Columbia Missourian Features the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival
Mizzou New Music Summer Festival to include 10 world premieres
Experiences, musings spark creation of new music
Thursday, July 7, 2011 | 6:26 p.m. CDT; updated 8:24 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 8, 2011
BY WILL FLOYD
COLUMBIA — Every new piece of music has a story behind it, a bud of inspiration that will blossom into the vision of the artist.
For Steven Snowden, that story starts with a summer job working beside his father at a construction site. He is one of eight resident composers whose work will premiere next week at the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival.
“I could hear bits and pieces of classic rock songs between drills and other random power tools, and I would often get very short fragments of these songs stuck in my head with no memory of their context,” said Snowden, who grew up in Branson. “These bits and pieces would eventually evolve into something that hardly resembled the original, similar to the process of saying a word over and over until it no longer makes any sense.”
Those memories prompted Snowden to compose “For So Long It’s Not True,” which is based on seconds and half-seconds of “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin.
“I never listened to classical music when I was younger — I use blues and pop music (for inspiration) because it is where I came from,” Snowden said.
Another resident composer, Patrick David Clark of St. Louis, said he got the idea of his new work, “Ptolemy’s Carousel,” from the mathematical equations Ptolemy created so that it appeared the Earth was the center of the solar system, a belief widely accepted at the time.
These calculations reminded Clark of the calculations a composer must make to get what is wanted from the music.
“’Ptolemy’s Carousel’ is a continuous rotation of harmony, fairly pure harmony and complementary harmony, with its eight chords orbiting like the planets around the sun,” Clark said. “I would describe it as a sub-dream and mystical environment of sound.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Roger Reynolds, whose “SEASONS: Cycle 2” will be performed on Thursday evening, uses seasons as his muse for his composition that will be performed at the festival.
In a written description of the piece, Reynolds said he drew not only on the earthly seasons of the year — fall, winter, spring and summer — but their relationship to the seasons of life — infancy, youth, maturity and age.
“Reading through a range of poets … I searched for pertinent passages, absorbing the characteristics they associated with each of my seasons,” Reynolds wrote. “Every movement in the two Cycles refers both to a season of life, and to a season of the year. There are ‘consonant’ pairs such as infancy/spring, and more ‘dissonant’ ones including winter/youth.”
“SEASONS: Cycle 2” is electroacoustic, a term applied to a range of music exploring and incorporating natural and electronically generated sound. The piece is part of a multi-part project he is working on with the nationally known new-music ensemble, Alarm Will Sound.
Composers are really starting to understand and develop electroacoustic music, said Stefan Freund, co-artistic director of the festival, composer and founding member of Alarm Will Sound. “I know people will take his (Reynolds’) ideas into the future.
Freund, along with the festival’s other artistic director, W. Thomas McKenney, were charged with selecting the eight resident composers from more than 100 applicants from around the world.
The six-day Mizzou New Music Summer Festival will include lectures and workshops by the resident composers, MU faculty composers Freund and McKenney, guest composers Reynolds and Anna Clyne and guest artists Susan Naruckiand Jaime Oliver.
All presentations, as well as rehearsals, are free and open to the public.
The main focus of the festival will be four concerts, which will feature 10 world premieres, all performed by Alarm Will Sound.
Snowden said it’s an amazing opportunity. “A lot of young composers dream of working with Alarm Will Sound,” he said.
Members of the ensemble arrived this week and have been rehearsing at the Sinquefield Reserve south of Jefferson City, a home of festival patrons Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield. On Wednesday, the elegantly simple architecture of the reserve’s lake house and the lush, rolling grounds around it seemed an equal match for the music being performed inside.
At first, watching the musicians get ready for rehearsal was like watching a group of high school friends tuning guitars and tapping drums in their parents’ garage. Random notes — a bowed chord, fingers dancing on a keyboard — punctuated their talking and soft laughter.
But once the rehearsal started, it was as if a switch had been thrown. The atmosphere became one of focus and cohesion; and the music, at this point “Ptolemy’s Carousel,” was soothing and flowing, one note gently running into the next.
This is the second public Mizzou New Music Summer Festival (a scaled-down trial run was held in 2009 at the Sinquefield Reserve). It is being sponsored in part by theMissouri Arts Council, the City of Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs, and theSinquefield Charitable Foundation.
The festival is part of the Mizzou New Music Initiative for the creation and performance of new music.
“Jeanne Sinquefield’s dream is to establish Missouri as a center for new music,” Freund said.