New Music at Lawrence

Marte Schaffmeyer

It has not been the easiest month for the Lawrence University composition department. Composition students arrived for their second term still acutely aware of the loss of Professor Jennifer Fitzgerald, the lovely and talented artist who mentored many of the students, pruning and improving their work. After last terms’ heart-rending memorial concert for Jen, one would almost expect composition students to be nearly devoid of creative energy.
Last Wednesday’s New Music at Lawrence concert proved that this is not the case. The concert featured five pieces of original, new music by students Megan Karls, Liam O’Brien and Andrew Cardiasmenos. It included performances by guest artists Consuelo Sanudo and Jeffrey Gibbens, and an original work by David Dies, Interim Professor of Composition.
Perhaps the most memorable element of Wednesday night’s performance was the diverse stylistic choices of each composer. As fifth-year composition student Joseph Pfender noted, “[m]any visiting students and new faculty members remark that Lawrence’s composition department is extremely diverse, which I see as a strength.”
Pfender mused that Brian Theo’s recital in Spring 2006 may have been the last official concert to so prominently feature electronic music. Indeed, the department’s diversity featured prominently in the student’s five compositions.
The show opened with Meg Karls’ smart string quartet piece entitled “Passacaglia: for the spring thaw.” Danielle Simandl began the piece with wavering notes and chords that resembled the tuning of her violin. The piece grew with warm tones and, at times, accented unfamiliar chords with startling scratches and other noises rarely heard from a violin.
Having written the piece for Dies’ fundamentals of composition class, Karl’s compositional debut provided the concert with a splendid introduction to the department’s diversity and range.
Karls also preformed elegantly in Liam O’Brien’s piece “The World Was Born When I Was Born.” Perhaps the most conventional of the three pieces written by the prolific sophomore, the piece for soprano Erica Hamilton, Karls on violin, and O’Brien’s radio highlighted the composer as a triple-threat. O’Brien’s witty words were woven among the traditional voice and violin and were accented by the timid, surprisingly novel fuzz of O’Brien’s performed radio. Another piece by O’Brien, entitled “Continuation,” consisted of five saxophones and an accompanying film composed of pieces of stock footage that portrayed a sinister progression of man from conception to death to conception. The interplay of film and music was very effective, and the music itself was subtle and moving.
Junior Andrew Cardiosmenos showcased his quaint romp “The Sorcerer’s Dance.” The most traditional song of the night, the piece was written for the uncanny ensemble of soprano sax, alto sax, viola, piano, and bass. While Cardiosmenos’ piece was eloquently written, and at times quite pretty, he seems to lack some of the more adventurous qualities of his peers.
Also performed were Lee Hoiby’s neither new nor student-written “Bermudas” — which showcased Madison’s talented guest artists’ Consuelo Sanudo’s soprano and Jeffery’s Gibbon’s polished piano — and Dies’ piece “Overture to Hills Like White Elephants,” again preformed by the gifted guest soprano, this time accompanied by the Lawrence Incidental Orchestra.
While the performances of both pieces went quite well, “Elephants” lost something to the peculiarity of its featured placement in the concert. Professors of Composition have had music performed in new music concerts before, but programming Dies’ piece as last on the concert seemed to draw attention away from the students and on to him. This seems not to be in keeping with the spirit of the New Music concerts of the past, aside from showing poor taste.
Though occasionally marred by lengthy stage re-settings between pieces, it would be safe to say that the New Music at Lawrence recital went seamlessly. Far from creatively drained or weary, the composition department has proved it is still a vital source of stimulating music at Lawrence University.