New Music Festival Preview: Bent Sørensen

Bent Sørensen foto Lars Skaaning

Editor’s note: Over the next several days we’ll be previewing the upcoming 2014 New Music Festival at the University of Louisville, through posts on this blog. The posts were written by U of L faculty Jean Christensen and students of Rebecca Jemian: Justin Giarrusso, Andrew Maxbauer, Ian Schroeder, Jabez Co, Iara Gomes, Chris Kincaid, Ben Williams, Michelle Gilfert, Jon Hodge, Matt Wetmore and Samantha Holman.

Composer Bent Sørensen has been a noticeable figure in Danish music life since the mid-1980s. Born in 1958, he was a star student of the leading composition teachers of the day, Per Nørgärd and Ib Nørholm, and it was said that he had mastered compositional technique even before his debut concert. Already in 1988, three of his early string quartets were recorded by the highly-esteemed Arditti Quartet (Alman, 1983-84, Adieu, 1986, and Angel’s Music, 1987-88) and in 1996, he was the recipient of the esteemed Nordic Music Prize for his violin concerto (Sterbende Gärten/Dying Gardens), one of only three Danes to be so honored. In 2002, his first full-scale opera, Under the Sky, was premiered at the Royal Opera House. He has been the featured composer at the Huddington Festival in Britain, and in 2011 his piano concerto, La Mattina, was awarded the International Prize by the British Composers Awards. (The earlier winners of the prize include Unsuk Chin, John Adams and Wolfgang Rihm.)

Sørensen often gives his works interesting and evocative titles. The Fourth String Quartet is called Cries and Melancholy, and the seven movements for violin and piano is also Seven Longings. These titles refer to strong feelings of melancholy or longing, while others might evoke something that is disappearing (Deserted Churchyards), unheard (The Shadows of Silence) or intangible (Consoling in Darkness). The music often corresponds in some manner, but not always as expected. This music invites the listener into a multi-layered texture where fragmented, delicate explorations of small tonal melodies or harmonies might recall fugitive sensations of time and space as a part of the multidimensional character of the composer’s musical universe that has often been described as “romantic.”

Bent Sørensen commands the whole arsenal of modern performance techniques; every voice in the ensemble–instrumental or vocal–must be able to express elements from the full spectrum of sound, from the richest to the most refined nuances of the tonal system, as well as those that lie outside it–glissandos and quarter tones, for instance. Instrumentalists are often asked to play secondary instruments or sing while they play, vocal ensembles must be able to sing complex harmonic combinations with subtle vocal nuances. All efforts are directed toward intensifying the listening experience, the most consistent factor in this composer’s output.

The selections programmed for the Festival are The Hill of the Heartless Giant (2001) for solo string bass; Songs of Decay for solo clarinet; Fragments of Requiem (2007) for chorus; the early Trotto (1983) for woodwind quintet; and the recent Pantomine-Papillons (2014) for piano and ensemble. A highlight of the festival will be the premiere of Twelve Nocturnes, six miniatures for piano solo alternating with arrangements of the same for the University Wind Ensemble by Jakob Kullberg and Matthew Wetmore. The Danish pianist Katrine Gislinge will be featured as soloist in both Pantomine-Papillons and Twelve Nocturnes. Altogether the programs of the New Music Festival at the School of Music, University of Louisville, will provide a multi-faceted introduction to the music of the Danish composer Bent Sørensen (Photo Credit: Lars Skaaning)

Dr. Jean Christensen Jean Christensen is a retired professor of Music History at the University of Louisville.

O Fortuna: Louisville Orchestra Broadcast

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Our next broadcast of the Louisville Orchestra is coming up Thursday at 8pm, and features the monumental cantata Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis and more music for choir and orchestra. This concert put over 380 voices on stage, made up of singers from choirs across Louisville. Here’s the program from the concert and here’s Erin Keane’s review. The concert also showcased violinist Jeremy Kittel, with guest cellist Ben Sollee.
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Caroline Shaw‘s Oculi Mei, received only its second performance with the Louisville Chamber Choir and Louisville Orchestra on this concert. Check out this episode of Meet the Composer and learn all about Caroline and her music.

LA Piano Quartet Premiering New Work in Louisville

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It’s not every weekend you find a world premiere performance in Louisville, but in fact this weekend there are two. The LA Piano Quartet will be in town to open the Chamber Music Society of Louisville‘s new season (Sunday at 3pm), and to premiere a work they’ve commissioned from Christopher Stark. Piano Quartet, is in three movements, each dedicated to a composer important to Stark’s life, from mentors and teachers Jonathan Harvey and Roberto Sierra, to his friend and fellow composer Sean Shepherd. The second movement, dedicated to Shepherd, is also a personal reflection on the death of Michael Brown and the aftermath that has gripped Ferguson, Missouri.

Daniel Gilliam talked with Christopher Stark and Xak Bjerken, pianist for the LA Piano Quartet, about this new work.

Here is the LA Piano Quartet performing another commissioned by Steven Stucky.

Major Choral Work will Premiere in Louisville

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Louisvillian Richard Burchard’s In Memoriam premieres as part of the next concert by the Louisville Master Chorale, Sunday, October 19 at 2:30pm at the Cathedral of the Assumption. Burchard is a veteran a cappela choral composer in additional to his duties as Associate Professor of music and Executive Composer in Residence at Bellarmine University. In Memoriam is his first venture into music for voices and orchestra.

Alan Brandt sat down recently with Burchard to talk about the challenges and joys of composing for a large group of musicians.

On choosing the title “In Memoriam”

“I thought what could I do where I could go from movement to movement where they’d be related in some fashion but not thematically and harmonically but mostly about text. And the first thing I thought was that a Requiem makes sense for me because I’ve written a lot of a capella choral pieces for lent and things like that. And then I started thinking that I didn’t want to get stuck to a traditional Requiem and I don’t want to break the traditional Requiem setting. And I thought In Memoriam sounds kind of more in line and it freed me up to entertain other kinds of texts I could use.”

On tackling instrumental composing for the first time

“When this opportunity presented itself, I knew that the immediate answer was ‘yes’, but I also knew I was taking on something much larger than I’d done before.”

On collaborating with LMC Music Director Mark Walker

“I like the collaborative part of it. In fact, it was because we got together a lot that the piece started taking on shape. The original concept was for choir and strings, but as the concept of what the program overall – the concert series and then this program – was going to be, then Mark said, “Well, we’re doing another piece and there are going to be instruments (and) you want to use those, so we began to add colors.”

On his goals for “In Memoriam”

“I wanted to make sure it was accessible not only to a group that only had a few rehearsals but also accessible to other groups as well. I don’t want to write music that people can’t perform and at the same time I want to maintain my integrity and my commitment to my style of writing.”

Louisville Orchestra with Storm Large and Kevin Cole

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Tune in for the concert broadcast of the Louisville Orchestra, Saturday at 6pm, with guests Storm Large, Hudson Shad and Kevin Cole. Teddy Abrams led a concert with Richard Rodgers’ overture to Oklahoma, Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, Gershwin’s New York Rhapsody and Copland’s Rodeo.

Listen to Kevin Cole’s Lunchtime Classics performance here: