Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Music feature: Lynn hosts five days of new music

Composer Joseph Turrin.

By Greg Stepanich

BOCA RATON -- If the conservatory at Lynn University was hoping to say something definitive about the importance of contemporary classical music, then maybe seven world premieres over the next five days will do it.

On Thursday, the music division at the Boca Raton college will host its New Music Festival 2009, featuring composer Joseph Turrin as its special guest over a five-day period that includes four concerts and music by 17 other contemporary composers, five of them students. This festival, the conservatory's third, will conclude with the first-ever performance of Turrin's Chamber Symphony, written expressly for the Lynn event.

Lisa Leonard (at right), a pianist and faculty member who is directing the festival, said instructors began the annual gatherings in 2007 as a way to make certain contemporary music was part of the student experience at the school.

"The idea for the festival came when we tried to address the lack of time for students to learn contemporary music in their daily lessons," Leonard said. "There's so much traditional, fundamental repertory that needs to be learned, and students just don't have the time."

And it's not as though they're clamoring to learn it, either.

"The portion of modern music that is truly avant-garde and maybe inaccessible to most audiences is small, but (audiences) don't know that. And our students are just as bad as the public," she said.

Three of the four concerts will be free of charge, Leonard said. The first concert, set for Thursday night, features faculty members and costs $25. The final concert Monday evening will take place at the Green Center for the Expressive Arts on the Lynn University campus in western Boca Raton.

"We want to reach out the public and every local student in this area, so all of the concerts with the exception of the faculty concert are free, so you can hear the Turrin premiere for nothing," she said.

The other three concerts will be held at the Amarnick-Goldstein Concert Hall, also on campus. Friday night's concert will feature music by Persichetti, Ewazen and Lutoslawski as well as a panel discussion, moderated by Leonard, about contemporary music featuring Turrin, two other panelists, and questions from the audience.

Saturday's activities will be non-public, and consist of Turrin working individually with students, Leonard said.

Turrin, a New Jersey-born composer who studied at the Manhattan and Eastman schools of music, has a vast resume that includes work as a composer, pianist and conductor, and over a wide range of genres. He's written everything from opera (The Scarecrow) to film scores (Weeds, Nightmare on Elm Street 3) to concerti for New York Philharmonic musicians. He even worked on a recording called Symphonic Elvis, featuring orchestral arrangements of Elvis Presley tunes such as Suspicious Minds.

Turrin, 62, describes himself as a composer who works "from the gut," leaving the intellectualizing and mathematical formulae to other composers.

"'I've always been interested in a lot of different facets of music," he said Wednesday. "I've been criticized for that sometimes: 'Joe, you should focus on one kind of music, and try not to branch out too much.' I've never really thought much of that philosophy.

"I enjoy theater, I enjoy film so much, pop music, jazz, classical: I'm interested in it all. So that's how I ended up doing all these various things, pretty much because I had to do them."

Although much of his life consists of writing for commissions, Turrin finds time to be a member of the adjunct faculty at The Hartt School in West Hartford, Conn., where he teaches film scoring and composition. He also hosts a general-education course in film music at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J.

Turrin said he enjoys doing residencies such as the one at Lynn, especially because it allows him time to explore ideas more fully than can be done in a business situation.

"When I work with professionals, the point is to get your job done, and they don't want you to talk too much, or philosophize about things you've done or things you're interested in," he said. "We want to get home, we're watching the clock, time is money. So you learn to be very efficient ... and move on.

"That's a little frustrating sometimes, because I've been involved with so many different things in my life, and worked with so many interesting people ... All these experiences just stay with me, which is kind of a dead end," Turrin said. "But in an academic atmosphere, students are very interested in what you've done and how you did it, and why you did it, and they're always asking questions. So it's a great outlet, emotionally and intellectually, for me."

Turrin got the residency at Lynn after meeting Leonard at a U.S. Air Force Band concert in Washington, D.C., at which one of the composer's pieces (High Flight) was being premiered. The emcee for that event was an astronaut who told the audience how much he had enjoyed listening to his iPod -- loaded with space-related music such as John Williams' score for Star Wars -- while circling the earth.

That gave Leonard the idea of getting pieces written for astronauts to listen to, and when she asked Turrin whether he'd be interested in composing something for Lynn, suggested that it could one day be recorded and sent to NASA. Whether or not that happens, Turrin said, the idea nevertheless meshed with his affection for things astronomical, and so his Chamber Symphony's three movements have space-related titles: Astrum Luminosus, Vespera, and Aurora Borealis.

