This Thursday, Yale College New Music will premiere six compositions by Yale undergraduates in a program titled “Chamber Music Galore V.” The performance — which will take place in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library — will comprise chamber music written by students enrolled in a composition seminar taught by Department of Music professor Kathryn Alexander.
The evening will include original works by Milo Brandt ’19, James Brandfonbrener ’21, Harry Castle GRD ’19, Michael Curcio ’21, Malcolm Sailor GRD ’24 and Griffin Strout ’21. Alexander and Konrad Kaczemarek, an assistant professor in the Department of Music, will co-direct the performance.
Alexander’s course provides students with the opportunity to compose original music under her instruction as well as benefit from the guidance of professional musicians. In this semester’s iteration of the seminar, students received advising and coaching from the Da Capo Chamber Players — a professional new music group based in New York City that will perform the student-written works in the Beinecke. Thursday will mark the first public performance of the students’ pieces.
Alexander described the class’s concerts each semester as a “tradition” of “at least a decade now.” She explained that the composition seminar aims to guide students through the process of composition, sometimes with a specific focus: last semester’s concert in the Beinecke centered on the genre of art songs and Thursday’s concert will highlight chamber music.
Since the students in the seminar come from different backgrounds and have varying musical tastes, they are able to exercise agency over their own compositions, according to Alexander. She said that some students this semester have composed pieces that are “more modernistic,” while others are “a bit more influenced by jazz” and other musical genres. Students can “choose how to make things sound.” By allowing students to compose in different musical styles, Alexander said that it makes the music “a bit more accessible” to the general listener.
“Students aren’t required to write in a certain aesthetic,” she added.
Though the student composers enjoyed stylistic freedom, they were required to create works that feature the Da Capo Chamber Players’ instrumental makeup of violin, flute, clarinet and cello. The compositions performed on Thursday will feature two duets, one trio and three quartets.
Curcio’s composition is titled “A Question of Character” and is written for flute, clarinet, violin and cello. He said that the composition “focuses on how the tone of each instrument blends within static, non-functional harmony.”
“The piece explores one idea for the entire duration and seeks to sound distinct from most other music,” said Curcio. “It should give vibes of mostly content isolation.”
Brandt’s duet for cello and flute is titled “After the Rain.” He characterized his piece as “quite light in character, full of a lot of simple melodies and playful textures.” According to Brandt, the piece is “meant to evoke some kind of pastoral themes.”
Although Brandt did not have any specific imagery in mind while writing his composition, he hopes the piece “gives the audience some sensation analogous to the feeling of going outside for the first time right after a rainstorm, where there’s a freshness lingering in the air.”
Brandt admitted that his piece was “somewhat tricky” to compose. He said that the “compositional techniques [he favors] don’t translate well for a duo of two essentially monophonic instruments” like the flute, which unlike the piano cannot play many notes at once throughout a piece. He added that in order to find inspiration for his piece, he listened to music for solo flute and cello, particularly works by composers such as Louis Ganne, Eugene Bozza and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The seminar relies on the mentorship from established new music ensembles. Alexander considers the course to be a “great opportunity” for students to connect with professional musicians and “get a lot of feedback from the players.”
The Yale College New Music “Chamber Music Galore V” concert will take place in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 5:15 p.m.
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