artist. Let’s look at it and see if it’s true – we’re not necessarily saying that it is.”

Nichols said the festival will present works by Schumann composed when he was suffering from auditory hallucinations. Eventually, the composer ended up in a mental asylum.

“We will reexamine his legacy by playing his music,” Nichols said.

Christian Baldini, conductor of the UCD Symphony Orchestra and a fellow festival director, said there has always been a tradition of audiences wondering if composers were “going mad.”

“Beethoven’s string quartets were difficult and balanced so people thought he was going mad, but what you expect from a composer is to do something challenging or mad,” Baldini said. “The interchangeable parts are interesting to explore. What is mad nowadays?”

The music performed at the festival will represent many diverse styles and time periods, Baldini said. The orchestra will also premiere two brand new works.

“There will be electronic music that will be closer to what some youngsters are used to, classical and acoustic,” he said. “Lu-lu, Lu-lu, a Korean lullaby that was chosen among 60 submissions, is a beautiful piece that was written for [the composer’s] baby. Another piece is about killing a snake – it’s a powerful piece.”

Alarm Will Sound is performing on Saturday. The ensemble’s managing director, Gavin Chuck, said Alarm Will Sound’s aesthetic fits perfectly with the theme of the festival. The concert will feature acoustic, electronic and remixed music.

“We’re bringing a new perspective of contemporary music. It’s interesting that they’re reaching back to old music from those who saw music as solace or were in various mental states,” Chuck said. “It’s good to bring together different types of old and new music.”

Nichols said the festival provided a valuable opportunity for various musicians and departments to come together in support of a great composer, even during difficult economic times.

“It will provide the audience with interesting vantage point on Robert Schumann, [in such a] fantastic facility as the Mondavi Center,” he said. “You realize that even during budget cuts, ambitious projects can still happen.”

For a complete schedule of Madness and Music concerts and lectures or to purchase tickets, go to mondaviarts.org.

LEA MURILLO and ROBIN MIGDOL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org. XXX

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