Leonard said she has been a fan of Turrin's music since playing it with her husband, trumpeter Marc Reese, an Empire Brass member who heads Lynn's brass department and directs its wind ensemble. Turrin's work also is well-crafted in a multiplicity of forms, she said, and that made him a good choice for the festival.

"I would say that he is the largest supporter of things like this that I have worked with yet," she said. "He definitely has given himself to this project, and with the amount of music that he had for octets, nonets, duos, he was just perfect for it."

Contemporary classical music has loosened considerably in recent decades from its serialism high-water mark of the 1960s and 1970s. Turrin said he thinks the current scene is much more eclectic, with no style prevalent over any other.

In the long run, what matters is the work, and the judgment of it is a matter for history, he said.

"I always tell my students: First of all, you have no control over your greatness," Turrin said, laughing. "Other people will determine that, so don't get hung up on that. Don't get hung up on being original. Originality will come later. If it's there, it will come. If it's not, it won't. So don't worry about it. Just keep writing."

"To me, the passion is the work itself: Working, sitting there and working, and enjoying that process. And then once it goes out there, it's no longer yours."

Leonard said it's been her experience that audiences like new music when it's carefully presented to them, and that the same thing can be true today.

"I like to remind people that when Beethoven was premiering his most recent symphony, that was viewed the same way, except that it was exciting," Leonard said. "And everyone knew that it would be exciting, and they thought maybe they wouldn't like it, and sometimes they didn't like it."

But Beethoven's audiences also knew they were part of living history, she said, and that made the event even more worthwhile. And Leonard wants interested concertgoers to know that Lynn's festival can offer them a transformative arts experience.

"I think you need to remind people that you can have an even better time with the unexpected," she said.

Here is the schedule for the New Music Festival 2009:

Thursday, 7:30 pm, Amarnick-Goldstein Concert Hall

Opening night faculty concert: Music by Arthur Cohen, Marvin Feinsmith, Alba Rosa Vietor, Otto Ketting, and Bohuslav Martinu. Also, Empire Brass tuba player Kenneth Amis will perform the first movement of his Tuba Concerto in its Florida premiere (pianist Tao Lin accompanies). In addition, there will be a world premiere of a Duet for trumpet and piano by Bruce Polay, last year's composer in residence, and a seminal American work from the 1970s: George Crumb's Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), for amplified flute, cello and piano. The three players (flutist Jessica Willis, cellist Jonah Kim and pianist Jose Menor) will wear black half-masks, as Crumb intended, Leonard said. Tickets: $25, or $30 for two.

Friday, 7:30 pm, Amarnick-Goldstein Concert Hall

Concert and forum: Music by Persichetti (Parable XIV for trumpet), Eric Ewazen (Trio for Trumpet, Violin and Piano) and the Polish master Witold Lutoslawski (Mini Overture for brass quintet). Leonard also will moderate a panel discussion about contemporary music featuring Turrin, Lynn composition professor Thomas McKinley, and Amis. Questions from the audience will be part of the discussion. Free admission.

Sunday, 4 pm, Amarnick-Goldstein Concert Hall

Young Composers Concert: Music by Lynn students, with the exception of the Duettino Concertante for flute and percussion by Ingolf Dahl, and a Theme and Variations for clarinet and piano by Dustin Katzin, who won last year's state high school composition competition. Four world premieres are on this concert, including two by Michael Anderson, Lynn's sole composition student, who will be represented by a movement from a violin sonata, a prelude for piano, and a piece for oboe and piano. Pieces by pianist Natasa Stojanovska (Piece for My Sister, for piano) and Aziz Sapaev (Fantasy for trombone and piano) will be heard for the first time, and in addition there will be two pieces by Mauricio Murcia. Free admission.

Monday, 7:30 pm, Green Center for the Expressive Arts

Joseph Turrin concert: A full-length concert of music by the composer in residence, including the world premiere of his Chamber Symphony. Featured works include The Steadfast Tin Soldier, for narrator and chamber ensemble (narrated by Lynn Conservatory director Jon Robertson) and Serenade for Violin and Piano, written for German violinist Anne Sophie-Mutter but being premiered here by violinist Seul-A Lee and pianist Daniel Furtado. Also on the program: Symmetries, for two pianos; Night Flight, for flute and piano; Three Summer Dances, for woodwind quintet; a sonatina for clarinet and piano; and Festival Music for the Golden Pavilion, for a nonet of strings, brass and piano. Free admission.

For tickets, call 237-9000 or visit

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