Daily Report by Gerald Warfield, SCI General Manager
Akron knows how to make a conference welcome. First thing off the plane there was Michael Daugherty’s picture all over (literally) the front page of Akron’s Beacon Journal Entertainment Guide. The featured speaker and composer was also the centerfold (so to speak) where he was joined by Gary Lee Nelson (guest composer) and Christine Gorbach (guest visual artist) and our host, Daniel McCarthy. It was gratifying to see the SCI conference schedule among the movie notices and restaurant ads.
At the opening convocation Michael spoke of the American icons that influenced him, ranging from Grant Wood (also from Cedar Rapids) to “B” movies and science fiction. He encouraged composers to use their own icons from the past to project meaning into their music. His slides “showed the way” from Route 66 to Elvis impersonators. His words were not lost on the audience, many of whom were student composers. It was a very popular lecture.
Art and Music Lecture: Myers School of Art
Gary Nelson and Christine Gorbach spoke about and presented three of their collaborative art/music projects. “Hierarchy,” “Charitoo,” and “Death and Transfiguration.” Their influences? She collects children’s art and has fun with the classic (like “David” in a barbecue apron). Gary uses fractals and algorithms to make melodic contours. A lively question/answer session followed with major participation from art students. The entire opening convocation spoke to audiences and spoke to students. No one was bored.
Concert 1: Student Composers Forum
The three o’clock concert was a University of Akron Student Composers Forum. Many SCI members had not arrived yet, and Dan chose this time to showcase his own composers. This was done at the Indiana conference, too, where the local student composers were given a showcase, but the best time slots were selflessly reserved for members of SCI. It was a nice gesture. Composers that were performed included Adam Blauser, James Chesterfield, Paul Jason Dietz, Mark Durrand, Toussaint English, Stephen Kerestes, Jeffrey Leigh, Jeremy Poparad, Benjamin Williams, Marcus Williams, and Scott Woodruff.
Concert 2: New Music For Percussion
The evening concert was given by the University of Akron Percussion Ensemble, Larry Snider, director. Each piece was under the direction of a “coach” but only one of the pieces made use of a conductor. Let me say now that the performances were incredible: everything a composers could wish for. Which reminds me, every composer will also be presented with a CD of their performance, an additional bonus on top of an excellent performance. (It makes me feel guilty that I coughed during one of the performances.)
First piece was “Almost Transparent Black” by Jonathan Saggau. For four elaborate trap sets, it explored multiple tempi where performers gradually overtook or fell behind other players. Synchronization was so good that I almost missed that particular component, hearing instead, the delicate juxtaposition of rhythms back and forth among the performers.
The second piece, “Cicades,” was a marimba quartet by Ulf Grahn. The percussionists faced one another in a square formation for maximum visual, almost tactile, coordination. Their motions, though minimal, were dance-like, the piece becoming a ritual among the four of them which we, the audience, were privileged to watch. The music was gentle, the lines minor in mode, and the effect like a counterpoint of tiny cat’s feet.
The next piece was for building materials. An incredible piece by Ronald Keith Parks, it calls for cinder blocks, bricks, slate, rocks in a can, and a bit of metal….and the individual sounds that were used hardly had any attacks at all. Bricks, etc., were scrapped with the same delicate precision that marked the other pieces in the concert. For my taste the piece was too long, but it was truly an accomplishment.
After intermission came Bruce Taub’s “Lady Mondegreen Bangs the Can!” This was the only piece that was conducted (by Gustavo Agvilar, one of the coaches). It was an exceedingly difficult piece to perform requiring a vast battery of instruments. Linear material passed from one instrument to the next requiring the utmost coordination. Bruce said that it was the first time the piece had been attempted by four players. Although written on four staves, it has always in the past been played by six performers. A composition of subtle humor, the percussionists not only played the notes, they played the proportions. You always knew where you were. An excellent piece, an excellent performance.
“The Used Car Salesman” followed. Written by Michael Daugherty, it employed the visual icons, assumptions, and prejudices universally shared about used car salesmen. It began as two performers hawked their wares with tambourines and maracas coming down the isles from the back of the auditorium. Joined by two more performers the four formed another square (reminiscent of the Grahn piece) performing their ritual but occasionally turning to address the audience with “hype” from the trade (“I never lie. I’m a used-car salesman.”) It is very rare that music performers can pull off speaking parts, but these percussionists probably came as close as one could short of professional actors. I would be curious to see the piece with an actor and perhaps a mime. This was probably the most popular piece of the evening.
