Bringing light to winter’s darkness

Composer-centric Music Today Festival goes online for 2020-2021

Scene from Joanna Na’s Contemplation, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
Scene from Joanne Na’s Contemplation, Music Today Festival, Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

“During these unprecedented times, music and the arts have a crucial role to play in the healing process of individuals and society,” Dr. Robert Kyr, director of the Music Today Festival 2020-2021 and University of Oregon Composition Chair, told ArtsWatch as he and the Oregon Composers Forum prepare to host this year’s celebration of new music.

Since its founding in 1993 the UO School of Music and Dance’s biennial festival has been a Eugene-based event, with most performances held in the School of Music and Dance’s esteemed Beall Concert Hall. However there will be no brick-and-mortar venue for concerts this year given the social constraints the pandemic has created for all the performing arts.

Scene from Jared Knight’s I Hide Behind My Music, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
Scene from Jared Knight’s I Hide Behind My Music, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

“Without the option of giving live concerts, we have the opportunity to create new forms of multimedia art that are ideally suited to online presentation,” Kyr enthusiastically noted, and added that this year’s festival will offer a series pre-recorded webcasts premiering 80 new works by University of Oregon composers.

The season begins with three online Oregon Composers Forum concerts in December and January featuring works composed for solo instrument or socially-distanced ensemble. The festival concert season ends in April and May with four online multimedia events, with music composed for and performed by soprano Estelí Gomez, the Delgani String Quartet, the UO Saxophone Studio, and the composer/performers of the Oregon Composers Forum. Kyr noted that these latter events will be “followed by a private master class for UO composers given by Matt Browne, this year’s composer-in-residence with the Eugene Symphony.”

Sarah Kitten, Eucalyptus, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
Sarah Kitten, Eucalyptus, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

Co-creation

Each online concert is conceptualized as a series of multimedia musical pieces that are edited into a “film with themes about our deepest concerns, including racial and social justice, global climate change, facing the challenges of the pandemic, or bridging the divisions within society,” Kyr observed, adding, “we offer this year-long festival in the spirit of hope and healing during a time of national and global crisis.”

Most of the pieces integrate acoustic music with photography, videography, electronic music, and/or sound design. Each work, Kyr indicated, “is a unique collaboration between students who are composers, performers, videographers, photographers, video technicians, and/or producers. In this sense, the Oregon Composers Forum is striving to create a new genre of art that redefines the concert experience as an online multimedia event that is co-created by a single artistic community.” 

OCF Zoom concert planning session with Dr. Kyr. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
OCF Zoom concert planning session with Dr. Kyr. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

Challenges

The move from concert hall to the internet’s world stage has presented challenging opportunities, as a cadre of OCF graduate composers–Mitch Davey, Abby Kellems, Sara Jordan and Joanne Na–shared with ArtsWatch. 

When it comes to composing, the group suggested, don’t expect to write a large ensemble work and have it performed during a pandemic. Most pieces in this year’s festival will be composed for solo performance or perhaps a trio or quartet that can be safely staged. Many will be performed by the composers themselves.

The performance of a new work often requires valuable face-to-face time as the composer and performers work together. It has been difficult substituting virtual meetings for interpersonal communication with colleagues when planning, rehearsing and recording. But, as the composers discovered, it can be done–with the final performances quite rewarding, as viewers will experience in the first Music Today Festival Concert on December 10th.

Finally, the group acknowledged that the festival’s multimedia approach to concert programming has encouraged the forum’s 21 members to not only think musically, but also consider how video, photography and other media can enhance creative expression. Sara Jordan noted, “I have had the opportunity to push myself further outside my technological comfort zone and have created video and digital audio effects within my works that I’m not sure I would have done if the circumstances were different.”

Abby Kellems, Sea Glass, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
Abby Kellems, Sea Glass, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

Tuning in the Music Today Festival 2020-2021 worldwide: 

Concert #1: Thursday, December 10 at 4:30pm (PST). Enjoy this first concert of the New Music Today Festival for 2020-2021 in which solo musical works by 13 composers/performers of the Oregon Composers Forum will be premiered. Webcast link and Program details available on the OCF Music Today Festival #1 Event page.

Concert #2: January 15 at 4:30pm (PST). Solo and ensemble music by members of the Oregon Composers Forum. Program and webcast link TBA.

Concert #3: January 29 at 4:30pm (PST). Solo and ensemble music by members of the Oregon Composers Forum. Program and webcast link TBA.

Other Music Today Festival Concerts will be scheduled through May 2020 and announced on the Oregon Composers Forum facebook page.

Concert events are free and will be archived on YouTube after each performance.

Sarah Jordan, Mystery and Fear, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
Sara Jordan, Mystery and Fear, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

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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