Inspired to Compose

listens in at the premieres of campus compositions

Friday of Week 8 was a big day for the Chimera Ensemble. A group run entirely by students, the Chimera Ensemble has been given the role of presenting a variety of forms of new music to The University . The group not only perform the work of well known contemporary composers but they offer the opportunity for students to get their compositions heard on campus.

One particular lunchtime concert was one of these opportunities and three of the four pieces performed had been composed by members of the music department. Christian Mason’s piece Crystal Night, a quartet for piano, clarinet, cello and violin, contained all the violence and frenetic discord that would be expected from a piece with such a historically loaded title. Christian’s piece is dedicated to the idea of creating a sound world from which the listener leaves a different person. He tries to see music as an all encompassing journey. Tarot Conway, who like Mason, is studying for his PhD at York, contributed an unusual and haunting exploration of the sound of the cello which was energetically performed by Eleanor Spencer. His piece Fanfare Sixty One, which required the cello’s strings to be ‘detuned’ to give it a deeper sonority, began with a simple four note theme which mutated sixty-one different times throughout the work to show the limitless possibilities rhythmic alteration can bring to a musical phrase. Having interests in computing, Conway has a more technologically focused attitude to composing than other composers, and tends to see music in the form of repeated patterns and programs.

When a large gong is placed centre stage, any audience would wonder at how it will be played as in the piece Hyxos, by the serialist Giacinto Sclesi. The composer himself had periods of madness caused by the mathematical intensity of his music, and in this haunting piece written for alto flute and percussion you can see why.

The showpiece of the concert – the shortest, but by far the most dramatic of pieces – was Sunji Hong’s Where the Bee Sucks. Inspired by lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Hong’s work provided the opportunity for an extraordinary vocal performance from soprano Quinn Hughes. With instrumental accompaniment from a wide range of instruments, including a harp, French horn, and a cymbal played with a bow, this piece was a flurry of activity which produced an intriguing sound experience.

It seems that modern music nowadays gets a lot of bad press and many people are instantaneously derisive of it. Admittedly in its artistic self-consciousness, contemporary music can become almost cliched in its expected bizarreness and with its emphasis on the experiences that each chosen sound can evoke in the listener, it is accused of leaving the music to appear souless and distant. Yet the boundaries of musical composition must continue to be explored and it is relieving to know that prejudice has not prevented this from happening. It seems all too easy to forget that classical music is not merely an extinct art form which only interests high-brow music snobs.

Although contemporary classical music is often derided as discordant and incomprehensible, its presence on campus is well established and this is mainly down to the work of the Chimera ensemble whose obvious respect for the pieces they perform is a credit to their ability.

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