The final piece of an incredible mixed bag was “The Paces of Yu.” By Art Jarvinen, it featured the South American folk instrument called the Berimbau, a kind of one-string harp that is usually plucked but in this case struck with a wooden mallet. As a delicate instrument it could have been easily overpowered except its accompaniment was brushes, pencil sharpeners and what looked to be wooden window shades. It was a fascinating study of the possibilities of a very personal folk instrument in a very contemporary setting. The soloist, Mr. Agulilar, got much applause.
The concert was followed by a catered reception and promises of more food to come. Tomorrow I’ll tell more about the accommodations and the exceptional facilities, not the least of which is Guzzetta Recital Hall. My thanks for Bruce Taub who attended events I couldn’t go to and took notes (in the dark, already). Many members are here who are not being performed to hear their fellow composers’ works. The public and students from other departments are also here. We are looking forward to day two.
Gerald Warfield 4/19/02 in Akron Ohio
Veteran conference goers can appreciate this: concerts were very well attended with approximate numbers for morning and afternoon concerts at 70 and evening concerts standing-room-only. The first event of the day was New Music for Piano at 10:00am, next New Electroacoustic Music at 1:00, and next New Music for Quintets (The Solaris Woodwind Quintet and the Paragon Brass Quintet at 3:00. There was time to breath and meet people around a continental breakfast in the lobby.
Concert No. 3:
New Music for Piano began with “Playing in Chinese Sweet Dumpling Festival” by Chinese composer Tao Yu. A short piece, it displayed all the exuberance you would expect in the festival that concludes the Chinese new year, although (surprisingly) there was a dark and reflective section as well. The program notes spoke of a Shan Xi folk song and pentatonic abstractions, but it was thoroughly contemporary music that we heard. Miss Yu, who lives in mainland China, was unable to enter the US for the conference (not surprising given the current state of the US immigration). Too bad. I believe she is the only mainland Chinese composer in our membership. Nice performance by pianist Christina Tan.
Andrey Kasparov performed his own “Piano Sonata No. 2,” a twelve-tone piece in classical sonata form. It’s always a pleasure to hear composers who are good performers play their own music. The presentation was vigorous and clear, and I got the feeling that I heard the piece exactly like he wanted it. Nice job.
“Eight Preludes for the Dance” by James A. Jensen was next. Every phrase, every gesture said *dance.* The pieces were short (ideal for a conference), one containing a subtle quote from what James called the “definitive” set of preludes, Chopin’s Op. 28.
“Glacius” by Anne Deane was program music. Anne called it a musical journey through static, icy waters. The piece was originally commissioned by Robert Spano at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
The “Fantasy Pieces” (five in all) by Gregory J. Hutter were not easy pieces. In the interest of keeping this report to a manageable size I’ve not mentioned many of the performers by name, but Winston Choi gave a masterful performance. Each piece was a technical study in one of the instrument’s various sundry (and virtuosic) traditions and showed off composer, performer, and instrument, each to its best.
David Smooke’s “Velosophy” ended the program. The opening rhythmic theme for muted piano (strings dampened by hand) integrated into the remainder of the piece flawlessly. The muting became not a special effect. It was just something that pianos do. The site of all the concerts, so far, has been Guzzetta Recital hall, a 300 seat, traditional concert hall with pipe organ. It was just the right size for our conference, and for the popular concerts people were looking for seats. The conference itself is under the sponsorship of the American New Arts Festival (Daniel McCarthy, director). Our thanks to Mark Auburn, Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts for his support in making the conference possible and for supporting the conference with his presence as well.
Concert No. 4: New Electroacoustic Music
The first afternoon concert, “New Electroacoustic Music” was also in Guzzetta Recital Hall. “Resonances Entrelacees” by Jonathan Hallstrom made use of statements of prayer from cultures throughout the world. Effectively combined together (but not over-done) the chants seemed to form a single persona in prayer. Jonathan’s recent reworking of the piece was in response to September 11.
“…and so the hole was dug” is a virtuosic and humorous piece for tape and bassoon by Frank Felice. Christopher Weait, the bassoonist, gave a great performance. Bassoon was also on the tape, and I later discovered that 97% of the tape was, in fact, produced in one way or another by a bassoon. But about that tape part? Frank says “Tape! What tape? At no time during the production of this piece was tape ever used. Why do we call it a tape piece?”
“Inside the Ride,” by Larisa Montanaro, was created entirely of sounds recorded in and around elevators. It created the impression that the listener was actually inside an elevator.
“Points of Arrival,” by Chin-Chin Chen, was another piece for instrument and tape. The violinist, Jeffrey Leigh (who casually swung his violin during the solo tape parts), melded the violin passages perfectly into the tape sounds. Though the program notes said the violin and tape competed, I got only the impression of excellent ensemble playing.
James Paul Sain’s piece was entitled “Tag till …”. The sounds complemented one another so well that they seemed to form their own syntax. I was surprised to read in the notes that they were derived from diverse sources, all recorded on Jim’s portable DAT machine during his many trips to and from the Institute for Electroacoustic Music Sweden (EMS) in 1995. The impression, to me, was diverse sounds but from a similar source, like words from the same language.
“alt.music.ballistix” by Nikola Resanovic ended the concert. It was for the sounds of communication and clarinet. Rings, dial tones, busy signals short wave radio signals all combined for a very entertaining first movement followed by a (mostly) solo clarinet movement. Then came the Bulgarian dance tunes interrupted (finally terminally) in the fourth movement by an unrelentingly polite voice-mail lady. This is a very popular piece and has been a featured work in three of the last four International Clarinet Festivals.
Concert 5: New Music for Quintets
The 3:00pm concert was in the Sandefur Theatre underneath a large paper tree. This was a small hall: nice sound, but it was packed. The Solaris Quintet performed the fist three pieces with enthusiasm and charm, sometimes talking to the audience between movements about the humidity.
Four Sketches by Ryan Beavers began the concert. The movements were short and tonal-like. Ryan said “The pieces have an overall E-flatness. But you’ll get over it. Really.” I can say about them that they were nice and–the rarest of compliments at a conference–they could have been longer.
Kurt Sander’s “Windows” was next. The three movements portrayed three aspects of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical rite. Incense, Procession, and Myrrh, each reflected the properties in the title.
Carlton Macy’s “Commentaries” were popular with the audience. The five movements constitute a reflection on Carlton’s life as a composer. Particularly well received was the last movement, “you Gotta Swing, or it takes the old to have the new.” It is based on a 60-year old jazz style. Carlton said about it: “I think this movement as my “Fletcher Henderson piece.”
The last half of the concert was solely Bruce Christian Bennett’s “The Demon in Checkered Pants” performed by the Paragon Brass Quintet. Surprisingly, it was written as a component of his qualifying exam. In the notes Bruce said the piece was “primarily a monothematic exploration of nine harmonic fields derived from frequency modulation (FM) calculations [Pi = c + (m ~ 1)] from the notes middle C, F# below middle C, and the C below middle C.” But, actually, it sounded nice, really it did!
Concert 6: Concert and Symphonic Band
Friday evening’s concert (actually, this was the tail-end of day two) was presented by two bands. The Concert Band, Galen Karriker conductor, performed first Frank Felice’s “Slight of Band.” This fun piece, enjoyed by the performer’s, too, lived up to it’s movement titles: “Circus Music,” “Circus McGirkus music,” “Carnival music (not Carnival Cruise music).” Frank said it had “a few surprises around the corner, and if we we’re lucky, maybe the Bearded Lady and the World’s Largest Beet will make an appearance…Better than the Reptile Boy! Better than the Moon Rock! Better than Alien Fur! Step right up!”
A drastic change of mood came with Robert Hutchinson’s “The Slow Voyage Through Night.” Composed in response to the Thurston High School shootings in Oregon (1998) the piece reflects sadness, disbelief and hope. Robert said that he hoped the composition provided some solace to those who have grieved, bringing to mind David Gompper’s recent Newsletter article about music in the wake of the September 11 tragedy.
