Expecting the Unexpected

A cursory glance at the following titles—“The Banks of Green Willow,” “The Watermill,” “The Black Lake”—might lead one to guess that the titles refer to paintings or poems about water.  The guess would almost be accurate: the creators of these three works, George Butterworth, Ronald Binge, and Patrick Doyle, respectively, did aim to tell a story or suggest an image involving water, but instead of words or pigment their creations evoke the idea of water through the use of musical notes, instruments, and performers.

If you haven’t heard of composers Butterworth, Binge and Doyle, don’t worry, because Joe Truskot has, and every week on 20/21, his Tuesday evening radio show of mostly modern and contemporary music on KUSP, Truskot offers to the radio-listening public an astonishing array of just such musical juxtapositions and connections.  In addition to the titles above, his program on “Freshwater Music,” which aired last June, also included works by the 20th-century greats Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber, as well as more contemporary selections by living composers like Joan Tower and Jennifer Higdon.

“ ‘Modern music’ is not just one thing,” says Truskot, who began hosting 20/21 regularly last February.  “There are many different spokes to that wheel.”  Some classical music stations broadcast only mainstream, unchallenging repertoire—nothing that calls undue attention to itself—in order to create an unruffled background soundtrack for shopping or driving.  Truskot is after something else.

“20/21 is a show with a point of view.  It’s not an educational lecture but a real program, something you listen to.  And it’s not all squeaks and pips.”

Truskot (photo at right) studied guitar in grade school, but admits he did not have the temperament to be a musician.  It was later, in high school and then college, that he discovered classical music and what would become his lifelong passion.  As a young Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s, he traveled to Iran with a cassette player and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky tapes.  While working for CARE in Belize, he would go to Chetumal, a Mexican border town several hours away that had the only record store in the region.

Now, the ease with which he is able to locate and listen to a vast array of music, from the standard to the obscure, would have been unimaginable back then.  Each playlist that Truskot curates for a 20/21 show may draw from his own collection of over 2000 CDs, the significant KUSP library, and Internet programs like mp3 Rocket, which allow him to sample new music without committing to buying it.

He also receives recordings sent by the business managers of such composers as David Del Tredici and Charles Wuorinen, connections he forged while working nine years at the League of American Orchestras and twenty years for the Monterey Symphony.  Interacting with living composers has kept his musical imagination fresh.  One of Truskot’s favorite living composers is Kevin Puts, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize, whose Arc of Life commission by Chamber Music Monterey Bay will be premiered this October.  “His music is accessible and warm-hearted,” Truskot says.  “There’s such brilliance in the music, it draws you in.”

Amy Anderson, CMMB’s Board President, describes Truskot’s 20/21 shows as “creative and fabulous.”

“Joe’s programs are just brilliant,” she says.  “His music choices for each program are eclectic, connected to each other, and just delightful.”

Past programs have included a diversity of themes, including insomnia, women composers, 20th-century violin concertos, and France.  He is currently working on a show about birds.

Although Truskot is a fierce advocate for the music of today, his favorite composer is Haydn. 

“Haydn worked under extraordinary circumstances,” he says, “creating a vast amount of music under really constrained circumstances.  The music budget was under the kitchen department, which meant that in fact his boss was a chef.  His music is so full of surprises, it never does quite what you expect.”

Thanks to Joe Truskot and KUSP, the tradition of the musical surprise, of expecting the unexpected, is alive and well on the Central Coast.

Visit http://blogs.kusp.org/aeolianimpromptu/ for links to Joe Truskot’s archived blogposts, playlists and podcasts of 20/21, which airs every Tuesday evening 7:00-9:00 on KUSP.