Mizzou New Music Summer Festival encourages collaboration

Thursday, July 8, 2010 | 8:13 p.m. CDT; updated 10:18 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 9, 2010

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

COLUMBIA — MU composer Tom McKenney examined the ins and outs of Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” before turning it into an original composition.

Mizzou New Music Summer Festival

WHAT: Mizzou New Music Summer Festival
WHEN: Monday through July 18
WHERE: Most performances will be the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St. The Alarm Will Sound Composers as Performers Lecture Recital will be at Whitmore Recital Hall in MU's Fine Arts Building on the east end of Lowry Mall and Hitt Street. Rehearsals are at various places in the Fine Arts building and in Loeb Hall, South Fifth and Elm streets.
ADMISSION: Varies by performance. Please see the schedule. Passes for the four concerts in the Missouri Theatre can be purchased for $35 for adults and $20 for students at the theater box office or at
  • 7:30 p.m., Alarm Will Sound opening concert, Missouri Theatre, $10 adults, $5 students
  • 8:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., resident and faculty composer presentations, Fine Arts Building 145, free
  • 1:45 to 5 p.m., Alarm Will Sound rehearsals, 201 Loeb Hall, free
  • 7:30 p.m., pianist Lisa Moore, Missouri Theatre, $10 adults, $5 students
  • 8:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., resident and faculty composer presentations, Fine Arts Building 145, free
  • 1:45  to 5 p.m., AWS rehearsals, 201 Loeb Hall, free
  • 7:30 p.m., AWS composers as performers lecture recital, Whitmore Recital Hall, free
  • 8:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., resident and faculty composer presentations, Fine Arts Building 145, free
  • 1:45 to 5 p.m., AWS rehearsals, Loeb Hall 201, free
  • 7:30 p.m., "Composers that Rock," Missouri Theatre, $10 adults, $5 students
July 16
  • 8:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m., resident and faculty composer presentations, Fine Arts Building 145, free
  • 1:45 to 5 p.m., AWS rehearsals, Missouri Theatre, free
  • 7:30 p.m., AWS extended instrumental techniques presentation, Whitmore Recital Hall, free
July 17
  • 7:30 p.m., Stefan Freund faculty presentation, Fine Arts Building 145, free
July 18 
  • 2 p.m., Eight World Premieres performed by Alarm Will Sound, Missouri Theatre, $15 adults, $10 students

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"To me, that's the darkest and … the climax of the poem," McKenney said. "I have actually used that as a really intense place in the music, and then after that, the music really has motion in it — but it’s a much quieter movement all the way through the end of the piece."

McKenney composed the piece loosely inspired by Stevens' poem to be played by Alarm Will Sound during the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival starting Monday. McKenney, who is co-artistic director of the festival, said that he wasn't sure what kind of shape the musical version of the poem would take but that each section reflects the 13 stanzas of the poem.

"It's a poem that I've known for a long, long time," he said. "And it's a poem that I've been very fascinated with, in my way of thinking the imagery, and the very stanzas are just striking."

McKenney is not the only composer presenting original music for the festival. Music by co-artistic director Stefan Freund — who, like McKenney, teaches composition and music theory at MU — will be featured as well.

Freund and McKenney selected eight resident composers from a sea of 120 international submissions. Each composer has summoned his or her original style for pieces to be played by Alarm Will Sound at the end of the week in a performance at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts called "Eight World Premieres."

One of the eight, Amy Kirsten, considers herself a late-bloomer, starting her master's degree in composition at age 30. Her background in vocal jazz performance has influenced her composing style. 

"Because I was a singer, I really like melody a lot," Kirsten said. "What I really like is color. I try to combine different colors and textures and every once and a while have a beautiful melody come out of that."

Another resident composer for the festival, Christopher Dietz, describes his composition as behaving "like a hound with its nose to the ground in pursuit of a fox; it has intention and energy yet always feels like it is searching."

The premieres will result from collaboration throughout the week between the composers and Alarm Will Sound as well as other musicians. Alarm Will Sound is known widely for innovative performance of new music. As a cellist and founding member, Freund said the group's presence has also "attracted A-list composers to Columbia for the festival."

Joined by Alarm Will Sound and the eight resident composers are guest composers Martin Bresnick and Derek Bermel and guest performing artist pianist Lisa Moore.  These musicians will play a key role in both public entertainment and private mentorship for the resident composers.

"(Moore) is a world-class pianist that focuses on 20th-century music," McKenney said. "She does things that are so unique and different that I think people would find it interesting."

After presentations and lessons from the faculty, the ensemble and guest composers and artists, the resident composers will work with Alarm Will Sound on their original pieces, leading up to "Eight World Premieres" on July 18.

The entire festival is an opportunity for the Columbia community to be present for the creation of new music and, according to festival administrative director William Lackey, provides the participants a good avenue to learn and share music with one another.

"It's a very special event to go to a festival dedicated to music that's being created today," he said, chuckling with excitement. "Not only do you get to hear those pieces, you get to meet (the composers). Just to have this opportunity is rare."

Kirsten said there's "a huge electric current that seems to be circling around Columbia with new music."

She described the city's unique relationship with the compositions as particularly exciting.

"When the community realizes that it's because of them that all these new pieces were written, you can't look at that and not get excited," she said.

The festival is the latest addition to the Mizzou New Music Initiative, a multifaceted program aiming to provide a "diverse array of programs intended to position (MU's School of Music) as a leading center in the areas of composition and new music," according to the website. The initiative is the result of a $1 million donation from Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield of the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.

Other programs in the initiative include undergraduate composition scholarships, graduate assistantships, the Creating Original Music Project and the Composer Connection.

"(The festival) has already had the impact we were hoping for, and we're sure it will grow," Freund said. "All the programs of the initiative will play a role in establishing Columbia as a center for new music."

McKenney is optimistic about the uniqueness of the festival and said it caters to nearly every music palette.

"There is a very interesting mix in all of this," he said. "Almost everyone in attendance would hopefully have something they liked."

As for his own composition, McKenney said he is not trying to musically describe everything that's going on in the poem.

"In one of his letters, Stevens said that the blackbird stanzas are supposed to create a poem of sensations," he said. "In a sense, that's the way I've treated it musically. ... It's really more the sensation."

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