After intermission the University of Akron Symphonic Bank took over, adding piano, harp, and pipe organ to the mix. Conductor Robert Jorgensen barely had room to walk to the podium. First performed was Jack Gallagher’s “Proteus Rising from the Sea.” Proteus, the son of Neptune, is frequently importuned by mortals seeking to know the future. The ominous beginning initially makes use of crystal goblets, water gongs, and bowed percussion to portray his slow rise to anger ending with the turbulent expulsion of the interlopers. Composed in 1994, the ten-minute work has already received numerous performances.
“Rosie the Riveter” by Felicia Sandler was a colorful, energetic piece with a solo trumpet (Rosie?) on the balcony. The World War II icon was fondly evoked in this popular piece.
Michael Daugherty’s “Niagara Falls” concluded the concert. For my taste this was the best of our guest composer’s six pieces presented at the conference. Michael described Niagara Falls in the program notes and in so doing also described his own piece: “… visitors are lured into haunted houses, motels, wax museums, candy stores, and tourist traps…”: Sometimes the references were direct, sometimes just in the gesture or orchestration, like in the use of the harp or pipe organ. This kaleidoscopic collection of icons was very popular with the band.
After every major concert food and drink appeared. (Thank you, Dan!) The performers were available to talk, and composers, of course, lurked everywhere. At the same time, the concerts drew community: students from other parts of the university, even children. (When is the last time I saw kids at an SCI event?) The concert of the Akron Youth Orchestra played to a packed house–but then, they packed the stage, too.
The evening hangouts for the conference turned out to be Luigi’s, a local Italian restaurant and bar, and The Whistle Stop, the bar in the Crown Plaza. I report this second hand (alas) because I spent the late hours in Dan’s office writing, but I invite anyone who was there to report on the bar scene. Hey! Were not above a little gossip.
Concert 7: Nelson/Gorbach Concert
The last day began with a concert of several works by Larry Nelson and/or Christine Gorbach. Gary spoke briefly about his MidiHorn, an instrument of tremendous flexibility. During the performances it was sometimes impossible to tell when you were hearing the MidiHorn and when you were hearing the digitally synthesized tape. The solo passages were therefore, greatly appreciated.
Gary is no stranger to SCI members and now, neither is Christine. I sat with them at the evening banquet, and they spoke of the park near the river where Christine photographed many of the images utilized in her work. Beautiful as all the components of their pieces are (especially the joint ones) I couldn’t help but feel that a concert hall presentation wasn’t the best vehicle for these works. They pushed the boundaries of the formal stage as much as they pushed the limits of the sound and visual media they employed.
Concert 8: Cleveland Composers Guild
The 1:00 concert was at the Akron Art Museum and presented works of the Cleveland Composers Guild. This was part of the American New Arts Festival. Two of the composers presented were also SCI members, HyeKung Lee, and Andy Rindfleisch.” Lee performed her own solo piano piece,”Opposed Directions.” Originally written for Disklavier and live-electronics it was revised shortly afterwards as a solo piano piece. It effectively juxtaposed opposite emotions in a virtuosic setting that was at the same time sensitive and almost brutal. Beautifully performed.
Andy Rindfleisch’s piano trio was entitled simply “Trio.” By his own admission, Andy exploits the historical repertoire for this ensemble (though not with literal quotes) and at the same time presents a late 20th century perspective of this difficult combination of instruments. A strong performance helped make this the high point of the concert.
Concert 9: The Ohio University Dance and Chamber Ensemble
The University of Akron New Music Ensemble
First up was Phillip Schroeder’s “Stream of Ascensions” for soprano saxophone and piano. The piece was a kind-of extended rondo, the melodic material, sometimes modal, was often accompanied by florid harmonic figuration. For an instrument that holds its own so well against the piano (as opposed to flute or even violin) I’m surprised to hear so little for this combination on concerts. It was a satisfying, rousing piece.
Ching-chu Hu’s “Passions” was next. Written for violin and piano, this was a piece inspired by memories: a kind-of adagio for violin. In the notes Chewie spoke of Chinese folk tunes and his western-based education. The melodic material was rich, dreamy, sometimes pentatonic, but mostly neo-romantic. A beautiful piece, it made me wonder about the life of a person grown up straddling two different cultures.
