Introducing undergraduates to world-class performers
“When we reach Berkeley’s students, we fulfill our crucial role in creating well-rounded and culturally connected citizens of tomorrow.”
Cal Performances — one of the world’s top presenting arts organizations — occupies Berkeley’s metaphorical center stage. Now a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is bringing undergraduates directly to its distinguished artists.
Launched in spring 2014, four pilot courses are giving students, including those outside of the traditional arts, the opportunity to delve into different artistic genres and attend up to 10 performances per semester. When the grant ends in five years, nearly 500 students will have benefitted.
Serena Le, a graduate student in English, is teaching a course that investigates music’s influence on modernist writers of the early 20th century. One seminal poem the students studied was T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which explores society’s disillusionment and despair following World War I. An “aha” moment occurred when composer Aleksandra Vrebalov visited the class to discuss her new piece for the Kronos Quartet (pictured) that, coincidentally, commemorates the same war.
“After we discussed the poem with Aleksandra, she realized the structure of her piece bears a striking resemblance to Eliot’s structure,” says Le. When the students later saw the quartet’s concert, “they were leaping out of their seats at the end! What an inspiring experience for all of us.”
Speaking of the arts’ transformative power, Cal Performances Director Matías Tarnopolsky says, “Magic happens when the worlds of ideas and performance interact.”