Contested Eden

Contested Eden, a new work by Gabriela Lena Frank, reflects on the California wildfires and climate crisis. The work is presented as a dance video, with choreography by Molly Katzman, filmed on location by Swan Dive Media in CZU Lightning Complex Fire sites in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and music remotely-recorded by members of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra. A version for the full Cabrillo Festival Virtual Orchestra will be premiered at a date TBA.

The land we reside and filmed on is unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi tribe, Ohlone, Muwekma, and Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun). Indigenous borders often overlapped and shifted over time, this list is not definitive, but an attempt to be as accurate as possible. We also acknowledge that through colonization and erasure of indigenous cultures, cultural burns were suppressed which were prescribed by native people to maintain a healthy land. Today, the indigenous people of this land are working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices and heal from historical trauma. 


Contested Eden (2021)
Gabriela Lena Frank (1972)
Digital World Premiere | Festival Commission

Commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Music Director Cristian Măcelaru, with generous support from Jerry Vurek-Martyn and Rhonda Martyn & Joseph Novello in loving memory of Lynda Vurek-Martyn. Additional support comes from the La Jolla Music Society for SummerFest.

I am a believer of human-driven climate change, reluctantly so. That is what four straight years of apocalyptic fires in your beloved home state will do. My husband and I diligently thin the forests on our property, installing water tanks and ponds, and covering edifices in fire-resistant stucco. We are regulars at classes at the fire station, and during fire season, have solar power at the ready for electrical outages, and emergency bags in the cars. And at the small music academy that I founded, my staff and I have begun leading classes for musicians about the climate crisis and talk frankly about lifestyle changes needed in our field.

Contested Eden, in two movements, was a difficult project for me. A few months before the deadline, when asked if I could consider addressing the wildfires of California in my piece for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, I was caught off guard. Then, I burst into tears and blurted out yes. What followed was a humbling period of apprehension against tackling the subject. When I did roll up my sleeves, I first wrote what could best be described as a melodramatic soundtrack for a theoretical film documentary on fire. Here’s the fire climbing up a Douglas fir: scurrying violins. There’s the ominous ascending column of smoke over hills before it sinks to the valley floor: horns in sixths to fifths to fourths to thirds to seconds, harmonized to descending bassoons. A solo flute could be the lonely bird hovering over a burned nest. Windchimes for…well, wind and maybe a charred kite. And riffing Ennio Morricone is always good for a firefighter’s vista shot surveying husks of homes against steam and ash.

This went on for a while, a couple of weeks. Ultimately, it was a useful, if mortifying, exorcism of tired cliches I’ll never show anyone, leaving behind just a couple of small usable germs: an original secular psalm, Canto para California, that forms an intimate lyrical first movement, followed by a second movement centered around the concept of in extremis, Latin for “in extreme circumstances.”

in extremis…What an apt description for life in California during the past four seasons, a Herculean effort of normalcy on the part of Californians while death is constantly imminent. Something inside, deep in one’s spirit, simply perseveres even while surrounded by unimaginable chaos and loss.

After an initial slow build-up, the heart of the second movement is a slowly moving violin line that elegiacally descends, over several minutes, moving from the stratospheres down to its lowest register before handing off to the violas, who eventually hand off to the cellos, who hand off to the basses. All the while, against this almost too-long falling arc, brief bits and pieces of earlier pieces I’ve authored come to life, albeit transformed, in the surrounding orchestral landscape before vanishing. Nothing coheres or makes sense, like memories that are of little help and comfort. That’s life in extremis.

Yet, the piece ends hopefully, a hint of the work’s opening and original secular psalm in tribute to the Eden that’s my beloved native state. So, while I honestly sometimes want to lie back in a comfortable bed of yesteryear, I recognize the past is going to stay there, and forward is what we’ve got. California’s never been a sleepy state, and an ultimately optimistic embrace of challenges to come is all I see for our future.

