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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Music Brandeis

On Saturday night May 2nd, the graduate student composers at Brandeis University presented their final concert of the 2008-09 season simply titled New Music Brandeis.

I've attended many free concerts at Brandeis, but this one will be memorable for the size and quality of the professional ensemble.

Conductor Eric Hewitt led Shaw Pong Liu (violin), Yohanan Chendler (violin), Mary Ruth Ray (viola, and Chair of the Music Dept.), Joshua Gordon (cello, and on the Brandeis faculty), Pascale Delache-Feldman (bass), Philipp A. Staudlin (soprano saxophone and a member of the Radnofsky Saxophone Quartet), Jessi Rosinski (flute, alto flute, and piccolo), Rane Moore (clarinet and bass clarinet), Elizabeth England (oboe), Elah Grandel (bassoon), Sara Botham (French horn), Greg Spiridopoulos (trombone), Yvonne Lee (piano and harpsichord), Yukiko Takagi (piano), Tomina Parvanova (harp), and Nick Tolle (on a wide range of percussion, including a trap set).

The Brandeis graduate composers who composed new works for the concert were Hiroki Mori, Lin Mu-Xuan, Yoanan Chendler, Jeremy Spindler, James Borchers, Peter Lane, Nathaniel Eschler, and Michele Zaccagnini. The pieces ranged in instrumentation from solo piano, to woodwind quintet, to large ensemble. I found the music to be rather diverse and well written. Brandeis has been attracting a number of composition students internationally, and this current group seems to reflect that broad spectrum.

Conductor Eric Hewitt explained after the concert that the musicians had been working intensely for four days straight to prepare the evenings program.

At the lavish reception after the program, noted musicologist/theorist Alan Keiler from the Music Department dropped a hint that the concert cost a pretty penny. Given that Brandeis is closing the Rose Art Museum across from the Slosberg Music Center, one has to to say that with a whisper. I will say that the concert was fairly well attended. I sat next to Professsor Rakowski, who was so excited that he let out bird calls in between each work. Professor Chasalow couldn't attend, and was home suffering from what we all hope is not bad case of the H1N1 flu.

The concert was dedicated to Professor Marty Boykan, who will be retiring from the composition department faculty at Brandeis at the end of this year. They wrote in the program... "Marty, your deep understanding of music has been an incredible influence on us. With tremendous wit, patience, and good humor, you have been a true mentor and for your profound expertise, thoughtful criticism, and guidance, we are forever grateful. Thank you so much and we truly wish you all the best in your retirement."

At the reception, Marty was handed flowers and other gifts, and photographed. He was pleasantly surprised by all of the attention. I didn't know for sure how long he had been on the faculty, so I asked him about the length of his tenure. He replied, "53 years."

Next week I will be attending a dinner party for former students at the home of Marty Boykan and his wife, painter Susan Schwalb. I can't wait to see the old gang who I affectionately refer to as "the Brandeis Mafia" (John Watrous, Pasquale Tassone, Armand Qualliotine...).

I think Brandeis will be down to two composition faculty members in the fall. The rumor is that after Boykan retires, the university will not replace him. Professor Yu-Hui Chang will be on sabbatical. That leaves only Rakowski and Chasalow to run the show next year. In my time, there were fewer students and five composers on the faculty (Allen Anderson, Conrad Pope, Donald Martino, Marty Boykan, and Harold Shapero). But times change. The Brandeis campus is now crowded with spiffy looking dorm buildings but a diminishing number of faculty members in the music department.