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Third Mizzou New Music Summer Festival kicks off Monday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2012 - Placed right in the middle of a state square in the middle of the country, Columbia is far, far away from the traditional hubs of so-called new music: New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The six-day Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, set to kick off Monday, aims to change that.

“The big picture goal is to help … make Columbia and Missouri epicenters for new music,” said Stefan Freund, a music professor at Mizzou and the founder of the festival, which culminates in three large concerts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Missouri Theatre.

Now in its third year, the festival has become more and more global in its scope.

In addition to Steven Stucky, a Pulitzer prize-winning American composer, the festival will include noted Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, as well as the young composers Stylianos Dimou, from Greece; Charlie Piper, from England, and Asha Srinivasan, who grew up in India.

“[Dimou] has a completely different kind of aesthetic and sound than somebody like Asha Srinivasan … or Charlie,” said William Lackey, a Mizzou music professor and the managing director of the festival. “The personalities of the composers make each year completely different.”

Even the young American composers, such as Mizzou grad Stephanie Berg, feature international influences in their work.

Characterizing her music as having “a kind of ethno vibe,” Berg said she had the image of a “Middle Eastern street festival” in mind as she wrote her piece for the festival. Berg came up with the idea for the piece in the car driving home to Kansas City.

Four other young composers – Brian Ciach, David Crowell, Ted Goldman and Patrick Harlin – will also be at the festival. Together, these eight are the festival’s resident composers, selected from more than 120 applicants. They will work with Stucky and Dennehy, the guest composers, in preparation for the final concert on Saturday night, in which all eight will hear the world premieres of their pieces.

“It’s very rare that you get to go to one concert and hear eight world premieres,” Lackey said. “Imagine being in Vienna with Mozart and hearing his music [performed] for the first time.”

Additionally, Dennehy’s piece Hunger, taken from an opera he is developing, will be performed for the first time on Thursday night, along with Stucky’s rarely performed Etudes, a recorder concerto.

The pieces will all be performed by Alarm Will Sound, a nationally recognized new music ensemble that has played at the festival since its inception.

The ensemble’s genre-bending repertoire – encompassing electronic, pop, classical and acoustic music – is emblematic of the loosely defined category of new music.

“Alarm Will Sound has made a name for itself by bringing more kinds of music into the fold,” said Freund, who is also a founding member of the ensemble.

“It’s getting harder and harder to say what new music is,” said Stucky, who taught some of Alarm Will Sound’s founding members at New York’s Eastman School of Music. “I’m supposed to be an expert on the topic, and it’s still hard for me to say.”

According to Stucky, recent years have seen the “democratizing” of new music, as it spreads beyond its usual coastal centers. In the past year, Stucky has been to four festivals similar to Mizzou’s – including ones in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Sweden – and plans to attend one in New Mexico later this summer.

“I think this New Music Initiative” – which organizes and funds the festival – “is part of a national trend,” he said. “This whole kind of spreading movement … has sped up the process of abolishing any kind of establishment [in new music]. Anything does go if you do it well.”

Also involved are the Mizzou New Music Ensemble and the MU Concert Jazz Band – a new addition to the festival. Both will play on Friday night’s concert. Freund expects about 350 people will attend the concerts.

Eventually, Freund hopes to build the New Music Festival to the scale of Mizzou’s popular True/False Film Fest. That goal seems distant, but the festival is just getting started.

“There’s so much room for growth,” Lackey said. “I don’t see this going away anytime soon.”

The New Music Festival is supported by Jeanne Sinquefield, who is also a donor to the St. Louis Beacon.

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