Mizzou International Composers Festival in full crescendo

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 | 4:48 p.m. CDT; updated 11:07 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 24, 2014
The Mizzou International Composers Festival is starting in Columbia this week. The festival brings in eight resident composers who write music the ensemble Alarm Will Sound performs. The musicians and composers spent last week rehearsing and preparing at the country home of Jeanne Sinquefield, patron of the Mizzou New Music Initiative.

COLUMBIA — Kansas City composer Nick Omiccioli has returned to his rock 'n' roll roots in the piece he's written for the fifth annual Mizzou International Composers Festival, underway this week in Columbia.

"Since I started studying classical composition, I distanced myself from anything that had to do with popular music," said Omiccioli, who played electric guitar in rock and metal bands in high school. "Within this past year, however, I've been reconnecting with the music of my youth. For example, I just finished an orchestra piece that was influenced by heavy metal music that was incredibly fun to write — I felt like I could be myself."

If you go

Guest composers — Zhou Long and Nico Muhly

Resident composers — Ian Dicke, Holly Harrison, Texu Kim, José Guillermo Martínez Rubiano, Nicholas S. Omiccioli, Michael Lee Schachter, Ashley Fu-Tsun Wang, Christoper Weiss

1:30 – 4 p.m. — Alarm Will Sound rehearsal with resident composers, open to the public; Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

7 p.m. — Zhou Long*, guest composer presentation, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

8:15 p.m. — W. Thomas McKenney, MU faculty composer presentation, open to the public; Fine Arts Building, room 145

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

9 a.m. – noon — Alarm Will Sound rehearsal with resident composers, open to the public; Loeb Hall, room 201

1:30 – 4:30 p.m. — Alarm Will Sound rehearsal with resident composers, open to the public; Loeb Hall, room 201

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

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

Ticket prices range from $10 to $80, and are available online at, by phone at 800-292-9136, or at the Missouri Theatre Box Office.

*Swiss composer Beat Furrer, one of the scheduled guest composers for the Mizzou International Composers Festival, will not be attending the festival due to a medical travel restriction, according to a press release. Composer Zhou Long, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and distinguished professor of music as UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, will take his place.

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Omiccioli is one of eight resident composers selected for the festival. It is part of the Mizzou New Music Initiative, a program aiming to make MU’s School of Music a leader in musical composition and new music.

Since its 2009 start, the festival has grown into an event that attracts applications from composers around the world. Co-artistic director Stefan Freund said he hopes to eventually elevate the festival’s popularity to that of the True/False Film Festival.

"We’re starting to gain that footprint where the New Music Initiative is a real part of the unique identity of the city of Columbia," Freund said.

Half of the eight resident composers this year have roots outside the United States.

The festival’s growth is most evident in the growing number of applications. Last year, Freund said, the festival received 150 applications for the resident composer slots. This year, 217 applied.

The festival brings together composers and performers for a week of rehearsals and a week of concerts. The composers and the primary performing ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, spent last week southeast of Jefferson City at the country home of Jeanne Sinquefield, patron of the Mizzou New Music Initiative.

On Friday, she and few others took a break to answer questions on the shady back patio near a lake on the property.

Sinquefield said the festival is growing largely by word of mouth. "It's become a valuable thing that allows you to have a recorded piece by Alarm Will Sound," she said.

Freund, festival co-artistic director Thomas McKenney, who teaches music composition at MU, and Patrick Clark, an adjunct professor of music at MU, combed through this year's applications to choose the resident composers.

"We’re looking for an eclectic collection of eight composers that represent a lot of what’s going on in music today," Freund said. "I think that’s good for us, for Alarm Will Sound, to get our feet wet in a variety of styles. I think it’s good for the composers to be around different voices, different ideas. I think it’s great for the audience to get a sampling of what’s going on in music today. It’s great for Columbia and great for our students."

Resident composer José Martínez, who is from Colombia and is a graduate student at MU, said he was especially looking forward to the different types of music and backgrounds of the other composers.

"Each one of us is unique somehow," Martínez said. "We have different answers to the same question." His answer was to return to his Latin roots for inspiration.

Martínez came to MU not only to understand how music is performed and organized in the U.S., but also to see how his approach to music differs from American composers. He finds that when he brings his Latin-inspired work to the U.S., it is perceived as exotic, while at home it isn't anything out of the ordinary.

Martínez likes the festival's opportunity to interact with the musicians. "The composer is here if something isn’t right, they can tell and make adjustments and interpretations," he said. "It’s a creative exchange."

He also views the festival as an opportunity to write what whatever he wants.

"It will be played, no matter how hard or complex," he said. "You can write whatever you want and they’re going to do their best."

Freund said the festival tries to grow composers by giving them an opportunity to write music. "We don’t tell them what to write," he said.

The festival is unique in that it doesn't have a specific style, Freund said. Concert-goers will hear a range, including Martínez's Latin-inspired "Danzas Tórridas" to guest composer Zhou Long's more modernist take in "Bell Drum Towers."

On Saturday evening, the final night of the festival, Alarm Will Sound will perform all of the eight pieces freshly composed for the festival. All of the composers will be present.

When it comes to the future, Freund finds it hard to imagine the festival any different than it is.

"I’ve spent so much time getting it to the point it’s at now," he said. "I like where it is now. It’s comfortable. I can’t imagine doing more.

"Obviously, we want to grow our audience," Freund continued. "I believe the model is sound and works really well. We need to keep building on it."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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