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Mizzou International Composers Festival strives to inspire conversation

Monday, July 22, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 22, 2013
Alarm Will Sound rehearses at the Sinquefield Reserve on Wednesday in Folk. They are the main performing ensemble of the Mizzou International Composers Festival and specialize in performing new contemporary music.

COLUMBIA — Composers are a unique breed. They give sound to the emotions you feel and the experiences you have. They hear music in their heads, to the point where some leave a tape recorder on their bedside tables, just in case they wake up in the night humming a melody.

The Mizzou International Composers Festival emphasizes the composer. Formerly known as the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, it will bring together two renowned composers, eight emerging composers, two guest performing artists, a famous ensemble that specializes in performing new music and contemporary music lovers from around the world to Columbia for the week.

Festival schedule

Monday

9 a.m.-noon; 1:30-3 p.m.: Resident Composer Presentations, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

Tuesday

9 a.m.-noon: Alarm Will Sound rehearsal, open to the public; Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

1:30-4:30 p.m.: Resident Composer Presentations, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

7 p.m.: Daniel Kellogg, guest composer presentation, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

8:30 p.m.: Stefan Freund, MU faculty composer presentation, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

Wednesday

9 a.m.-noon: Alarm Will Sound rehearsal, open to the public; Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

7 p.m.: Augusta Read Thomas, guest composer presentation, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

8 p.m.: W. Thomas McKenney, MU faculty composer presentation, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

Thursday

7:30 p.m.: Alarm Will Sound ticketed performance; Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

Friday

9 a.m.-noon; 1:30-4:30 p.m.: Alarm Will Sound rehearsal, open to the public; Loeb Hall, room 201

7:30 p.m.: Mizzou New Music ticketed performance; Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

Saturday

7:30 p.m.: Eight World Premieres performed by Alarm Will Sound, ticketed performance; Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

Tickets, which range from $10 to $80, are available online through composersfestival.missouri.edu or charge by phone, (800) 292-9136, or at the Missouri Theatre box office.



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The goal is to open up the dialogue among composer, ensemble and audience.

"That’s what we’re looking to do — create dialogue between the nation and the state about a composer’s role in society and how we can embrace and enhance that and how can we bring more attention to it," said William Lackey, managing director of the festival and an assistant teaching professor of composition at MU.

It begins with a name change.

Lackey said the word "international" was added to the festival's title to reflect the geographically broader interest in the event since it started four years ago. "New music" was dropped because when people hear the term, it could mean anything to them. Adding "composers" to the name helps focus the festival.

Composers and ensembles

The festival's artistic directors chose this year's eight resident composers from about 150 composers based on the technical skill, diversity and uniqueness of their portfolios as well as their abilities to write for an ensemble with specific instrumentation such as Alarm Will Sound, the main performing ensemble of the festival.

The resident composers are Andrew Davis of Columbia, Md.; Elizabeth A. Kelly of Los Angeles; Eric Guinivan of Wilmington, Del.; Greg Simon of the greater Detroit area; Wei-Chieh Lin of Taichung, Taiwan; Jason Thorpe Buchanan of California; Ryan Chase of Bloomington, Ind.; and David Witter of Columbia.

"You don’t know where the great composers are going to come from," said Jeanne Sinquefield, the festival's main benefactor and the primary private financial supporter of composition at the MU School of Music. She opened her home south of Jefferson City for Alarm Will Sound to rehearse and stay in the week before the festival.

Sinquefield has made it her goal to make Missouri a mecca for composition by finding and assisting composers through producing and sharing their work. She thinks it's critical for composers to have the chance to share their music with a wider audience.

The eight composers get a chance to develop their skills by working with the ensemble that will perform their piece and by hearing directly from the audience. This is a rare opportunity in that composers often have no idea who will play their music, and the meaning of their work is subject to the interpretations — or misinterpretations — of conductors or performers.

"We’re really doing our best to capture their voice in the performance," said Stefan Freund, an artistic director of the festival and the founding cellist of Alarm Will Sound. "A lot can be lost in translation, but when you’ve got the composer there, they’re listening to what you’re doing and they can respond instantly to what they hear."

Composers and the audience

The conversation between composer and ensemble is only the beginning. The audience is a key participant.

"A composer isn’t writing in isolation," said Thomas McKenney, also an artistic director of the festival and a professor of composition and music theory at MU. "He’s trying to communicate musical ideas and communicate them to the listener, and so if there’s no one there to listen, the communication process isn’t finished."

For the first time, the week's full schedule is available in advance — an attempt to foster greater audience involvement. The main performances do not begin until Thursday, but daily presentations will be offered by McKenney and Freund, the resident composers, guest composers Augusta Read Thomas and Daniel Kellogg. Alarm Will Sound hosts open rehearsals during the day.

"If anyone available during the day came to these open rehearsals, I think they’d get to see a certain side of music production that they don’t always get to see," Lackey said. 

"I think that the more a person hears a new piece of music, the more familiar they become with it," McKenney said. "Therefore, they can understand it better."

These open rehearsals and presentations give audiences the opportunity to put a face with the music and more directly understand why the composer chose to create it.

"We want the audience to say, ‘These are people.’ They’re not just names on the program. They’re walking, talking human beings. They want you to enjoy the music," Freund said. "I believe that helps build a bond."

After the festival

The festival is also intended to help composers ground themselves professionally. Most emerging composers would not have the opportunity to get a recording of professional performers playing their pieces due to lack of access, Freund said.

At the end of the festival, each composer receives a recording of Alarm Will Sound performing his or her piece, which can then be used to apply for jobs, to schools or for grants.

"I haven’t heard of a single composer in residence that’s been here and hasn’t come away truly excited about this festival and what it does for them," McKenney said.

In the bigger picture, McKenney and others see the festival as enriching the culture of Columbia.

"Culture is about the sharing of knowledge and ideas," said Freund, an associate professor of composition and music theory at MU and a composer in his own right. "I think the more that we share about ourselves as people, the more we see what’s special about us, which brings us together."

"If you listen to my music, you understand me better as a person," he continued. "And if we hear eight different pieces in one evening, we basically hear eight different cultural statements about where they come from, who they are, and what they appreciate as art, as musical art form."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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