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Pianist Emily Manzo Has Her Way with New Music

by Liz Fox '01

 

 


 

 

 

Emily Manzo


Emily Manzo’s exploration of new music has brought her recent success. The junior piano performance major from Orono, Maine, took first place in the collegiate division of Murray State University’s Athena 2001 Competition, held on March 3. Less than one month earlier, she placed second at the 9th annual Student Solo Performer Competition, sponsored by SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music as part of its Festival of New Music.

For the latter, Manzo was one of five finalists--and the only undergraduate--selected by a panel of judges that included composer Libby Larsen. Finalists selected compositions written after 1965 to perform in recital February 16. The Oberlin pianist performed John Zorn’s Carny.

Manzo, who studies with Professor of Pianoforte Lydia Frumkin, says she had a good feeling about the competition from the beginning. "The other finalists gave excellent performances, and the hall was great," she says. "Winning was a matter of communicating with the judges."

Frumkin says she is very happy with her student's success. "Emily's enthusiasm makes working with her a joy. She also has given me an opportunity to discover and appreciate what is interesting in new music."

Three cash prizes were awarded, and Manzo gained more than financial satisfaction: "At the reception afterwards, I met graduate student composers who asked me to play their pieces. The most rewarding part was getting to know other people with similar passions."

The Athena Festival Competition, held in Murray, Kentucky, requires that musicians perform compositions written by women. Manzo again selected Gubaidulina’s Piano Sonata along with two little-known pieces from the 19th century.

"I was surprised to be the only representative from a major conservatory at the competition," she says. " Women and their works are generally underrepresented at leading institutions, but [Associate Professor of Musicology] Claudia Macdonald encouraged me to participate in the Athena Competition."

According to Manzo, Macdonald works hard to improve the stature of women in the music world: "Macdonald is a great asset at Oberlin. Her classes focus on the role of women in music and history--one of them is cross-listed with the College’s Women’s Studies program."

Macdonald says that she is "excited" that Emily is having such a successful semester: "Emily has been a major force on campus in the new music scene. Her imaginative programming and extensive publicity efforts have drawn large audiences, many whom I am convinced would not otherwise have come to hear contemporary music."

Manzo's success reaches beyond these competitions. Earlier this month, on April 7th, she presented a lecture recital of New Music at Bowdoin College in which she performed John Cage’s In a Landscape, Zorn’s Carny, and what appears to have become her signature piece--the Gubaidulina. Composer Elliott Schwartz, the head of Bowdoin College’s music department who judged Manzo’s performance last August at Maine’s Bay Chamber Concerts, invited her to give the recital.

Manzo also made her New York debut this month, at Christ and St. Stephen's Church on West 69th Street between Broadway and Columbus Avenue. She offered the New York premieres of Kyle Gann's ‘74 Time Does Not Exist, and Brian Chase's '00 Once You Go, Never Look Back, having given the world premiere of the former last December in her Junior Recital at Oberlin.

This summer, she heads to the Soesterberg International Music Festival in Holland with Frumkin.

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