Taproot is a biennial festival which began in 2010 under a
different name; it was originally called the UC Davis Composition
Workshop. The festival is a collaboration between the UC Davis
Music Department and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.
Taproot matches participating composers with ensembles that
specialize in performing new music. We hold a call for works, and
then invite a small number of composers (usually about eight) to
come visit our campus in northern California and work with a
variety of different ensembles, both local and visiting.
Participating composers work directly with the performers, and
these rehearsals culminate in a public performance at the Ann E.
Pitzer Center or the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.
Composers also meet in seminars to present and discuss their
work. The first three iterations of the festival featured
composers-in-residence who mentored the participating composers:
Lee Hyla, Lei Liang, and Melinda Wagner each in turn filled this
role. More recently, we’ve adopted a different model, where UC
Davis music composition faculty help facilitate the seminars.
The Taproot New Music Festival strives to be as open, inclusive,
and transparent as possible. We’ve worked to identify and remove
barriers that might prevent composers from participating in the
festival. Our goal is to bring together a diverse group of
composers from a wide range of different backgrounds and
trainings. We believe it’s important to nurture relationships
between artists from radically different orientations.
Our line-up of artists and ensembles has featured both local and
visiting ensembles and artists. Resident groups include the
Empyrean Ensemble, our own professional new music ensemble, which
was founded in 1985 by Ross Bauer. The UC Davis
Symphony Orchestra (directed by Professor Christian Baldini) is also a frequent
collaborator; in more than 60 years of public concerts it’s
established itself as a compelling advocate for contemporary
music. Visiting artists have included Alarm Will Sound, the
Calder Quartet, Sō Percussion, and the St. Louis Symphony (David
Robertson, conductor). A number of exciting local artists have
also appeared at the festival, including violinist Hrabba
Atladottir, electronic musician (and UC Davis professor) Bob Ostertag, pianist Eric
Zivian, and Rootstock Percussion.
One of our goals when we started the festival was to draw
attention to the UC Davis graduate program in music composition.
However, a vitally important part of the festival also involves
the active participation of our student body in general,
especially undergraduates. Students have participated in a number
of projects at the festival, including a staging of David Tudor’s
Rainforest IV, a side-by-side rehearsal combining
members of the St. Louis Symphony with the UC Davis Symphony
Orchestra, and a collaboration between students from Chris Froh’s
percussion studio with Sō Percussion that culminated in a
performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming. We’re eager to
continue to provide opportunities for our students to perform
alongside exceptional artists.