“The Thaw” preview: A transitional journey

World premiere of Oregon composer's new work culminates a collaborative creative process


Editor’s note: The course of a new composition from conception to concert performance can be meandering. Here, in the words of those involved, is a diary of the creative voyage that concludes May 28, when the Oregon Wind Ensemble, led by Rodney Dorsey, and University of Oregon Singers, led by Sharon J. Paul, perform Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer’s The Thaw. Update: we’ve added a streaming recording of the performance to the end of this story.

1_Header Photo: 618px wide. Caption: Composer Andrea Reinkemeyer. Courtesy A. Reinkemeyer. 

Composer Andrea Reinkemeyer.

A native born Oregonian, Reinkemeyer studied with Robert KyrJack Boss and Harold Owen while earning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Oregon in 1999, and with University of Michigan faculty members Michael Daugherty, Bright Sheng, and others while working on her master’s (2001) and doctoral degrees in composition (2005).  She’s now Assistant Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Linfield College in McMinnville.

Andrea Reinkemeyer: Composing has always been a part of my training, so it seems strange to me when I meet musicians who don’t compose. As an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, I joined the Pacific Rim Gamelan on a whim, wrote a little piece for the ensemble, and Dr. Robert Kyr  took me aside one day to ask, “Why aren’t you a composition major?” I have been pursuing that path ever since.

Rodney Dorsey conducts the UO Wind Ensemble. Photo: UOSOMD.

Dr. Rodney Dorsey conducts the UO Wind Ensemble. Photo: UOSOMD.

6_Photo: Caption: Composer, Educator Andrea Reinkemeyer with composition student Grey Patterson. Photo: Ehren Cahill.

Andrea Reinkemeyer with composition student Grey Patterson. Photo: Ehren Cahill.

AR: I’m always listening, especially to music that is unlike mine or bewilders me in some way. You can learn a tremendous amount that way. Beethoven, Bach and Mozart were my earliest influences, along with alternative music of the ’90s, electronic music, Stravinsky, my teachers, colleagues and my students teach me a tremendous amount too.

AR: The music world is surprisingly small. I first met Dr. Dorsey when he conducted my Dos Danzas for Concert Band at the University of Michigan. As an alumna of the University of Oregon, I was delighted when it was announced he would be taking the reins (2013) of the Oregon Wind Ensemble, a group that was especially ear-opening for me as an undergraduate composer.

Rodney Dorsey.

Prof. Rodney Dorsey.

Dorsey had received a UMRP grant (Underrepresented Minority Recruitment Program) for research and special projects, and he wanted to use part of the award to commission a new work for performance by the UO Oregon Wind Ensemble. Given his familiarity with Reinkemeyer’s ability to score for winds and his interest in having a composer with a connection to the University of Oregon, she was the “perfect person” to write a new work. In October of the following year, Dorsey suggested that they consider expanding the work and adding a choir with a text that related to Oregon.

AR: Coincidentally, I was in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts when he suggested this, so the idea of working with a living author made the most sense to me. There, I met award-winning journalist and essayist Artis Henderson whose Un-remarried Widow: a memoir is a very sensual, yet honest work. Luckily, she was interested in working with me, so we set to work! After several emails back and forth during the initial planning stage, she wrote the lovely text for this commission, “The Thaw.”

Artis Henderson: The text for the piece was inspired by a stretch of time I spent in France. It was seven years after my husband died. I arrived in the coldest May in decades. Fog came down the mountain every morning, and there were hail storms in the afternoon. It stayed like that all month and then, suddenly, in June, it turned sunny and beautiful. It felt like a similar shift was occurring in me, too.

Librettist Artis Henderson.

Librettist Artis Henderson.

AR: I thought about the students who would be premiering the work and I reflected upon how the student years shape us in a variety of ways on our path to becoming ourselves. It is a time for exploration, discovery and even a bit of heartache. The music closely follows this trajectory. The Oregon connection is definitely there. We used imagery from Oregon’s flora and the importance of rain to help shape this narrative.

AH: Andrea let me work on the text independently. I sent her a draft, and then she shared her thoughts about edits — ways to expand the text, to make it more specific to the Northwest. Ideas she had in mind that she wanted me to weave in.

AR: I was always mindful of the balance between the wind ensemble and choir. I haven’t written extensively for voices, but my instrumental music comes from a performative, lyrical place with lines of interlacing counterpoint, so I have used that part of my language for the voices. I want the audience to experience the beauty in the words and the musical transformation they inspired.

Sharon Paul: Andrea has set Artis Henderson’s lovely text very evocatively, and the more one contemplates the text, the more I think they will get out of hearing the piece for the first time. Before we sang much of the piece in rehearsal the choir analyzed the poetry, which has kept us emotionally connected to the work while navigating some of the challenges of learning a new piece. It is always enriching to work on new music, especially when the composer is present to help you bring the piece to life for the first time. There are very few pieces composed for singers and wind ensemble, so this project is especially exciting.

UO Choral ensemble with Sharon J. Paul. Photo: UO SOMD.

UO choral ensemble with Prof. Sharon J. Paul. Photo: UO SOMD.

AR: It’s terribly gratifying as a composer to hear your work come to life and I’m always grateful to the musicians who invest their time and musicianship into one of my pieces. I think it is an exciting time to be a composer. The dogmatic adherence to only one school of thought seems to be less than in the past, so composers are a little more free to explore outside their comfort zone. The music of today is vast and yes, I think the internet gives people unprecedented access to what is out there.

You can hear Reinkemyer’s works such as Wild Silk for Baritone Saxophone, Percussion and Piano (2009); Dos Danzas for Concert Band (2010); #@&%!* (expletive deleted) for Percussion Quartet (2000) and other pieces on her soundcloud page and website

On May 28, the University of Oregon Spring Concert features the University Singers and Wind Ensemble performing the world premiere of The Thaw by composer and UO alumna Andrea Reinkemeyer, University Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 “Emperor” with pianist Alexandre Dossin and excerpts from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, and the UO Chamber Choir singing an eclectic set of music from around the world. Tickets, $10 general admission, $7 seniors, $5 students, are available at the door or in advance from the UO Ticket Office (541-346-4363) or Hult Center (541-682-5000).

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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