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Mills music legacy resonates in Festival opening

Though Mills College music students have spent the past few weeks using the newly renovated and gorgeous music building for classes and rehearsals, it was not until this past Sat., Feb. 21, that the concert hall fully burst open again for the opening night of the Mills Music Festival.

Filled with a bustling crowd, the hall was soon silenced in captivation to experience a celebration of Mills’ experimental music

First on the bill was Pauline Oliveros, the first director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills, with a piece entitled Sound. Light. Migrations.

The piece was composed in collaboration with Tony Martin, who provided a live visual composition projected behind Oliveros, a Darius Milhaud composer-in-residence at the College.

The first sounds of the evening emerged from Oliveros’ accordion, pulled open and closed again without the reverberation of its reeds. These deep, open breaths were a gracious beginning to this new era of music at Mills.

“I was very honored to play the first notes in the new hall,” Oliveros said.

As mentioned in her introduction, Oliveros’ performance channeled the spirit of her mother, and this maternal sensibility provided the Mills music community with a symbolic new birth.

Oliveros said besides sharing the excitement of the reopening, the performance was also personally important.

“I was able to honor my mother who [recently] passed away, and the people in the audience were there with me, so it was
very special,” she said.

She was followed by a performance of Roscoe Mitchell’s 8/8/88, for solo piano, which was composed for, and executed that night by, Joseph Kubera.

Mitchell has held the Darius Milhaud chair in composition since 1997.

After an intermission, the audience gathered again to be graced by Terry Riley’s performance of For Margaret.

A tribute to Margaret Lyon, a dedicated former chair of the music department, Riley’s piece began with a quiet, simple melody in the most conservative style of
the evening.

But it soon morphed into an oscillating meditation, with Riley improvising and chanting as the audience sat pinned by their shirts on every note.

Cellist Joan Jeanrenaud gave the final performance, wearing fabulous, glittering bell-bottoms.

Formerly of the world-famous Kronos Quartet, and a current cello instructor at Mills, Jeanrenaud performed two pieces, Vermont Rules and Strange Toys, using electronic looping to back herself up with entrancing textures and timbres.

The new energy within the music building has been a long time coming.

Two more concerts will be a part of the music festival, and countless other performances will unfurl within the new hall in the future.

Oliveros said Mills has always been “a very important center for new music,” and she continues to work with Mills because of its “devotion to experimental music and improvisation.”

The enthusiastic turn-out at the hall’s reopening showed appreciation for the investment in this rich and compelling music