Paul Dickinson was the pianist in his “Three Pieces for Clarinet and Two for Piano.” First movement was for clarinet alone (thus the title). Throughout, the clarinet was somewhat more rhapsodic and fluid than the piano which was dramatic and pointillist (in the second movement), and remote and calm in the last.
“My Aunt Gives Me a Clarinet Lesson,” by Mark Phillips, for clarinet, percussion, and dancer/narrator was presented by the Ohio University Dance and Chamber Ensemble. The dancer/narrator recited the poem and was pushed, pulled, shoved, and dragged most literally by the words and music. You could tell the direction of the piece at the beginning when the dancer put the clarinetist’s hair into two “scruncies” (pig-tail holders) transforming the former adult performer into a little girl. “Don’t blow so hard!” cried the aunt, and so, of course, the clarinetist blew her away. “Why not the cello!” she importuned. But it was the clarinet…all the way. Great performance.
Charles Argersinger’s “Seven Deadly Sins” concluded the concert. Written for violin, viola, and cello, these seven short movements hit their respective marks. It was fun to listen for Envy, Sloth, Pride, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, and Anger. Charles said that discussions after concerts often turned to the application of these classic vices to the modern composers’ world. Curious. I wonder why he put Envy first?
The first part of concert #10 was presented by the University of Akron New Music Ensemble. Michael Daugherty’s “Jackie’s Song” led off. It was a kind-of mournful “song without words” for solo cello and chamber ensemble. According to Michael, it was written as a prelude to his opera “Jackie O,” and the theme became the leitmotif in that work for Jackie Onassis. The second piece was also for chamber ensemble and one of Michael Daugherty’s: “Sinatra Shag.” It was beautifully played by the University of Akron New Music Ensemble. Particular note should go to the violinist, Jeffrey Leigh, who did some brilliant fiddling. I wonder, however, what that black antler-looking thing was he was wearing on his head?
Daniel McCarthy’s solo piano piece came next. Entitled “Time Out of Mind: Six Tales of Middle Earth,” it consisted of six short movements invoking scenes from the great Tolkien trilogy. The pieces were short; some were quite virtuosic, and all were extremely effective. The collection was written for Alexandra Mascolo-David who performed them beautifully and dramatically.
The final piece in the concert was the “Quartet for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello” by John Beall, but before going into that piece I need to make a digression: My intention, with this series of reports, was to raise and maintain interest in the national and regional conferences first, by providing factual accounts and second, by augmenting those accounts with a limited amount of interpretation and evaluation. SCI is a society of peers, and so the typical critic/audience paradigm is inappropriate (and besides, I’m no critic). On the other hand, a purely factual telling is a lifeless thing that runs the risk oflosing the reader’s interest due to pure tedium. I therefore tried to strike a balance between reportage and opinion, and I encourage those with views other than my own or who feel that I have misrepresented any aspect of the conference to add their opinions either on the listserv (scimembers) or in the SCI Newsletter. That having been said, John Beall’s piece was, for me, the best of the conference. Perhaps he had an easier time of it, using a more traditional syntax. Still, I found the piece completely engaging. Conference fatigue had already set in, but I perked up for this one. The music evolved logically and seemingly naturally but without being predictable. In fact, he took some risks. More than once I wondered, what he was going to do with certain material (like the funny little galloping fragment that appeared in the slow second movement)? It also didn’t hurt that the piece was incredibly well performed. The ensemble was the West Virginia Piano Quartet, James Miltenberger, piano, Laura Kobayashi, violin, Philip Tietze, viola, and William Skidmore, cello. If I had to find fault I’d wish for a bit more assertiveness from the violin. Still, the ensemble work was absolutely first rate. Bravo, West Virginia Piano Quartet, and bravo, John Beall!
Saturday evening the traditional SCI Banquet was held at the Student Center. Which reminds me: All the food in Akron was good. I tried “Ruben Soup” at the hotel (yes, it had sour kraut and corned beef in it), and it was excellent.
Michael Daugherty gave the keynote address which had more “notes” in it than any keynote speech in memory since there was an upright piano for him to use. He reminisced about his days as a lounge pianist, and his jokes included Elvis, Sal Martirano, and a hundred dollar tip from Van Cliburn. His tunes on the upright were oldies like “As the Tide Rushes In.” He called his speech “Music, Memories, Martinis.” He was entertaining, as you could expect, on many levels.
