Famed composer Birtwistle to visit
Sir Harrison Birtwistle, one of the most prominent British composers in the contemporary music scene, will visit Oberlin next week. Sponsored by the Conservatory’s composition department, he will lead master classes, seminars and discussions over the course of five days. In addition, there will be three concerts featuring his works as performed by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, the Oberlin Wind Ensemble and the Oberlin Percussion Group.
Over the past four decades, Birtwistle has gained international fame for his highly original musical voice. He has received commissions from such eminent groups as the Ensemble Modern and the Cleveland Orchestra. His music has been led by internationally-recognized conductors including Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim and Sir Simon Rattle. Currently, he serves as Director of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Birtwistle’s music is influenced by the modernist tradition of Webern, Messiaen and Stockhausen — making it highly complex and often very dissonant. Yet, there is a unique emotional depth and expressive power in his music. Greek mythology and primitive ritual play a significant role in many of his works. The theater also heavily inspires his music, resulting in an exciting sense of drama.
The Oberlin Percussion Group will open the first concert on Tuesday, May 3 with For O, for O, the Hobby Horse is Forgot. With its title taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this work clearly demonstrates Birtwistle’s theatrical tendencies. Percussionists depict specific characters, such as the “king” and “queen,” while they perform musical material that outlines the dramatic plot. Birtwistle’s massive work Theseus Game, scored for two conductors and large ensemble will conclude the May 3 performance. The work is based on the Greek myth in which Theseus escapes the challenging Labyrinth by following a magical thread. Birtwistle represents this thread with an “endless melodic line..” It is performed by various soloists who approach the front of the stage throughout the work.
The second concert, on Wednesday, May 4, will consist of Birtwistle’s hour-long Pulse Shadows. The work consists of nine song settings of poetry by the French-Romanian poet Paul Celan coupled with nine movements for string quartet. Soprano Tony Arnold (OC ’90), who has recently gained an international reputation for the performance of new music, will perform the solo voice part.
The final performance, on Friday, May 6, will consist of works for large and
small ensembles. The Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and Oberlin Wind
Ensemble will play some of Birtwistle’s most well-known pieces, including
Silbury Air and Carmen Aracdiae Mechanicae Perpetuum (CAMP).
Oberlin College and Conservatory are extremely fortunate to have such a
prominent figure of modern music visit our campus. Students should
run (not walk) to the many events next week featuring composer Harrison