Lori Eanes
Pamela Z was chosen for the Abravanel Distinguished Composer Series.

The purpose of the University of Utah's Maurice Abravanel Distinguished Composer Series is to expose students and the community to a far-ranging spectrum of composers and music, Morris Rosenzweig told the Deseret Morning News.

Twice a year, the series invites a composer to spend a few days on campus. "We bring in people of considerable note and/or who represent different perspectives," Rosenzweig said.

Next week composer, performance artist and singer Pamela Z visits Salt Lake City. "Pamela represents the latter," Rosenzweig said. "She is quite different, although I'm not implying she isn't a good musician. She is, and she is also a good performer and composer, too."

Z probably isn't as well known as some of the other composers Rosenzweig has invited to the U. over the years, but she has made a name for herself. She makes her home in San Francisco and is a forceful proponent of West Coast composers' reaction to European formalism and musical exactness. That's not to say her music is completely free form, Rosenzweig said. "(Pamela's) music is quite exact, but it's not in the tradition of what people think of with contemporary music. She is definitely in the mold of Lou Harrison and John Cage."

And there are also vague pop/jazz and classical singing influences in her music. Actually, it's not easy describing Z's musical style and conceptualization, because, in addition to all of the above, she is also a "very technological composer," Rosenzweig said. "But I think she makes (everything) work as music."

Rosenzweig has met Z twice in the past few years. The first time was at Snowbird, where she was a panelist at a contemporary music symposium. "I was struck by her intelligence and knowledge," he said.

That impression was reinforced later when they were both on an arts committee in Illinois. "I was really impressed by her sensitivity, good sense and open mindedness."

While Rosenzweig and Z represent two opposite approaches to music, Rosenzweig believes she is a perfect choice for the Abravanel series. "Pamela shows a strong commitment to what she's doing," he said. "She's talented and committed."

While she's at the U., Z will give two lectures that will be open to the public, and Canyonlands New Music Ensemble will perform a concert Wednesday that will feature Z in some solo pieces as well as the ensemble in a brand new work, "20 Answers," for mixed ensemble. "The piece is a flip of '20 Questions,'" Rosenzweig said.

He and the members of Canyonlands are waiting the arrival of what Rosenzweig called "some magical 8-balls" for the performance of "20 Answers." Rosenzweig said that the players take these balls and move them around among themselves, and when one comes back to the first player, he plays the musical snippet that's printed on the back of it. "There is also a set of cards that have meticulous directions on them," Rosenzweig said. "It's a musical boardgame, but with very distinct rules. And I don't think they're arbitrary, either."

Rosenzweig said that in one sense, "20 Answers" is like Terry Riley's "In C." Both works are constructed out of brief musical phrases. And while Riley's piece will always have the same order of musical phrases for each performance, since the performers follow a set course decided on by Riley, no two performances of Z's piece will ever be completely the same. "Each performance will be a variation of the piece," Rosenzweig said. "There is an element of improvisation in it, and also an absolute element, so you would always be able to recognize the piece."

Also on Wednesday's concert will be Henri Dutilleux's "Les Citations" for oboe, contrabass, harpsichord and percussion; Claudio Ambrosini's "Capriccio" for solo bass clarinet; and one of Jacob Druckman's last works, "Glint," for clarinet, violin and piano.

"It will be a good program, and I think Pamela will be an interesting and fun person to have here," Rosenzweig said.

If you go ...

What: Canyonlands New Music Ensemble, Morris Rosenzweig, director

Where: Dumke Recital Hall, David Gardner Hall, University of Utah

When: Wednesday , 7:30 p.m.

How much: Free

Also: Pamela Z will present two lectures Thursday: "New Aesthetic Paths," 4 p.m., Room 220, David Gardner Hall; "Performance and Technology," 7 p.m., Dumke Recital Hall; both free and open to the public

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com