Student Composers’ Performance Proves More Than Just Variety
The Oberlin Student Composers recital on Tuesday offered a rather fascinating overview of the composition department and its exciting creativity.
The concert opened with junior Joshua Morris’s Wind Quintet, performed by sophomore Erika Oba, flute; first-year David Cyzak, oboe; junior Thomas Carroll, clarinet; first-year Nicolee Kuester, horn and sophomore Joycelyn Eby, bassoon. It was a short piece, characterized by many rests that required iron-like concentration from the players. Insisting, anticipating pauses followed the short chords almost until the end of the piece.
Each instrument had its own beautiful melody at a certain point and their individual characteristics shone before sinking down in the ensemble color once again. The end was sudden, just as if there was supposed to be another rest, but this time it was not followed by sound.
The second piece was Shadow, by junior Marcelle Pierson. The performing team was conducted by junior Joe Kneer and included junior Amy O’Callaghan, soprano; senior Indra Raj, alto; first-year Nathan Medley, baritone; first-year Jacob Wise, clarinet; first-year Steuart Pincombe, cello and sophomore Meredith Clark, harp. Singers’ whimpers opened the piece. Different voice combinations were featured and there was strong emphasis on the consonants. The cello and the clarinet offered sweet, lyrical solo melodies, while the harp solo was more active, with more chords. Kneer led the ensemble with a strong hand and they achieved a perfect fluidity. The piece was fascinating and charming to the last note.
The third, rather long piece was Ivmnivs, by Daniel Tacke, and it featured senior Noah Strick, violin; senior Hannah Shaw, viola and junior Brian Howard, violincello. Junior Dana Sadava conducted the trio. From the beginning until the end, it was screeching in dissonant intervals, such as minor seconds. There were sharp, loud pizzicatos, surprising contrasts in dynamics and in tempo, imitations and lingerings and the all-powerful dissonances in seconds, tritones, sevenths, open fifths and octaves.
Occasionally, short melodies found their way through the rough squeaking to disappear moments later. The piece was 20 minutes long and quite hard to follow all the way through, but Strick, Shaw, Howard and Sadava gave a genuine and sincere interpretation of it.
Junior Balint Karosi’s Sept phragments pour clarinette seule (Seven fragments for clarinet alone) sounded like short, sweet treats. Karosi played his own work with a great deal of virtuosity and sense for the colors that the clarinet could achieve. Large leaps from the highest to the lowest notes were always presented. Many contrasts in tempo and in dynamics appeared all the way through the cycle. Short, sudden tones emerged after lingering passages. One of the pieces had the clever character of a grotesque scherzando, another one led a conversation between two melodic lines. Karosi likes to play with the sound effects, and at moments his clarinet sounded like a percussion instrument.
With junior Colin Frey’s “On This Bridge, On This Border,” the student composers pushed the envelope even further. Steven Bergdall, vocalist and actor, performed the piece. It was close to a theater play — it had stage props (a few chairs, cups of water, some other accessories). The vocalist was wearing a “special” outfit and almost no music was heard, although many sounds were produced; Bergdall drank some water, shrieked with the piano bench, climbed the chairs, read from some kind of a score and asked the audience a couple of questions.
No one answered him, mainly because everyone was silent because of his hilarity. Then Bergdall gave some coins to the public. At the end, the performer took all of his apparel, along with the furniture, off the stage.
“Helas!” by sophomore Clara Brasseur sounded so enormously classical in contrast to Frey’s piece. It was a short, gracious song with a piano accompaniment, almost divinely simple. Sophomore Eric Michaels played the piano, while junior Mark Tempesta sang. The piano entrance was tonal in a sense and the lyrical, soft vocal line soothed my mind and soul. There was a nice dialogue between the performers; gradual crescendos were followed by sudden rests and overall, it sounded traditional but with the flavor of mandatory contemporary harmonic language.
Next was “Circles.” “I dedicated ‘Circles’ to my father because I never dedicated a piece to him,” said sophomore Ralph Lewis. “Furthermore, I wrote it in his presence last August. We were sitting in the same room, he was doing his job and I was doing mine — composing this piece.” The piece is for one maraca and it is all about exploring the different effects and sound colors that could be achieved through shaking, knocking and waving around one single maraca. Senior Eric Brook played with it. “I intended to make a pop song for a maraca and voice, but eventually, the voice dropped out,” said Lewis. The experiment was successful — the piece was captivating from beginning to the end.
The concert closed with “And You Shall...Lord,” by Senior Tatyana Tenenbaum, a piece for voice, guitar and cups of water. Sophomore Michael Beharie was playing the guitar and the composer herself sang quirky lyrics while pouring the water. Consonants were important, especially the “sssss” sound that opened the piece. The guitar had soft chords all the way through, some of them charmingly tonal and jazzy.
Sound effects included screeching on the wooden part of the guitar, knocks on its back and the plucking of the strings in a harp-like manner. Tenenbaum explored the sweetness of her voice to the limit. Although there were many dissonances, there wasn’t ugliness or unpleasantness. Instead, both performers delivered a charismatic and captivating performance.
It’s interesting to mention that many of the performers that night were
composers. “I see the tradition going on strong,” said Lewis.
“Like Mozart was playing and conducting his own works, the student
composers experience their own pieces by performing them on stage.”