Musicians play peers’ compositions, revitalize classics

Kayla Jonsson

The Butler School of Music is attempting to refresh classical music by creating new pieces instead of replaying centuries old works, said Zack Stanton, assistant director of New Music Ensemble.

The New Music Ensemble combined music, vocals, poetry and artwork Wednesday in a performance that included works by UT students and alumni and was directed by professor Dan Welcher.

Eighteen instrumental musicians and one singer performed with no more than 13 members on stage for one work at a time. New Music performs six concerts throughout the year, each time introducing a new piece by current students or alumni. Rather than performing old pieces by classical musicians, students created each classical rendition exhibited on stage Wednesday.

Musical performance graduate student William Braun, who played cello in the performance, said he enjoyed New Music because of the potential to see music history made.

“People back in Beethoven’s time didn’t give him the respect that he gets now,” he said. “It just makes you wonder what’s going to stick around for generations to come.”

The performance included music composed within the past 20-25 years, said Stanton.

“A lot of classical music was established centuries ago so it was refreshing to play something new,” Stanton said. “I conducted a new piece by a current student that had never been performed. No one had ever heard it except us. That really sets us apart from other performers.”

Stanton said the small and intimate setting made the performance more challenging because it made each piece feel like a solo.

Wednesday’s performance featured the world premiere of “Black Mamba” by UT student composer Andrew Davis.

“I worked on my piece with professor Welcher,” Davis said. “I wanted something upbeat but serious and he really helped me with that.”

Davis said his music is partly inspired by the black mamba snake because it is one of the most dangerous creatures in southwest Africa, yet it is relatively docile and shies away from predators.

The second piece performed was “The Seven Ages,” a poem written by Louise Gluck and read to music by UT alumnus John Harbison. The words of the six-part poem were sung by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Findlan.

“Everyone is meant to reflect during ‘The Seven Ages,’” Braun said. “It’s nice that we play music by composers who are still alive so we can play it exactly how they want.”

The last work performed was “Music For The Blanton” by UT alumnus Donald Grantham who wrote the piece for the opening of the Blanton Museum of Art. The 18 movements of the song were written to reflect a piece in art in Blanton. The artwork was projected on stage during the performance as the music for the designated piece played.

“At the time the original music was played, the idea was that you would be walking from room to room in Blanton as the appropriate music played,” Welcher said.

Printed on Thursday, October 27, 2011 as: Musicians renew classical genre