Wednesday, June 13, 2007 | You see it all the time. At a concert where the programming combines traditional and new music, audiences listen to the masterpiece, then many bolt for the door before the new work is played.

Poor Beethoven. He would have never made it if audiences had behaved that way for his music. Ditto for Mozart. They were writing the new music of their time. Audiences expected it to be new, anticipated it, judged it.

Today’s concert programmers now place the new work between the war horses (which in themselves were new music at one time). Yet I look forward to opportunities for new music, even though I don’t always like what I hear. Whether they are reworking conventional musical forms or breaking ground with new ones, today’s composers retune my ears, open them up, clear out the wax of the centuries, so to speak.

The University of California San Diego has been a world leader in promoting new music. New music advocates reach well beyond the classroom, however, La Jolla Music Society and UCSD ArtPower’s public arts series program new music regularly, bringing in some of living “big guns” of the 21st century like composer Joan Tower (this year’s Summerfest) and the Arditti Quartet (earlier this year).

This week, the Athenaeum is launching its first ever new music festival — soundON. NOISE, San Diego’s new music ensemble, has presented contemporary music concerts for several years with the Athenaeum. Now, however, the two have collaborated for a four-day festival of works by young composers with music that is hot off the computer from scores printed at Kinko’s and sometimes bound with plastic rings.

What does this music sound like? How does it feel? Is it good? Worse — mediocre? Is it crazy? Impossible to listen to? How does this music feel? I’ll report some answers from the festival’s performances, workshops and parties over the next few days, from the opening concert tomorrow evening to the finale party on Saturday. You can drop in at the festival and our site any time. For a complete festival schedule, go here.

Let’s get started. What does new music sound like? Ironically, if you are one of those concertgoers who walks away, you can’t escape. You’re hearing it all the time, outside the concert hall. Philip Glass and Gyorgy Ligeti, two outstanding avant-garde composers, have achieved the ultimate symbol of acceptance — movies scores. Glass has written music for nearly three dozen films, including “Koyaanistqatsi,” “The Hours,” and “The Truman Show.” While Ligeti did not write scores per se, Stanley Kubrick used several of his pieces for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Shining,” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” Their trek from tiny venues, small audiences, and (in Ligeti’s case) political censorship has taken years.

New music has a wide range: Broadway musicals, jazz, projects like Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road, the influx of artists and compositions from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. In fine art music, the Kronos Quartet is the best known and inexhaustible champion of new works, and groups like the Ying, Cypress and Del Sol Quartets regularly commission new pieces from a broad list of young composers from around the world.

soundON’s programming is both limited and diverse. The works are limited to notated music, meaning no improvisation. Still, expect many 20th and 21st centuries’ sounds: minimalism, text pieces, experimental percussion, American experimentalism, lyrical and neo-Romantic pieces with lush harmonies, ragtime (ye olde and new), and just a bit of electronic.

NOISE issued a “call for scores” and received more than 200 submissions from composers around the world. The winners are Edward Top (Netherlands), Bill Ryan (USA), Orlando Jacinto Garcia (USA) and Moiya Callahan (USA/Canada). Other emerging composers are Sidney Marquez Boquiren (Philippines/USA) and, from the US, Christopher Burns, Matthew Burtner, Joseph Waters, Jerod Sommerfeldt and Christopher Adler (USD).The programming also includes works from some modern masters like John Cage and Steve Reich.

Two full concerts will open and close the festival, along with a people’s concert, two “chill-out” concerts, an open rehearsal, and a free streetside event in the Athenaeum’s courtyard.

Need some help listening and understanding? Sit in on a composers’ roundtable, performers’ forums and a workshop that will bring together the general public and musicians.

Who is NOISE? Colin McAllister (guitar), Lisa Cella (flute), Morris Palter (percussion), and Christopher Adler (piano and composer-in-residence). Guest artists for soundON will be Mark Menzies (violin) and Franklin Cox (cello).

The Athenaeum is a good bet for this festival, despite the hard chairs, because it’s informal and intimate. Leave your fancy La-Jolla-concert-scene duds home.

Daytime admission is $10, $5 for members of the Athenaeum or members of San Diego New Music, and covers all events beginning at 1 p.m. or earlier on any given day. Evening admission is $20 and $15 for members, covering all events beginning at 6:30 p.m. A festival pass is $65 and $50 for members.

Cathy Robbins is a San Diego writer and the author of “All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)”, to be published by the University of Nebraska Press.

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