What a week. The Mizzou New Music Summer Festival proved to be an intense, non-stop learning experience. Right from the beginning, I felt like I had been dropped down into the midst of a Hollywood party with all these great composers and musicians. The formal and informal meetings, rehearsals, and activities were never-ending and one activity seemed to flow seamlessly into the next. The informal interactions at this festival were great, and there were plenty of opportunities to build personal connections. As a group, the eight resident composers were quite different stylistically, each bringing different experiences from academia and from the professional world to share. The mentorship of Anna Clyne and Roger Reynolds was also extremely valuable, and I feel that they interacted with us in a very organic way–taking the time to get to know us, rather than slapping a one-size-fits all pre-planned lesson or agenda on us. When they asked us what we wanted to get out the festival the first night, it was clear that they were there for us, and lessons and discussions were tailored to what they felt we needed as a group and individually.
In addition to our own presentations and lessons, we also attended presentations by guest composers Anna Clyne, Roger Reynolds, Stefan Freund, Tom McKenney, and Jaime Oliver, Reynolds’ assistant. Roger Reynolds’ presentation was more of a virtuosic multimedia “event” than a lecture, encompassing many of his activities and ideas over the course of his long career in a non-linear way. At first, this seemed to be a confusing juxtaposition of sound (recorded excerpts from previous lectures, clips of Reynolds’ music, and Reynolds’ live lecture) and images, which sometimes moved quickly across the screen, too fast to be understood. At various instances throughout the lecture, anecdotes of his times with historic figures such as Takahashi, Xenakis, and Cage focused into clarity before shifting into another thematic node. In the middle of the lecture, he embedded information about the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, and seemed to have messages specifically for us. The next day, Reynolds’ clarified that this lecture was designed to be “an aggregation of information that is all meant to be connected,” although not in a fully explicit way. Jaime Oliver ran the video and electronics, coordinating it with Reynolds’ lecture.
During the festival, four concerts were presented. Tuesday night, members of Alarm Will Sound performed solo works and pieces with electronics. Highlights included Anna Clyne’s Rapture for clarinet and electronics performed by Elisabeth Stimpert and Courtney Orlando’s stunning rendition of Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 9.
Thursday night, Alarm Will Sound performed a dynamic and stylistically varied concert as a full ensemble. They started with Matt Marks’ Song for Wade (This is not that song), a one man mini musical (sung by Marks) full of 50s style doowap and quasi-surrealistic text about an Internet romance. It was very entertaining. This was followed by Anna Clyne’s intense and passionate work for the full ensemble and electronics, Blush. Other highlights of the show were Payton MacDonald’s Metadrum and Alarm Will Sound’s stunningly vibrant performance of John Adams’s Chamber Symphony.
Friday night, Alarm Will Sound had the night off as members of the University of Missouri New Music Ensemble performed works by Dan Cox, Anna Clyne, Roger Reynolds, W. Thomas McKenney, and Patrick David Clark, and the MU Percussion ensemble performed a work by MU faculty composer and member of AWS, Stefan Freund. The students performed superbly, making this a great addition to the festival.
Saturday night, The Mizzou New Music Summer Festival ended with the grand finale concert featuring eight world premieres by the eight resident composers. Of course, the opportunity to write a piece for Alarm Will Sound was the main reason I applied to the festival in the first place. Alarm Will Sound’s reputation as a titan of new music precedes them. They are masters of many different types of new music, from the rhythmic, driving intensity of rock and pop crossover arrangements and mash-ups, to the pulsing repetition of post-minimalist works by composers such as Steve Reich, to the mind-blowing abstract sonic ear and brain candy of the likes of Rihm and Ligeti. I guess that most people involved with new music gush a bit over Alarm Will Sound, iconic purveyors of new music. I myself felt a bit star-struck, like I was suddenly face to face with Scarlett Johansson or George Clooney. However, after getting over that, I discovered that they are quite approachable, and some are even science fiction addicts like me.
So, now that I have worked with them, I can definitely say that Alarm Will Sound is the real deal. They are new music monsters that will eat up anything put in front of them. They play with incredible dynamic energy and enthusiasm. During rehearsals, they always seemed happy to be there, frequently joking around during rehearsals, smiling, and nodding their heads after performing a piece. They are approachable and will be happy to answer any questions you have about writing for their instruments and they will not hesitate to tell you when you have done something wrong. On the last day of the festival, we had a talkback session where they raked us over the coals for the errors we made in our parts, such as using illogical rhythmic notation within certain meters, the inconsistent use of certain symbols, or in my case for not binding my parts. What was so great about Alarm Will Sound is that they truly live up to their reputation, and will put in the same amount of energy into learning and performing your music that they would any other piece.
Overall, the festival was fantastic–I learned a lot working with Anna Clyne and Roger Reynolds and meeting the other resident composers, but the highlight of the festival was of course getting to work with Alarm Will Sound. Great music festivals always leave me feeling recharged and inspired as a composer, and frequently light a fire under my tail to write more and do more as a musician. This festival has also left me with the pleasant feeling that anything is possible.