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Nothing to fear at New Music Festival

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Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010 4:25 pm | Updated: 1:36 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS - There is always a challenge when presenting new music, especially in considering the modern classical form. For many, the term conjures up thoughts of dissonant or wildly incoherent and inaccessible compositions that frighten rather than create a sense of enjoyment for the listener.

Not so, explained Morris Palter, UAF assistant professor of percussion and New Music Festival coordinator.

“For better or worse, concerts that present these newer works tend to get called new music concerts. It strikes a chord of fear in some people. They equate it with inaccessible, academic, or sort of snobby music. But it really isn't that. All music at some point was new music. Mozart, Beethoven it was all new once.

“I urge the audience not to come with any preconceived notion and try to have an open mind,” he continued. “They will get a lot of things they maybe weren't looking for or expecting.”

The festival is three days of music performed, and in some cases composed, by UAF students and faculty, with a guest recital by violinist Mark Menzies, considered the worlds foremost modern or “new music” violinist.

Other than percussion and cymbals on one composition, for Menzies it will be a completely individual affair. Menzies, agreed that such a setting, on the surface, seems rather unusual for the violin, but noted that audiences might be surprised by his performance.

“When you present something as odd as a recital of one violin alone people might thing it could get very boring,” he said. “What is exciting is the sheer body language that goes into each of these pieces.”

Menzies will perform one original piece as well as compositions by Samuel Holloway, James Gardner, Mario Lavista and former Eagle River resident Daniel Corral. — something he saw as fitting, given that he (Menzies) is coming to Alaska from California.

Menzies will perform eight selections. “I thought that would be a fun way of show composers from all different backgrounds, how they use something like just the violin,” he said.

Student performances begin on Thursday and include works from Charles Ives, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Samuel Barber and Krzysztof Penderecki, among others, plus three original compositions. Two of those compositions, “Arctic Winter Morning” and “Five World,” were composed by pianist Kimura Etsuko-Pederson. The other local piece is “My Cathedral” by Emerson Eads. Palter said he selected this piece because of the instrumentation involved but also for the complexity and time involved in writing it.

“He's worked hard on this piece, it's a good piece of music and deserves to be heard,” Palter said. “Anyone who puts that much time and heart into this thing, you want people to hear it.”

The program for Friday, Feb. 5 features faculty performances. There will be solo recitals of Katia Tiutiunnik’s “Mahdoom” by trombonist James Bicigo and Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza IXb” by alto saxophonist Jun Watabe. Bicigo will also team with violinist John Aspnes on Tiutiunnik’s “La Passione de Jehanne,” while cellist Karl Knapp and pianist Ilia Radoslavov team up on “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt.

The next selection will feature all the above faculty performers plus about 15 or so students for a 30 to 40 minute performance of “In C,” Terry Riley’s groundbreaking 1964 modernist composition. Riley’s work is “a reactionary piece to the abstract academic serialist techniques used by composers in the mid-twentieth century and is often cited as the first minimalist composition,” Palter explained.

“In C” features numerous musical melodies that get repeated at different times throughout the performance. “It creates this sonic landscape where you hear all kinds of different things happening at different times. It's a chill out, lay back and listen type of piece,” Palter explained. “It's not supposed to be anything more than this nice sonorous short brief melodies that overlap. The nature of it is that anyone can start these melodies at anytime during the work. No two performances are ever the same.”

At the New Music Festival, Palter hopes audiences will relish in the variety.

“People shouldn’t be afraid,” he said. “It’s great music when you just let it happen.”

Contact features editor Glenn BurnSilver at 459-7510.


What: UAF New Music Festival

When: 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 4-6

Where: Davis Concert Hall

Tickets: $10, $5 for students, military and children

Information: 474-7555


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