Friday, July 1, 2011

Music11 Composers III and Final Vote

Thursday we had our third concert of new works composed for Music11, as well as our final composer masterclass. In the afternoon Ruben Naeff, Kerrith Livengood, David Trum, Elizabeth Ogonek, and Ben Wallace got to present their music for David Lang. Once again, many of our recurring topics came up in discussion. I think this may be because we have a very artistically diverse group of composers - since we are all so different, we tend to focus on the more universal issues of being a composer. The conversation quickly turned to the way we introduce our music to listeners. We also addressed the ever-present topic of self-consciousness as a composer. Lang is quite a natural teacher; he has a knack for figuring out what a composer is trying to achieve, and encouraging him or her to achieve that more fully. He spoke of the difference between what you want to do in your music, versus what you do because you think it will please the listener. He encouraged us to write music that suits our own taste, with the confidence that a curious listener will be interested in experiencing our music on its own terms. As he put it, "if I'm not interested, I'll go watch a baseball game. If I am interested, I want to hear what you have to say, not what you think I want you to say." Lang also addressed the topic of text setting in relation to David Trum's vocal piece. Often we fall into the habit of setting words in a speech-like fashion, writing notes that are more or less the same length, never going against the grain. Lang advocated for a more elastic treatment of text. He believes that the text must become subservient to the music - not the other way around - and that passages of text can be set in ways that condense or expand its delivery in relation to its emotional content.

Our evening concert opened with Lang's aria "I Had No Reason" from his opera The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. This hauntingly exposed passage featured soprano Lindsay Kesselman in the role of Mrs. Williamson, whose husband has mysteriously vanished while walking across a field. Midway through, she was joined unexpectedly by violinist Matt Albert, who emerged from the audience and began playing.

Amy Kirsten's joujou explored the relationship between two classic Commedia dell'arte characters Pierrot and Columbine. Deidre Huckabay (flute), Megan Ihnen (mezzo-soprano), Katrina Leshan (guitar), Matthew Duvall (percussion), and Katy LaFavre (percussion) gave a brilliant performance. Each musician was called upon to vocalize and play percussion at various points in the piece, and they did so very effectively. The lightning-quick flashes of sound were absolutely mesmerizing. Amy's music is like a magic pastry shop of surprising sonic flavors.

Hojin Lee's Piece for Flute, Viola, and Piano embarked on an introverted journey full of brooding turmoil. Tim Munro, Andrea Hemmenway, and Daniel Walden played with deep angst.

In his Piano Trio: Prelude, Michael Ippolito made three instruments sound like a full orchestra. Sarah Saviet (violin), Branson Yeast (cello), and Lisa Kaplan (piano) played with dynamic force and confident unity. From intricately weaving lines to massive, juicy harmonies, the work was satisfying at every turn.

In contrast, Hye Jung Yoon's Piano Trio exemplified a different type of emotional fervor. Matt Albert (violin), Branson Yeast (cello), and Bryan Kelly (piano) were expressive and precise as they interpreted the lonely, desolate fury of the work.

Ben Wallace's quirky title, Lil' Iannis is Too Shy to Get Up and Dance, requires a bit of explanation. Ben took the rhythms of Iannis Xenakis' unpitched percussion piece Rebonds B and set them to pitches, creating a much different effect than Xenakis' original. The Xenakis piece has become a sort of inside joke among conservatory percussion students, since it is played so constantly that you can sometimes hear multiple people practicing it at once when walking by percussion practice rooms. Hearing it set to Ben's cheerful notes and played by Laura Lentz (flute), Nicholas Photinos (cello), and Yen Lin Goh (piano) was a quirky and welcome surprise.

all streams reach the sea at last, by Elizabeth Ogonek, was full of rich contrasts; the piece was by turns electrifying, tender, fiendish, and aquatic. A lovely performance was given by Tim Munro (flute), Emily McPherson (flute), Daniel Walden (piano), Joey Van Hassel (percussion), and Clara Warnaar (percussion).

When introducing his piece Fill the Present Day with Joy, Ruben Naeff told us "I wanted to write an opera about you." This propulsively energetic work was a setting of comments, status updates, and various other pieces of information from Facebook. Many of our participants' names came up in the piece, making it a fun, personal, and entertaining conclusion for the concert. The work's title comes from a William Wordsworth quote that mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen had posted on her wall. Ruben's piece makes use of this text, as well as the numerous comments posted by Megan's friends. The piece was given a spirited and unabashedly wacky performance by Jessica Aszodi (soprano), Matthew Albert (viola), Thomas Kotsheff (piano, claves, bell) and Charlie Magnone (piano).

After the concert we held our Music11 composer competition, in which we all voted for our favorite pieces from the festival. The prize is another performance of the winning pieces on Friday's final concert. This was a fun way to express our admiration for one another and hear some of our favorite pieces again. Congratulations to our winners Amy Kirsten and Ruben Naeff!!! We look forward to hearing your pieces again! Congrats also to our three honorable mentions: Michael Ippolito, Dylan Sheridan, and Gabriella Smith. This was definitely the best MusicX festival ever - we look forward to savoring our last day here together!

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