This semester, the University of Southern Maine Composers Ensemble will give its fifteenth end-of-semester concert on Saturday, December 1, at 8 p.m. in Corthell Concert Hall on the USM Gorham campus.
The concert is free and open to the public.
Directed by USM Associate Professor and Resident Composer Daniel Sonenberg, the ensemble offers student composers a unique laboratory to compose, rehearse, and perform new compositions. It ranges in size from semester to semester between a large chamber group (10-13 players) and a small chamber orchestra (20-30 players). This semester, the group is nearly 30-strong: a chamber orchestra complete with eight-person choir.
Sonenberg, who founded the group in the fall of 2005, speaks enthusiastically about its current makeup:
“Let’s face it, to hear a concert of new works for chamber orchestra and choir is rare in any context, student or professional. In Southern Maine it’s almost unheard of. The writing and performing represented on this concert is more ambitious and accomplished than any I’ve seen in fifteen semesters of doing this.” Sonenberg noted that the group’s strength in numbers this semester owes in part to a new requirement that music education majors participate for one semester in their senior year.
“We are fortunate at USM to have a Music Ed program with a strong emphasis on composition. Our own Michele Kaschub, who directs the program, is a leading authority on the topic of teaching composition in pre-college classes, and the result is students who take the enterprise very seriously, and hope to incorporate some of our processes into their own teaching.”
Each semester the ensemble begins with no music, and embarks on an amazing journey of discovery, during which composers pen sketches, learn the strengths and potentials of the group, and strive toward completing a 4-8 minute piece by the composition deadline, which is set one month before the performance date (usually one of the last weekends of the semester).
Sonenberg added, “Ensemble members are challenged to read and learn ever-evolving contemporary compositions, and composers are given the opportunity to hear what works, what doesn’t, and solicit input from performers on just how to make their music really speak. It is really one of the most unique things we have going at the School of Music, and something of which I’m certain other programs would be envious!”
The December concert will feature new works by Tim Burns, of Standish, Joseph Cough, of Bar Harbor, Carleton Mabee, of Kennebunkport, Aaron Pettengill of Lewiston, Don Pride, of Portland, and Paul Thomas, of Buxton. Additionally, for the second time ever (and second time this year), Sonenberg himself has penned a piece for the group.
“When I saw the size and quality of the group,” he noted, “I couldn’t resist.”
The following are notes from the composers about their compositions:
Tim Burns (Buxton, Maine): Goyaesques
A musical portrayal of 5 paintings by the 18th century Spanish painter Francesco Goya. "His art is both comforting and terrifying."
Carelton Mabee (Kennebunkport)– Strawberry Valley
This piece toggles back and forth between a straight and a swing beat. The swing sections are have a Jazz feel to them. I love the sound of Jazz with its rich sonorities. The name "Strawberry Valley" is so named because when Sibelius asked me for a name, that was the first thing that popped into my head. That's the way it is often. One thing leads to another and a composition is born. It was meant to have a "musical theater" feel to it as if it were a part of a larger piece. Maybe someday. I have difficulty remembering lyrics. So whenever possible, I will make remebering lyrics as simple as possible especially for the chorus. They have only 20 words and they are repeated liberally. All the sections talk back and forth throughout. It's such a delight to have so many instruments with which to work.
Don Pride (Portland, Maine): Profit and Loss (for choir, tenor soloist, and 2 percussionists)
The text is from Ecclesiates 1: 1-7. The beginning of this book of poetry, written by Israel's King Solomon, concerns the futility of our lives within the larger scheme of things. These particular verses deal with the cycles of life and nature that seem to continue endlessly, no matter what we do. The generations come and go but life seems to senselessly go on forever. I was attracted to the imagery of the text and wanted to amplify their meaning through music. The text also had some personal meaning to me as I had just turned 40 recently and was beginning to feel my generation slowly "passing away" to make way for the new. I wondered if I had made any impact on my world at all. At the end of the book the writer of Ecclesiastes concludes that the way to find fulfillment our lives is to realize that life is a gift from God and simply be obedient and do the work He gives us. We need not worry about where we fit in because His purpose is being fulfilled by us.
Daniel Sonenberg (Portland, Maine): Tube Top
This is a short concerto for electric guitar (featuring guitarist Jimmy Dority), choir and chamber orchestra. I love having an electric guitarist in the group alongside the more traditional, orchestral instruments. I recently acquired a beautiful small tube amplifier for my own guitar, and wrote this odd little concerto as a kind of celebration for tube circuitry. The choir’s text is drawn from the Wikipedia article on “Valve Amplifier” (with words culled almost at random, and sung electronically by the choir). At the climax of the piece, the text shifts to an uncredited 1928 New York Times article about the invention of a new kind of a vacuum tube, the UX 215, and its implications for improved volume and tone quality. The piece ends on an iconic and universally recognizable chord for guitar – a confirmation of the future heralded by that technological advance.
Paul Thomas (Buxton), Lux Aeterna
This short piece for ensemble and choir was written in response to news reports of the abduction and presumed murder of five-year-old April Jones in Wales on October 1st, and it was a natural response to want to express my thoughts about this heartbreaking story in music in some small way. The Latin text Lux Aeterna asks the Lord to grant the dead eternal rest, and to let perpetual light shine upon them because he is merciful, and this piece is intended as an expression of that thought for this still-missing young girl.
Additionally, Joseph Cough, of Bar Harbor, has written Ask Me Tomorrow, a personal lament which takes as its starting point an intense exchange between Thor and a priest drawn directly from the comics; Aaron Pettengill of Lewiston composed Breath Anywhere, a minimalist-inspired study in lush instrumental textures and choral richness.
Members of the press, and those needing special accommodations to participate fully in this program, contact Lori Arsenault, (207) 780-5142, firstname.lastname@example.org. Hearing impaired: call USM's telex / TDD number (207) 780-5646