Jan. 18, 2007
Vol. 26 No. 8

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    Uri Caine, mastering the aesthetics of adaption

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    Uri Caine
    (Photo by Dan Lewis)

    This quarter’s Presidential Fellow in the Arts is famous for playing Bach, Beethoven and Wagner like a jazz standard. He brings klezmer, bassa nova, tango, Dixieland, street sounds, DJs, even drinking songs into the likes of Mahler and Mozart.

    But don’t categorize Uri Caine; he is far more than a pioneer of classical hybrids. He also is a virtuoso pianist in a straight-up trio, and he leads the band, Bedrock, which uses laptops to produce electronic music worthy of a rave.

    “We talk about having a broad love of learning at the University,” said Travis Jackson, Associate Professor in Music and the College. “Well, Uri Caine loves music in the broadest sense—classical, jazz, pop, folk. He explores it all. He has no boundaries.”

    Caine, who has been called “ferociously versatile” and “a genuine polyglot” by The New York Times, will perform at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 30, in Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St. Joined by a five-member ensemble (violin, clarinet, trumpet, bass and drums), Caine will showcase his radically playful and inventive interpretations of both Wolfgang Mozart and Gustav Mahler. The evening will include a public conversation between Caine and Jackson, which will include questions from the audience.

    As part of his residency, Caine will engage in a series of seminars, including an improvised solo session with discussion on Monday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. in the University Theater, on the first floor of the Reynold’s Club. In this session, Caine will demonstrate his method for using the harmony of a classical piece as a framework for improvisation. Reservations are required for this event and may be made by calling (773) 702-3414.

    Caine will also participate in two classes; on Monday, Jan. 29, there will be a lecture in Fulton Recital Hall for University music students and on Wednesday, Jan. 31 he will discuss his unique process of adaptation with students enrolled in an interdisciplinary seminar on adaptation.

    “Not only is Caine a brilliant performer,” said David Levin, Associate Professor in Germanic Studies, Cinema & Media Studies, and Theatre & Performance Studies, “he is an artist who is dealing with the aesthetic complexities of adaptation in exceedingly interesting ways. People across campus are working on the aesthetics of adaptation, whether it’s in theatre, film or opera. As such, his presence on campus strikes me as timely and exciting.”

    Caine, who has recorded more than 16 albums, is perhaps best known for the eclecticism of his classical adaptations.


    A native of Philadelphia who was trained as a classical pianist, Caine developed a passion for jazz as a youth. He studied with Bernard Peiffer, a French jazz pianist. During his early years, Caine played professionally as a sideman with such jazz greats as Philly Joe Jones, Hank Mobley, Johnny Coles, Odean Pope and Mickey Roker. Four years after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied music composition under George Rochberg and George Crumb, Caine moved to New York and further diversified his interests, playing in a wide range of musical genres, from klezmer ensembles to groups with a 20th-century classical repertoire. He also plays in combos with two musicians known for their unusually eclectic interests: the clarinetist Don Byron and trumpeter Dave Douglas.

    In the mid-1990s, Caine began his experimentation with the works of Mahler. Attracted to the Austrian composer, in part, because of the diversity of his music, Caine produced in 1996, “Urlicht/Primal Light.” His take on Mahler, which begins with a New Orleans/klezmer-like version of the funeral march that opens Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, was named “Best Mahler CD” of 1997. Caine also has released two other rearrangements of Mahler’s works, “Gustav Mahler in Toblach,” and “Dark Flame.”

    Caine later tackled the works of several other classical composers, including Wagner, Beethoven and Schumann. In 2000, he began adapting Bach’s keyboard monument, “The Goldberg Variations,” for the 250th Anniversary of the composer’s death. After its 2003 release, Caine’s album—a radical reimagining of Bach, complete with rave-worthy grooves, computerized gibberish and mambos—was highly praised by New York Times critic Jeremy Eichler. “The project exudes ingenuity… It is a categorical dismissal of categories,” wrote Eichler.

    While much of Caine’s work over the past decade has been the invention of reinterpretations of classical compositions, he also has built a reputation on playing straight-up jazz classics with the Uri Caine Trio and electronic music with Bedrock.

    The pianist-composer, recently returned from a European tour, said he only recently began performing the works of Mozart and Mahler together. It is a challenging pairing, Caine explained, because “Mozart is the epitome of the classical era of the 1700s, while Mahler, late 19th- and early-20th-century, is much more modern. Their works have very different character.”

    The New York based musicians joining Caine on stage Tuesday, Jan. 30, will be Joyce Hammann, violin; Moran Katz, clarinet; Ralph Alessi, trumpet; Drew Gress, bass; and Ben Perowsky, drums.

    Tickets for the public concert on Tuesday, Jan. 30 are $15, general, and $5 for students with a valid University I.D. To reserve tickets, contact the Arts Speaks hotline at (773) 702-8080, e-mail the box office at concert-office@uchicago.edu or visit the box office at 5720 S. Woodlawn Ave., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

    Caine is the third Presidential Fellow in the Arts for the 2006-2007 academic year. Now in its third year and funded by the University’s Arts Planning Council and the Office of the President, the program brings three distinguished artists to campus every academic year for residencies of various lengths, offering the University community and the community-at-large a rare chance to experience preeminent artists in an intimate setting.

    Each residency includes a public presentation, and participation in seminars and classes. Previous presidential fellows are filmmaker Atom Egoyan; theater director Anne Bogart; dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones; playwright and actor Anna Deavere Smith; film producer James Schamus; saxophonist and composer John Zorn; and writer and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman. For more information on the Presidential Fellows in the Arts Program, please visit http://arts.uchicago.edu.