Feyertag presents impressive display of music

Sonia Emmons

The audience was small in Harper Hall on the evening of Monday, Feb. 18, but those in attendance at senior music theory and composition major Paul Feyertag’s composition recital were treated to an impressive display of new music.
That evening, interesting sounds ranged from the dissonance of a soprano voice against a piano in “A Box” (2006), to the cello harmonics in the piano trio “Associations” (2006), to the gentle snores of an elderly gentleman sitting in the back corner of the hall.
The soft snores were audible only because silence was a major component of Feyertag’s music. A number of the works contained very soft music and frequent periods of complete silence.
Much of the music was even softer than the sound drifting from the direction of the red sweater in the back row.
The recital opened with “A Box,” performed by soprano Erica Hamilton and pianist Nathan Uhl. The music oscillated between intense anger and resolute calm, as Uhl struck the keys harshly and Hamilton sang piercing leaps.
In one arresting moment, Uhl struck the pedal hard enough with his foot to create an actual pitch. Moments later, the music simmered and resolved to create harmony within the dissonance of the two parts.
Pianist and box expert Dan Schenk commented that Feyertag’s “Box” must have been made of stone, judging by the deep resonance of the music. He noted, “The sound seems to come from within the box.”
Schenk added, “I was thinking of a cave until I read the title of the work.” The thoughtful musician is clearly not a cave expert.
The second work was a movement called “Drone/Musing” from the electronic piece “Suburban Décollage” (2007). The only performer was a large stereo box that emitted harsh static and intermittent beeping.
The electronic music sounded like signals from another planet. The end of the piece brought an amusing period of silence, as there were no live performers to show that the music was finished. Audience members waited in silence until a brave soul began to clap energetically. Thanks, brave soul.
“Associations” came next, performed by Garth Neustadter on violin, Lindsey Crabb on cello, and Jestin Pieper on piano.
Crabb began the piece with a series of fast harmonics, overtones that are simultaneously wispy and ringing. This unique timbre of sound is achieved by lightly placing the finger on the string, rather than pressing it down all the way. The harmonics were also played ponticello, or near the bridge. This effect gave me more shivers than the windy walk from Downer to Harper Hall.
“Associations” contained frequent periods of silence. Unfortunately, a few of these were disrupted by a late arrival to the recital, the snores, and some stifled laughter.
Even with all of these distractions, the performers conveyed the music’s powerful associations, and the dozer woke to the sound of enthusiastic applause.
Pieper also performed two short works for solo piano called “Silence (hiss) Horizon” (2007) and “Dec Sketch” (2006). The first was only 35 seconds long. Both rippled with a motion that brought order to the chaos lurking under the keys.
Pieper remarked on the fun he had working on Feyertag’s music, saying, “I had to be very meticulous and work out all the little details — there was a lot to keep track of.”
The composer offered a similar comment: “My compositions have always been quite detailed. … The biggest challenge is finding time to sit down and slowly work through everything.”
The recital ended with a string quartet written in 2005 called “Event: Split/Extend.” The challenging work was performed by Katie Ekberg and Tamiko Terada on violin, Mark Katz on viola, and Anna Henke on cello.
Feyertag is a talented composer who writes largely for his peers. As he explained, “Most of my pieces come about due to requests from players, or from very practical needs. I’m working on an honors project right now, and a lot of it came about because friends of mine wanted pieces written especially for them, and I’m always happy to oblige that sort of thing.