Student composers are composers too ya know

Tonight’s concert featured the musical output of composition students here at the University of Iowa.  There were few who braved the snow but those who did were in for a good albeit short concert.  The program consisted of four pieces each with different instrumentation and style.

The first piece, A Night at Iowa City for String Quartet, by Leonid Iogansen, made use of extended techniques on the violin as well as mictrotonal tuning.  The texture of the piece constantly changed moving between pizzicato to lyrical and everything in between.  The composer writes, “the piece strives to describe the impressions one might get while walking through the downtown of the city after sunset.”  The different timbres and stark contrasts in texture made for a dramatic and thrilling piece.

The second piece, by Brian Penkrot, is titled Angelus Novus II.  It is scored for solo flute, and was skillfully played by Nora Epping.  Her control of extended techniques such as multiphonics, pitch bending, among others as well as an overall rich tone made for a moving performance.  Brian writes, “my intention in this piece is the juxtaposition of musical elements signifying the trend in musical perception from pitched based to sound based.”  Some of the sound based elements were air blown through the flute, clicking the keys, and making a popping sound with the mouth.  The composition weaves all of these techniques together with traditional melodic gestures to create a haunting yet beautiful work.

Jonathan Tauchsceck played his own composition, Piano Study No. 5.  Unlike the previous compositions it was quite tonal and had a jovial air.  He writes, “the piece contains a short motive consisting of quick repetitive notes within a thin texture.  It is reiterated throughout the piece in different guises:  canon, inversion, and in octaves.”

The final piece on the concert was by Jason Palamara entitled Perforation.  The instrumentation consisted of piano, two violins, double bass, xylophone, trombone, bass clarinet, guitar, flute, and laptop.  However, there is no set instrumentation because this work is simply a single sheet of music consisting only of eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes, and quarter note rests.  There are no clefs, key signatures, or bar lines.  All of the players should read the notes in their respective clefs and without transposing, obviously creating some very interesting sonorities at times.  It was necessary for each player to have two copies of the music.  Once the players read through the page once they began to tear the page in half one at a time, throwing their discarded paper at the person next to them and continuing to play the notes left on the other half.  They continued this process until only a single quarter note was left on the page.  Once everyone was down to repeating a single quarter note, Jason, who was playing the laptop, then gave the cue and everyone then played through the sheet of music again (hence the need for a second copy).  I happened to be playing on this one and so I’m not sure exactly how it came off to the audience, I imagine it would be fairly amusing to see people throwing paper around.  However as a participant I can attest to the difficulty of playing music without barlines; the beginning and end were far from perfect.  But overall I think it went well.

One can either look on the bright side and see the great musical expression and effort going into these pieces or one can look to the audience and see only a handful of people actually hearing the pieces.  The snow may have been to blame for the small turn out but I would suspect a nicer evening would only have brought a few more folks.  It’s instances like these that a musician who truly wants to play and promote new music must be content in knowing that at least a few did come tonight and heard something new.

The student composers here each have a voice of their own and it’s nice as a performer to be able to help them realize the music they’ve put so much effort into.  So as a performer I encourage everyone to support the local composers here because they really are quite good.  Not to mention getting commissions from student composers costs you little more than a drink at Donnelly’s.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Student composers are composers too ya know

  1. katimeyer

    Great post, Andy! The title of your post really stood out to me, because student composers ARE composers and DO need a place for their work to be exhibited. It seems unfortunate to me that student work is sometimes “looked down” upon merely because it was composed by someone who does not hold a degree. It also gives the students a place to express themselves and come up with creative ideas, like throwing paper while playing. Do you think that paper would be flung in a “serious” concert hall?

    The future of music is the creative people in universities all around the world. They should have the opportunity to express their artistic talent whenever and where ever possible.

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