Songs of substance

Eric Lin

These are difficult times for composers. If you haven’t been dead for over a hundred years or if your name is not John Williams, don’t bet on hearing your composition again after its first performance, even if you spent months and months laboring over every last detail. Composers who write experimental music – music that rejects and challenges the conventional experiences of melody, harmony and rhythm – have it even tougher.

But tomorrow night, six young, cutting-edge composers, ranging in ages from 25 to 38, will have the opportunity to hear repeat performances of their music played by Northwestern students.

“(These young composers) don’t experiment for the sake of experimentation,” says Aaron Cassidy, composer and School of Music faculty member, who is coordinating the concert. “They are concerned with the immediacy of performance and are drawn to physical music-making and impassioned, committed sound-production. It’s not a question of notes and rhythms alone – it’s much more human, fragile, vulnerable.”

The composers represented in the New Voices concert – part of New Music Northwestern, a series of concerts dedicated to contemporary music – are truly international. They hail from countries including the United States, England, Greece, Canada and Portugal. Despite these national boundaries, Cassidy says there are many common interests between these composers.

A fascination with novel methods of sound production seems to be one of the major recurring themes of the concert, Cassidy says. British composer Sam Mirelman’s “Study for Amplified Cup”, which will be featured at New Voices, uses a common disposable paper or plastic cup as the instrument. The performer “plays” the cup through various methods, including sliding the straw through the lid.

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