The Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute - Future Classics

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
November 30, 2009
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It was truly my pleasure and an honor to share the stage with the Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vanska and seven emerging composers last week as host of the final concert of the 2009 Composer Institute.

The sonic experience blew me away - and the talent, equally astounded me.

The concert was called "Future Classics." I looked up "classic" in the dictionary and it reads: "serving as a standard of excellence; of recognized value."

In classical music we might add that it's something that endures.

Judge for yourself by listening to this music that will tantalize and energize you, give you goose-bumps and beg for a second, third, or even more listenings - but for one-week only.

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Angel Lam - In Search of Seasons

Winter: introspective | Spring: gentle awakening | Summer: pulsating, with the wind | Autumn: remembrance

Hong Kong native Angel Lam is a wisp of a thing - slender, soft-spoken, gentle - but her seemingly reserved personality belies anything in her music. It sweeps, sings and fills an entire hall, even when one has to lean forward to capture the whole sonic effect. This may be why Yo-Yo Ma has championed her music, premiering Ms. Lam's "Awakening from a Disappearing Garden" with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra earlier this fall. Lam's "In Search of Seasons" is built on Eastern poetry that seems to describe one thing, but is truly about something else entirely. The performance begins with Ms. Lam reading her original poetry.

Angel Lam's Web site

Spencer Topel - Incendio Spencer Topel is about the other side of the spectrum from Angle Lam as you can get. His gregarious style led me to describe him as the entertainment director of his Fraternity. But he's a serious composer who has won nearly every competition out there. He's working on a doctorate at Cornell and commuting to Dartmouth College to teach in the Digital Musics Program. He says "Incendio" relates to the dynamics of fire, ecstatic inspiration, manipulation of joy and expectant energy. "It's about doing something you really love doing and for me, it's composing, it's teaching, it's researching." The piece sizzles and the sheer physicality of the performance is thrilling.

Spencer Topel's Web site

Roger Zare - Aerodynamics

Roger Zare is a pianist, though he says he never composes at the piano rather tries to get the full-spectrum of sound in his mind as he writes the notes on staff paper. Roger and I studied with the same composition teacher at USC, albeit he was a real composer and I was just taking freshman theory. But I do understand the Los Angeles experience and the need to race over to Disneyland on a day off. Roger did that one day and took a ride - over-and-over-over. While his "Aerodynamics" sounds like an experienced pilot was at the controls, or at least someone having taken a ride in a glider, Zare's work stems from Disney and his imagination.

Roger Zare's Web site

Fernando Buide del Real - Antiphones

Spanish composer Fernando Buide del Real told me that he has never spoken English in front of a crowd as large as the one at the Future Classics concert. He may have been nervous, but so beautifully described his Gabrieli-esque "Antiphones." Inspired by the magnificent architecture of his native Santiago de Compostela as well as his dual background as a Galician-speaker in Spain as well as a student at Yale, Mr. Buide says that finding his particular voice has been tricky; even though Composer Institute Director Aaron Jay Kernis is convinced the "Spanish" flavor comes through.

Fernando Buide del Real's Web site

Kathryn Salfelder - Dessin No. 1

Anyone who took High School French cracked up when Kathryn Salfelder explained where "Dessin No. 1" comes from. It is the first drawing in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic "The Little Prince." Things are definitely not as they seem in this spectacular Satie-esque tone poem. While we don't hear a snake swallowing an elephant, the delicate violin solo that opens the work sets in motion a flood of warmth from the orchestra that perfectly accompanies Saint-Exupery's moral, "One only sees well with the heart."

Kathryn Salfelder's Web site

Carl Schimmel - Woolgatherer's Chapbook

Prologue | Roudelay | Clerihew | Carmen Figuratum | Triolet | Epilogue

What is a Clerihew? How about a Carmen Figuratum or Triolet? Carl Schimmel is fascinated by obscure and possibly obsolete words. He has used some as musical forms in his "Woolgatherer's Chapbook." The oldest of the group and an assistant professor of composition at Illinois State, Mr. Schimmel is quiet, reflective and a little studious while his music is cantankerous and humorous. He even goes so far as to use some obscure words as musical directives, though this, he says, maybe was going a bit too far!

Carl Schimmel's Web site

Geoff Knorr - Shadows of the Infinite

Geoff Knorr was told in composition class at Peabody that orchestral doubling was cheating, but he went ahead and used the colors in his "Shadows of the Infinite." While Schumann and Tchaikovsky created a louder, but fuzzier, sound when doubling, Geoff creates an altogether new color that gives his piece - as the title suggests - a sense of majesty, awe and mystery. Mr. Knorr is fascinated by what's beyond our understanding and quotes philosopher Francis Schaefer, "The infinite-personal, triune God is there, and...is not silent."

Geoff Knorr's Web site

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