Monday, August 27, 2012

Unique Commissioning Program Enters Third Season

Created by the adventurous conductor Michael Christie, the unique commissioning Click! program at the Colorado Music Festival has entered its third season. Anyone can vote, by donating $10, for any/all of three composers. The composer with the most votes is awarded the commission for an orchestral work, which will be premiered during CMF's 2013 concert season. Thus the process allows the audience to both fund the commission and select the composer. It's the only commissioning program I know of that functions this way.

The three eligible composers are Chiayu HsuKristin Kuster, and Piotr Szewczyk.

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Chiayu's music has been premiered by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, pianist Natalie Zhu, oboist Katherine Needleman, the ensemble eighth blackbird, and the Prism Quartet. Born in Banciao, Taiwan, Chiayu received her Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, Master's degree and Artist Diploma from Yale University, and Ph.D. from Duke University. She has studied at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the Aspen Music Festival, Fontainebleau Schools, and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Her teachers have included Jennifer Higdon, David Loeb, Roberto Sierra, Ezra Laderman, Martin Bresnick, Anthony Kelley, Scott Lindroth, and Stephen Jaffe. A fuller biography is here. Her music can be heard in these excerpts:

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A Boulder native, Kristin Peterson Kuster received her Master's Degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, where she now serves as Assistant Professor of Composition. Her music has received support from such organizations as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Sons of Norway, American Composers Orchestra, the League of American Orchestras, Meet The Composer, the Jerome Foundation, the American Composers Forum, American Opera Projects, the National Flute Association, and the Argosy Foundation. A fuller biography is here. Her music can be heard in these excerpts:

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Piotr Szewczyk, violinist and composer, is a violinist in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in Florida since 2007, and is also the Winner of the 2008 Jacksonville Symphony Fresh Ink - Florida Composers' Competition. As a composer, he has received numerous awards including those from Rapido! Composition Contest, Third Millennium Ensemble, American Composers Forum, Society of Composers, Jacksonville Symphony, British Trombone Society, VoxNovus 60x60 Project, Fauxharmonic Adagio Contest, UPBEAT Hvar - Croatia and ACCENT Competition at Music X Festival. Szewczyk holds a double Masters degree in violin and composition from University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he studied violin with Kurt Sassmanshaus, Piotr Milewski, and Dorothy Delay, and composition with Joel Hoffman, Michael Fiday, Henry Gwiazda, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, and Darrell Handel. A fuller biography is here. His music can be heard in these excerpts:
I hope many will take advantage of this unusual opportunity to help both fund and select a commissioned composer.

For more information about the Colorado Music Festival and its Click! program, visit here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Daniel Kellogg Work Premiered at Colorado Music Festival

Daniel Kellogg's "The Gates of Paradise" received its premiere performance Thursday night at the Colorado Music Festival.

Premiering a commissioned work has become one of the season highlights of CMF, and the Click! program used to commission the works is unique to the festival. Each year, 3-4 composers are pre-selected by Maestro Michael Christie, and then the audience and anyone else can vote for a composer to get the commission by donating $10. Thus the audience both funds and selects the winning composer.

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Composer Daniel Kellogg (L) and Conductor Michael Christie at a pre-concert discussion.

Last fall's top vote winner was Boulder's Kellogg, who teaches at the College of Music of the University of Colorado, and the evening affirmed that he was indeed a felicitous choice. The piece began with shimmering, misty, sustained strings, out of which various gestures emerged in the lower strings, percussion, brass, etc. Eventually these craggy peaks asserted themselves throughout the orchestra, evoking both the Gates of Paradise (impressive huge doors of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy, later named by Michelangelo) and the striking mountains that define Boulder's western limit, where the nation's High Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. A building accumulation of these strong gestures reaches a climax to conclude the piece. It's a successful, attractive work which I hope finds performances elsewhere.

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Another new piece followed, and the report is quite different. Imagine creating a catalog of all the familiar, surefire things that an orchestra can do effectively. Then you skillfully cut and paste these into an old-fashioned 4-movement symphony. You even toss in a fugal passage (the practice of which I thought had been rightfully banned). The result might be Jay Greenberg's Symphony No. 5. Now if you compose this when you are around 14 years old, you become a prodigy that gets fetêd on CBS's "60 Minutes" etc. But the fact remains that the piece is strangely out of touch with today's music and seems devoid of any individual expression.

As Alex Ross commented about Greenberg in his excellent blog, "For him, it is 1904 and anything is possible," adding that many young composers "act as though the 20th century had never happened." One hopes that Greenberg, with some years and compositional studies under his belt since being deemed a modern-day Mozart, is learning to use his considerable talents to reveal a composer who has something to say.

The concert concluded with a solid, appealing performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.