— Gabriela Lena Frank

Gabriela Lena Frank, composer

Considered one of the 35 most significant women composers in history (Washington Post 2017) and currently serving as Composer-in-Residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra, composer/pianist Gabriela Lena Frank was born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent. Identity has always been at the center of her music as she explores her multicultural heritage through her compositions. Frank’s virtuosity as a pianist is also reflected in her work, and she is a sought-after performer specializing in contemporary repertoire.

In 2020, Frank received the prestigious Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanity category; she donated a meaningful portion of that prize money to the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, which she established in 2017.

Winner of a Latin Grammy and nominated for Grammys as both composer and pianist, Frank holds a Guggenheim Fellowship and a USA Artist Fellowship. She is regularly commissioned by luminaries such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, soprano Dawn Upshaw, the King’s Singers, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano with guitarist Manuel Barrueco, and Brooklyn Rider; and has received orchestral commissions from leading American symphony orchestras including Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

In 2017 Frank completed four years as composer-in-residence with the Detroit Symphony, and her second residency with the Houston Symphony. In 2021-22, San Diego Opera will premiere Frank’s first opera, The Last Dream of Frida

Frank attended Rice University, where she earned a B.A. and M.A; and the University of Michigan, where she received a D.M.A. in composition. She resides in Boonville, California, with her husband on their mountain farm, has a second home in Berkeley, and has traveled extensively in Andean South America. 

MOLLY KATZMAN & Co., choreOgrapher + dancers

Choreographer Molly Katzman (they/them) started dancing in middle school at Nevada City School of the Arts, and danced throughout high school in the Nevada Union Theatrical Dance program. They attended Cabrillo College where they won the Roberta Bristol Award for dance in 2009, then went on to earn their B.A. at UC Santa Cruz. While living in Santa Cruz, Katzman has danced for choreographers including Cat Willis, Gerald Casel, Cid Pearlman, and is a member of FLEX dance company directed by Leslie Johnson. Katzman and Sierrah Dietz started their own company, HOMEbodies, and debuted their first show in April 2012.  They presented their second show in 2013 and entered the New Orleans Fringe Festival in 2014 where they were nominated for the Outstanding Choreography (New Work) Award. In 2015, Katzman joined Joe Goode Performance Group in San Francisco as a company member and teaches through their educational outreach program while also teaching at Motion Pacific, Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School, and Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center in Santa Cruz. 

El Beh

El Beh (they/them) is a theatre artist, performer, musician, singer, composer, mover, shaker, educator, forever student, and glowing unty to many a nibling. They are a co-host of Drag Spectacular Spectacular and a proud company member of Shotgun Players, Mugwumpin, and detour dance. Their cello playing has been heard with such folks as Taylor Mac, The Bengsons, and the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, and they were named one of KQED’s Bay Brilliant Artists to Watch. As Mizz Ellemenohpee Q. Aresteeyuvee, her solo drag movement short film ( part of detour dance’s Up On High project) will premiere in San Francisco in December 2021. Growing edges and digging deep are their fuel along with shared experiences, community making, and alternative mutual aid solutions. They feel big, laugh loud, and like to skinny dip in the ocean and disrupt the systems that need disrupting. 

Angela Chambers

Angela Chambers (she/her/hers), an Oakland native raised in Berkeley, spent most of her young life performing Musical Theater. Upon moving to Santa Cruz to attend UC Santa Cruz, Chambers was Introduced to formal and contemporary training. She has since had the privilege to develop and expand her knowledge of (and relationship with) dance as an art form, a tool for personal growth, and even as a catalyst for social change. At UCSC, Chambers performed, directed, and choreographed in many student and faculty-led productions. After graduating in 2014 with a B.A. in Intensive Psychology and Dance, Chambers continues her work within the Santa Cruz dance community and furthers her training through residencies and intensives––most recently with Shannon Mather, A.I.M, and Garth Fagan Dance. In addition to performing, she spends most of the season teaching at the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center (TWDCC) and Motion Pacific. When not dancing, Chambers pursues her love for working with and supporting young dancers and the community as a Youth Protection Advocates in Dance (YPAD) certified Health and Wellness teacher and as the Development Director/Youth Programming Manager at TWDCC. 

