ArtsWatch guest post: Tomorrow’s music today

Gary Ferrington reviews the University of Oregon's Music Today Festival.

Alyssa Tamayo alto saxophone, and Ednaldo Borba, piano perform Brandon Scott Rumsey's "Sacred Spaces" at the Music Today Festival. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Alyssa Tamayo alto saxophone, and Ednaldo Borba, piano perform Brandon Scott Rumsey’s “Sacred Spaces” at the Music Today Festival. Photo: Gary Ferrington.


The second half of the closing concert in the University of Oregon’s biennial Music Today Festival opened with a film clip depicting nature recordist Gordon Hempton’s search for one square inch of silence in the Olympic National Park. As the camera pulled back, listeners could clearly hear the forest soundscape of birdcall and natural sounds. Composer Andrew Stiefel used those sounds as a theme in his composition, “Echoes of a Sonic Habitat II,” creating the sense of a dense reverberating forest by spatially placing flutist Sarah Pyle and Jacob Walls, trumpet, in different locations within the darkened auditorium. Commissioned by Crater Lake National Park, the multimedia work was based on field recordings Stiefel had recorded there.

Stiefel’s work exemplified Monday evening’s theme, “Signal in the Noise,” featuring music focused on the influence of the natural soundscape, performed by the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (ECCE) with guest artist Estelí Gomez, soprano and created by emerging composers David Eisenband, Diana Rosenblum, Jacob Walls, Nicole Portley and Robert Chastain, as well as prominent composers John Luther Adams, Tristan Murail and Emily Doolittle.

Held at venues at the UO music school, the biennial Music Today Festival was founded in 1993 by UO composition professor Robert Kyr. This year it offered over 40 premieres of new music – mostly by young composers born after 1985 and who are completing their undergraduate or graduate studies in the UO School of Music and Dance.

PRISM Saxophone Quartet

PRISM Saxophone Quartet

The festival began on February 25, with the Oregon Composers Forum’s “A World of Music” featuring the University of Oregon Percussion Studio and the Sospiro Vocal Ensemble as guest artists. New compositions included choral works by Robert Chastain, David Eisenband, and Alex Johnson and pieces for a variety of ensemble arrangements by Evan C. Paul, Matt Zavortink, Avery Pratt, Noah Jenkins, Olivia Davis, Michael Banks and Nicole Portley.

Based on the recordings of wolves that UO instructor of music technology Chester Udell made at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana, “Vocalizations” is perhaps the first soundscape composition performed in the UO School of Music and Dance. Composer Udell used the cries, whimpers, and howls of the wolves to weave a haunting and sometimes frightening acoustic three-dimensional soundscape experience.

The newly formed Ova Novi Ensemble made its debut concert appearance on Tuesday with new works for solo and ensemble performances by Diana Rosenblum, Alyssa Tamayo, Nicole Portley, Olivia Davis, Keiko Abe, and Mei-Ling Lee. Formed in the fall of 2012, the ensemble is committed to programming compositions by female composers. A violin sonata by Irene “Poldowksi” Wieniawska (1879-1932) provided a tribute to the contribution of women composers over the years.

Three art songs composed by Lori Laitman, “The Metropolitan Tower,” “The Strong House,” and “The Hour,” were beautifully performed by Brooklyn Snow, soprano and Asya Gulua, piano. Laitman is the mother of UO graduate composer and Ova Novi Ensemble founder and co-coordinator Dianna Rosenblum.

Festival guest artists PRISM Saxophone Quartet held a master class on Wednesday in which it performed new works by students in the University of Oregon’s composition program. The quartet (Timothy McAllister, soprano saxophone, Zachary Shemon, alto, David Wegehaupt, tenor, and Taimur Sullivan baritone) surprised composers Noah Jenkins and Matt Zavortink when it included their master class compositions for the quartet in Thursday’s public concert.

That concert ended with the touching “Every Thing Must Go” by veteran American composer and music educator Martin Bresnick composed in three sections, “Andante,” “G.L. In memoriam,” and ‘Pensoso, con sobrio esperessione.” If anyone ever doubted the power and beauty of a saxophone quartet, PRISM’s presentation of this work would quickly change their mind. It left me speechless.

“Sounding Images” was the theme for a Friday night concert in which the turnEnsemble, verbaltranscription, and beta collide offered an evening of exciting and challenging newly commissioned graphic scores by James Bean, Matt Zavortink, Noah Jenkins, Molly Fishman, Adrew Stiefel, and Scott Scharf.

Sospiro Vocal Ensemble featuring guest artist Esteli Gomez performing "Songs of Mnemosyne" by W. Franklin Price. Andrew Stiefel, conductor. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Sospiro Vocal Ensemble and guest artist Esteli Gomez perform “Songs of Mnemosyne” by W. Franklin Price. Andrew Stiefel, conductor. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Sacred Spaces, Sounding Images

A new composition, “Sacred Spaces 2012,” by UO alum Brandon Scott Rumsey, was performed by Alyssa Tamayo alto saxophone, and Ednaldo Borba, piano as a “preview” before its Saturday concert performance for members attending the North American Saxophone Alliance (NASA) Region 1 Conference at the University of Oregon. Based on two cards found in the Tarot deck, “The Hermit” (Part I) and “The Fool” (Part II), Rumsey’s composition is a demanding piece meant to showcase the saxophonist’s artistic abilities. It was commissioned by another UO music school graduate, Lauren Wagner who will give its world premier on March 8th at the University of Wyoming, Laramie.

The Future Music Oregon program, headed by Dr. Jeff Stolet, is known for its innovative work in electronic based composition. Its Saturday evening program included new compositions by Evan C. Paul, Sungmin Kim, Adam Shanley, John Bellona, Wesley Price and Gabriel Montufar. The program featured guest artist and Grammy Award winning flutist Molly Alicia Barth performing “Populus Sketch” for solo flute and Kyma by visiting Chinese scholar and composer Minjie Lu.  In the collective composition “entANGLed,” the six-member Oregon Electronic Device Orchestra, directed by Chet Udell, used a data network with alternative controllers and interactive software.

The Sospiro Vocal Ensemble featuring acclaimed vocalist Estelí Gomez performing a song cycle by Wesley Franklin Price (“Mnemosyne” for solo soprano and chorus), and four premieres of choral works composed by UO graduate composers Robert Chastain, David Eisenband, Alex Johnson and Addison Wong. This beautiful Sunday program of vocal music, like many others throughout the festival, was made available via live streaming over the Internet.


Gary Ferrington is Sr. Instructor Emeritus, Education, at the University of Oregon.

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