The high-school-age composer is a beast with whom I have very limited experience. I guess I used to be one, but only for about a year and a half; since then, I don’t think I’ve encountered more than one or two specimens. Thanks to a substitute lab-monitoring gig, however, I’ve had the chance to witness a number of these creatures here at the University of Minnesota, a consequence of the Junior Composers Institute. Apparently this Institute has been around for a long while, but its concept seemed quite novel to me: Rather than work with a resident ensemble or soloist, the students—who are also required to be capable instrumentalists—write pieces for one another.
This strikes me as quite an elegant solution: It’s cheaper than retaining a pro ensemble, no doubt. It also doubles down on the preparation the Institute’s participants receive, and it gives each student more stage time. But I have to chuckle when I wonder how this model would work if a summer program for grad and undergrad composers adopted it. For one thing, a healthy proportion of composers would be outright disqualified; not all of us have kept up our chops. For another, collaborating with one’s peers rather than with established players doesn’t address the pedagogical goal of exposing young composers to professional performers, a major selling point for many such programs. And the level of polish on the final products may of course be a smidge lower.
Nonetheless, it’s a charming concept, and the task of writing for a bunch of composers who aren’t virtuosi actually kind of appeals to me. Furthermore, as I mentioned, I imagine that such a program would be much easier to set up than one that requires the complicity of legit performers. It’s the kind of thing that could even be self-organized, assuming availability of studio and performance spaces. Who knows what creative forces such a DIY, anti-careerist vibe might draw out of a heterogeneous crowd of composers? We’ll have to ask the minds behind the Junior Composers Institute, I suppose.
New Music Scrapbook features composer Mike Duffy this week. Mike’s Obair Pháirce is a great introduction to his work: Its textures, brought into being through a highly refined integration of instruments and electronics, give the uncanny impression of three-dimensionality. It’s easy to get lost in Mike’s music—but you won’t want to, so stunning and strongly characterized is each new vista that confronts you. Mike’s interview is gripping too: How did the axeman from Jersey hardcore institution Endeavor end up analyzing spectra in Minnesota? Listen in and find out.