Collette Tabone (she/her/hers) is a dancer, choreographer, and instructor based in Santa Cruz. She is also the Director of Motion Pacific Dance, a nonprofit organization and studio in downtown Santa Cruz. Collette views dance as a source of healing, community, collaboration, and inspiration. From 2010-2012 she studied dance at Cabrillo College where she received both the Roberta Bristol Award and Tandy Beal Scholarship. In 2014, she earned a B.F.A. in Dance from San Diego State University and received the “Outstanding Graduate in Dance” award. That same year, Tabone co-founded E&C, a dance performance collective, in partnership with Erin Reynolds. Their works show representations of the intricacies of the human condition through a kinesthetic experience. E&C performed work in Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Sacramento including ArtStreet Sacramento, Looking Left & max10. In 2018, E&C produced an evening of work, In Explicit Memory, premiering at Motion Pacific. Tabone has been a member of Cid Pearlman Performance dance company since 2014 and has danced in works premiering in Sweden, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz. She was nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for Ensemble Performance for Two, a duet, in 2019. Collette plans on continuing to find the small and large dances in the world, using the artform as a platform for connection, conversation, and social change. 

Melissa Wiley

Melissa Wiley (she/her/hers) has been dancing all her life. She has been teaching at Motion Pacific in Santa Cruz for 16 years and has been a guest choreographer for the Cabrillo Dance Department over the past five years.

SWAN DIVE MEDIA, filmmakers

Swan Dive Media was formed by Santa Cruz natives Joel Hersch and Michael Daniel. Hersch is a formally trained journalist and writer who has worked with local press, including the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Good Times Weekly and Santa Cruz Waves magazine, since 2010. Michael Daniel is a cinematographer and film editor who has been working over the same number of years, specializing in event and music video production. The two friends created Swan Dive Media in 2017 as a creative film house that produces visually stunning narrative content, company brand stories, and documentaries, effectively fusing Hersch’s background as a journalist and producer with Daniel’s expert filmmaking capabilities. The studio is housed in Santa Cruz’s Old Wrigley Building on the Westside, where the team can be found bringing their latest films to life. When they’re not in the studio, Daniel and Hersch are most likely working on a set, locally or abroad. 

SVet stoyanov, audio EDITOR and MIXER

Svet Stoyanov has been a percussionist with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra since 2012. During the 2020 and 2021 Virtual Seasons, he has played a pivotal role in bringing the Festival’s virtual programming to life—as an audio and video producer, editor and mixer. He has been responsible for all orchestral recordings, including the debut of Stacy Garrop’s The Battle for the Ballot. In 2021 he edited and mixed the orchestral audio recordings for Contested Eden, INTONATIONS, and Sprout.

As a percussionist, Stoyanov has been praised by The New York Times for his “understated but unmistakable virtuosity” and a “winning combination of gentleness and fluidity.” A driving force in modern percussion, he has performed more than 1,000 recitals and presented more than 200 masterclasses worldwide. Stoyanov has also commissioned a significant body of solo and chamber works. Most recently, American Rome Prize winner Andy Akiho completed a work titled Pillar IV for Stoyanov and his Time Travelers Percussion Project; it was premiered to great acclaim in New York’s National Sawdust. Another recent commission includes a percussion concerto by Mason Bates titled Sideman, which has been performed in Miami and at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. It has also been recorded by Stoyanov for an upcoming release.

Winner of the prestigious Concert Artists Guild International Competition and the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Award, Stoyanov’s career highlights include solo concerto appearances with the Chicago, Seattle, and American Symphony Orchestras, as well as solo performances in Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Taiwan National Concert Hall, among others worldwide. He has recorded for numerous labels, including Telarc, Naxos and Bridge Records.

Stoyanov is the Director and Associate Professor of Percussion Studies at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami; and endorses some of the finest percussion instruments and products today.