Yesterday was the opening night of the OSU School of Music’s 2010 Contemporary Music Festival. The 10-year-old event celebrates the fiery and imaginative world of contemporary classical music (sometimes referred to as new art music). The six distinct pieces that were performed last night sparked similar inward thoughts and vibrant emotions to the ones I felt when visiting MoMA last weekend.
The concert’s two world premieres, 13 for Lucky for cello & computer and Premonitions for Alto Saxophone and Computer-generated Sound, were composed for solo instruments and computers, and were intended to demonstrate our progress in technology. The former was performed by cellist Mark Rudoff and composed by Marc Ainger as a tribute to the late Stephen “Lucky” Mosko. It intermittently reminded me of a barreling train, furious flamenco guitar, and arresting silence. The latter, created by Thomas Wells and performed by Casey Grev, was conceived in Germany and took six years to complete. Based on “spectral manipulations of natural sounds,” it employed painstaking digital synthesis techniques.
Inspired by an Amy Lowell poem, Mirage is an experimental piece of computer-assisted algorithmic music involving a flute and a vibraphone, as performed by Erin Helgeson Torres and Darin Olson. It was created by Bosnian composer Igor Karaca. And then there was The Moment, an explosively technical piano work performed by Yung-jen Chen and written by Korean composer Gui Sook Lee. It explores “the dividing line between the end of winter and the beginning of spring” and “the delicate inner atmosphere of autumn.” Christine Shumway Mortine provided the evening’s sole vocal performance with Of Hartford in a Purple Light, an homage to poet Wallace Stevens. Composed by Donald Harris, it mixed lilting operatic soprano with haunting piano accompaniment by Maria Staeblein. Jan Radzynski’s Serenade for Wind Quintet was the debut performance of the School of Music's new faculty performing ensemble, Scarlet Winds. Featuring the flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, and bassoon, its three movements were spry and dramatic, like an avant-garde film score.
Former dean of the College of the Arts and esteemed music professor Donald Harris has managed the Festival since 2000. His passion for and commitment to this groundbreaking genre of music is an undeniable force. The festivities run through Sunday and are made possible through generous support from The Johnstone Fund for New Music, The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.