Center for (Brand) New Music

Thursday, I had the opportunity to see the University of Iowa Center for New Music perform.  The program included pieces by Jeremy Dale Roberts, John Adams, David Gompper and a world premiere by Zach Zubow.  This concert was a precursor to a tour the group will embark on including performances at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Lawrence University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

The Center for New Music is a large chamber ensemble that focuses on new compositions and classical works from the 20th century.  This was my first opportunity to see them, I was not only impressed by the group, but I was impressed with what the group does.  First and foremost, they provide a great opportunity for composers on campus to have their music performed live and get feedback from performers, rather than listening to MIDI files on Finale.  They are also ambassadors to the current styles and genres which often times do not enjoy the same amount of performances as our Beethoven’s and Mozart’s. 

The performance started with a solo percussion piece composed by Zach Zubow, a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa.  Hiking the Cascade Trail began with a percussion theme that was repeated throughout the entirety of the work.  As implied by the title, this works represents the Cascade Trail.  The repeated theme represents the trail, while the different instruments show how the environment constantly changes. 

The next performed was Croquis, for string trio by Jeremy Dale Roberts.  The piece begins frantically with all three string instruments seemingly playing as fast and loud as they can.  To say I was confused by the work would be an understatement; however once I read the program notes the remainder of the piece was more enjoyable.  Roberts composed this piece, and many more, to represent a sketch book.  Some sketches are complete works, while others are complete works and others are merely scribbles.  The work did a great job displaying this especially since a couple of the movements were over before they even got the chance to start. 

Next was a world premiere by Zach Zubow, Mirage of the Mountains. I did not even have to read the program notes for this piece to understand how the piece functioned.  It represented a mountain and begins at the base and ascends.  As the mountain ascends, instruments come out of context to represent the many peaks you encounter.  There is more theory that went into the composition which can be read in the program notes here.

After a much needed intermission, we were treated with a piece for string trio and piano composed by our own faculty member, David GompperMusica segreta was composed with the intent to be enjoyed by a limited number of listeners who are well versed in musical theory.  The piece is derived from a hexachord and uses the same seven note set used in Boulez’s explosante-fixe.  Fortunately, I was not completely lost while listening to this piece, 14 weeks of Post-Tonal analysis helped me to appreciate the compositional technique of this work. 

The concert concluded with Chamber Symphony No. 1 by John Adams and is a predecessor to the Schoenberg work, Chamber Symphony Op. 9.  The piece was conceived while Adams was studying the Schoenberg piece and his seven year old son was watching cartoons in the next room.  As a result, we have a piece with cartoonish like features mixed with the disjunct melodies of a 20th century composer.  I admire Adams because he seemingly composed this piece with little, to no care about the complaints that may come from the woodwinds sections!  Throughout the piece I heard the clarinets play runs that make a tuba player, like me, feel guilty for complaining about fast passages!  Despite the difficulty of the work, the group successfully made their way through the runs and put on an enjoyable performance.


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2 responses to “Center for (Brand) New Music

  1. marjorieshearer

    I appreciate your acknowledgement of the difficult woodwind parts in the Adams! When learning the piece, I thought, “This man clearly doesn’t know anything about the clarinet’s capabilities if he writes such ungodly passages.” Well, after reading the program notes, I discovered that Adams actually IS a clarinet player. I imagine that somewhere out there, he is sitting at home laughing about what he’s done to us. Despite the technical and rhythmic challenges though, it was an memorable experience.

  2. mdwhit

    As another participant in the Adams’ Chamber Symphony I think it should be noted that the technical difficulties of this work extend not only to the woodwinds, but to every performer engaged with this piece. I don’t know of a single performer on that stage that did not have extremely difficult passages to deal with. I am glad to have had the opportunity to play this piece as I may never have the chance again. It’s great that such a challenging piece is not shied away from at this university. Bravo!

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