New SCI President, Tom Wells, spoke briefly about service to members. That would be the main goal, he assured us, of his tenure as president. He concluded his remarks with the presentation of a plaque to Dan McCarthy from the Society in gratitude for a first-rate conference.
The evening concert was given by two orchestras: The Akron Youth Symphony conducted by Eric Benjamin, and The University of Akron Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ronn Cummings. The former began the concert with Frederic Glesser’s “Variation of a Theme.” This solid piece is the first of a collection of five orchestral compositions. The theme was from another of his own works. The music was relatively simple but not simplistic. The orchestra could sink their teeth into it, and it was performed with understanding.
I’ve commented about performance at this conference a good deal. Throughout, I’ve felt that the performers understood the pieces that they played. I remember SCI conferences when that was not always so. Sometimes valiant attempts still left me wondering if I was hearing “the piece.” It is possible that there has been an evolution in performance techniques such that “new” is not so likely to be outside the performers experience. It is also possible that composers are writing with more attention to reaching the performer. At any rate, one has the perspective to contemplate such questions at an SCI conference because the breadth of compositional styles represented is so great. You have the impression that you are hearing a cross section of concert music.
The second piece was “…such sweet sorrow” by Neil McKay. It was nice to hear a little romance (a la Howard Hanson) near the end of the conference. It was the most conservative piece of the evening and well liked. Neil came all the way from Hawaii where he is emeritus at the University there.
William Alexander’s “Three Portraits” concluded the first half. This was the most difficult of the concert and presented the most challenge to the performers. The twelve-tone melodic material was rendered more accessible with tertian harmonies. The pieces were distinctive (each depicting characteristics of one of the composer’s friends), and each could stand alone as a complete composition.
The entire last half of the concert–and the last piece of the conference–was “Red Cape Tango” by guest composer Michael Daugherty. This is the last of his works based on the Superman mythology (thus the red cape), and it constitutes the fifth movement of his “Metropolis Symphony.” In it, the first phrase of the Dies Irae appears over and over in different guises. The wag sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, “Doesn’t he know the rest of it?” But that wasn’t the point. It was like a visual analog to the same model coming down the runway again and again, each time in a different outfit. We saw (heard) it from different angles and in different guises. Development simply wasn’t where the action was–it was the new clothes.
The conference now finished, we enjoyed one last reception complements of our host, Dan McCarthy.
I would now add a final thought to these reports. Often I have heard the question, why attend an SCI conference? Perhaps this answer is too obvious, but the immersion in contemporary music cannot help but affect one personally and musically. You have a chance to compare, to evaluate, or just to think about yourself and your own achievement or lack thereof. Ideas that might not otherwise come to you are nurtured in this context. On the last night of the conference I woke in the middle of the night with an plan for what I might do with my old Schenker textbook now that it is out of print. I might not have come to that idea without the stimulus of the conference. It is now finished. Thanks to those members who encouraged me in the writing of these reports. Anyone who has a further comment or observation about the conference, good or bad, please respond to me or post your thoughts to scimemembers.
Some Quotes From Emails After the Conference
“Many thanks for a great conference and for getting me that quite amazing performance of my music. The percussion “studio” and Larry Snider are a tremendous asset to the university.”
Editor, C.F. Peters (Publisher)
“What a fine conference, so well organized, such wonderful performances! Congratulations on a terrific success! The performance of my piece (The Akron New Music Ensemble: Alison Bolton, Andres Valcarcel, Liz Caldwell) was probably the best conference performance I’ve had in twenty years!”
Washington State University
“I just wanted to thank you for the enormous time and effort you put into making the SCI National happen at the University of Akron. As I run an international festival of my own annually (University of Florida New Music Festival), I understand the time and talent it takes to host an event such as the SCI National.”
“I was impressed with the quality of performances by the U Akron faculty, students and guest performers. It was also wonderful to have two special guest composers and a visual artist. I was specially impressed with the musicianship and professionalism of the percussion studio at you institution. Not many studios could handle the special requirements of a work like Ron Parks or the challenges of a piece by Bruce Taub. Bravo!”
James Paul Sain
University of Florida