Composition students begin their work at the second semester Composer’s Workshop, sharing an impressive variety of musical styles, perspectives, and techniques for live audiences.
The University of Iowa School of Music held its second semester composition workshop this Sunday at the Voxman Music Building. Seven composers, each under the direction of teacher and director David Gommper, made their debut before a small audience in the Voxman concert hall.
Despite the size of the concert hall, the workshops are intimate events. Designed to allow composition students to work closely with music performance majors and get feedback on their pieces, the audience is largely made up of their peers.
“The Composer’s Workshop exists to promote a dialogue between composer and composer, composer and performer, composer and audience, and simply to generate a collaborative community,” said Trinton Prater, a first-year Master of Arts student majoring in composition. “I think that’s what the spirit of the composition program here is trying to be.”
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Prater made his debut Jhuene, a piece for solo trombone that experimented with the limits of the instrument’s capabilities. The piece was performed by Mark Rheaume, a graduate teaching assistant to Gompper, whom Prater described as a brilliant trombonist. Prater encouraged Rheaume to share his own input on the piece during the writing process.
“As a former performer, I felt a bit stuck in not really having a say in what was going on with the piece,” Prater said. “I moved into composition to give control to the performer so it was a collaborative effort.”
The workshop featured an array of unique styles and sounds, with some compositions following a more traditional form while others reached into the realm of the abstract.
Zachary Meier’s play, sul, was written for a solo double bass. The composition, which was a beautiful but haunting collection of notes and harmonies, produced a collective thrill in the audience. Bassist Will Yager’s performance was compelling and he handled the experimental qualities of the piece with ease.
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Liliana Peraza, a freshman studying flute and composition, debuted a melodic, bittersweet piece featuring flute and piano. his piece, keep calmis just one movement of an ongoing sonata, and was a moving composition that oscillated between throbbing joy and slow lamentation.
The soft, grounded piano part of the piece contrasted with the piercing, pained cries of a flute.
“The sonata is dedicated to someone I was very close to and still love very much,” Peraza said. “This piece comes from a very sensitive and hidden part of myself.”
The workshop ended with Fly over a storm, a composition for violin written by Hongwei CAI, a fourth-year doctoral student in the composition program. It was a frenetic, harrowing piece that moved through an endless series of passages at an almost impossible pace. Violinist Yixue Snow Zhang gave an incredible and captivating performance.
Fly over a storm was the perfect and spectacular end to the composer’s workshop and showed how much time and effort these students put into their compositions.
“Composing has never been easy for me, but when I listen to the performance of my music, all the effort seems to be worth it,” CAI said.