Mentoring a community of 21st-century composers

Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium brings new music to Oregon listeners and prepares composers for a life in music

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

The Oregon Bach Festival, as its name implies, primarily concentrates on music of the past. But every other year, it also adds a focus on the present and the future, via the biannual Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium (OBFCS).

From June 26-July 7, new music fans can hear a selection from the 30 or more new works written by symposium participants in the five-part New Pathways concert series at the University of Oregon School of Music. Performers include  soprano Estelí Gomez, former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, and Duo Damiana (guitarist Dieter Hennings and flutist Molly Barth) among many others.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

The symposium’s primary value, though, is helping foster tomorrow’s music. Every two years some 90 international composers and visiting artists gather at the UO School of Music and Dance to form a collaborative and creative community for writing and performing contemporary music for instrumental and vocal ensembles. The intensive symposium offers seminars, master classes, rehearsals, public concerts, mentoring by guest composers-in-residence and visiting artists, a film music festival, attendance at selected OBF rehearsals and concerts and, if not entirely exhausted by day’s end, nightly social gatherings that sometimes last into the wee morning hours. The symposium provides abundant opportunity for composer/performer networking and collaboration now and in the future.

Symposium participants, eager to explore a summer of musical expression, engage in numerous community building experiences that include not only composing music, but conducting and performing it as well. Many participate in the American Creators Ensemble (ACE), a composer/performer group that takes on various instrumental configurations depending upon performance needs. New this year is the ACE’s Vocal Fellows Program, mentored in master classes and rehearsals by Estelí Gomez, featured soprano with Grammy-winning ensembles Conspirare Company of Voices and Roomful of Teeth. Other participation options include an improvisation group and the Pacific Rim Gamelan ensemble with workshop sessions and concert led by UO music professor and composer Robert Kyr, who founded the symposium in 1990.

The American Creators Ensemble formed by Symposium participants.

The American Creators Ensemble formed by Composers Symposium participants.

Musical Mentors
This year’s composers in residence Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon (Eastman School of Music) and David Crumb (UO School of Music and Dance) will meet with small focal groups of five or six participants to hear and discuss their music. Many of these pieces will be performed throughout the symposium in the New Pathways public concerts series, Open Ears concert and workshops sessions, and four late-night Wild Nights Cafe chamber concerts/improvisation events. All concerts and readings will be professionally recorded and made available to the composers, according to the OBFCS web site. (Past composers in residence include Arvo Part, Lou Harrison, George Crumb, and other leading composers.)

Participants mentored by guest composer Stephen Harte at the 2013 OBFCS.

Participants mentored by guest composer Stephen Hartke at the 2013 OBFCS.

Joining Zohn-Muldoon and David Crumb in a series of professional presentations is renowned Scottish composer James MacMillan, whose Requiem will have its world premiere at the Oregon Bach Festival on July 2. All three composers-in-residence will give guest presentations engaging participants in discussions about living a life as a composer/performer of contemporary music based on the experiences they have found in their own collaborative efforts.

Additional mentoring comes through interaction with guest artists including Northwest-based Sound of Late ensemble, soprano Estelí Gomez, flutist Molly Barth, guitarist Dieter Hennings, clarinetist James Shields, Eugene Symphony concertmaster Searmi Park, violin, cellist Jeff Zeigler, pianists Ben Krause and Christina Giuca, flutist Alexis Evers, and percussionist, composer and UO professor Pius Cheung. Symposium director Robert Kyr and other visiting artists will present still more sessions throughout the week that will help provide a foundation for emerging composers as they set out on careers in music.

University of Oregon faculty members Molly Barth and Robert Kyr at the Composers Symposium.

University of Oregon faculty members Molly Barth and Robert Kyr at the Composers Symposium.

With many music organizations finding it financially difficult to survive given today’s economic realities, learning how to build supportive artistic communities to share and strengthen common artistic goals and aspirations is one of the central themes explored throughout the symposium. The topic of forming and maintaining a music ensemble and the processes for commissioning new work will be the focus of a career development seminar hosted by the Sound of Late, a Portland and Seattle based contemporary music ensemble dedicated to community building and empowering new voices.

While thousands of listeners will enjoy the music of Bach and other long-dead composers during the Oregon Bach Festival, its Composers Symposium and New Pathways concerts are helping to assure that classical music isn’t merely a museum of ancient European music, but also a living tradition of music, created by today’s emerging composers, that speaks to tomorrow’s audiences.

Members of FearNoMusic joined Hennings, Barth and Kyr in a mentoring session last year.

FearNoMusic members Nancy Ives and Paloma Griffin joined Hennings, Barth and Kyr in a mentoring session last year.

Hear It Here
The public is invited to join symposium composers/performers in celebrating new music in five concerts. Advanced tickets available or at the concerts, all held at the UO School of Music and Dance. Concerts performed in Beall Hall may be livestreamed (TBA).

• New Pathways I: Performers Showcase, features Sound of Late performing new music by symposium composers at 8 pm on Wednesday, June 29 in Aasen-Hull Concert Hall.

New Pathways II: Features the music of composers-in residence Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and David Crumb with performances by symposium guest artists Gomez, Barth, Hennings,  Shields, Park,  Ziegler, and Cheung at 8 pm Friday, July 1 in Aasen-Hull Concert Hall.

• New Pathways III: The American Creators Ensemble (ACE) with OBFCS guest artists and performers showcase artists featuring Sound of Late, KrauseGiuca, and Evers performing music by symposium composers at 1 pm on Saturday July 2 in Aasen-Hull Concert Hall.

• New Pathways IV: Features Estelí Gomez and the OBFCS vocal fellows in a concert of music by symposium composers at 8 pm on Sunday, July 3 in Beall Concert Hall.

• New Pathways V: The American Creators Ensemble with OBFCS guest artists and performers showcase artists perform music by symposium composers on July 4 at 8 pm in Beall Concert Hall.


Beall Hall performance of Martin Quiroga Jr.’s ‘Pastiche-ios!’ for Violin, Cello, and Piano (OBFCS 2013)

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch

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