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Communique: UNCW's "New Music Festival" | 4 Composers + Over A Dozen Performers

Composers and musicians "New Music Festival"


The talents of over a dozen university musicians come together for UNCW's 4th New Music Festival March 21-22. This is a unique opportunity to hear music in the company of the composers: David Kechley, William Neil, Jeffrey Van, and Andrew York.

There are three concerts in the festival, all taking place at Beckwith Recital Hall: 

Wednesday, March 21 @ 7:30pm features the music of Andrew York and David Kechley performed by Nancy King (Soprano), Robert Nathanson (Guitar), Danijela Zezelj-Gualdi (Violin/Viola), Justin Hoke (Guitar), and the NC Guitar Quartet  

Thursday, March 22 @ 7:30pmfeatures music for choir and chamber ensemble by Jeffrey Van and William Neil performed by UNCW Chamber Choir conducted by Joe Hickman, Robert Nathanson, Nancy King, Danijela Zezelj-Gualdi, Helena Kopchick Spencer (Bassoon), Laurent Estoppey (Saxophone), Mary Jo White (Flute), and Christina Brier (Harp)

Friday, March 23 @ 7:30pmis a solo performance by Andrew York.

There are also 2 Masterclasses for guitar the public is invited to observe: Wednesday, 3/21 at 1:00pm with Jeffrey Van and Friday, 3/23 at 1:00pm with Andrew York. These are also in Beckwith Recital Hall; the Masterclasses are free and don't require a ticket.

Listen to Rob Nathanson above, or see our extended conversation below.

Rob:      I guess it's my fourth big event, big [New Music] festival. They're not annual or anything. I did the first one in 2008. My work has always been the commissioning, performing, and recording of new music. These music festivals are usually just an extension to get these pieces of music played in public, because it's the only way that they're going to survive time and have posterity. I feel that it's important to get them performed live and it's really cool when the composers can be there and address the audience before the pieces are played.

In this New Music Festival, we are featuring the composers Andrew York, David Ketchley, Jeffrey Van, and William Neil. They will all address the audience before we play their music. I don't tell them what to say, they can say anything they want to, but it'll probably be about the pieces they play or just about composing in general. It's interesting to hear, you know, what if you could have heard Beethoven speak before the premiere of Symphony 5? It would have been cool to hear his thoughts about it. We're having three nights of events. Wednesday, March 21st is the music of Andrew York and David Ketchley. March 22nd, Thursday, is the music of Jeffrey Van and William Neil. And on Friday, the last night, there will be a solo guitar recital by Andrew York and he will be playing all of his own music, which is quite wonderful. He's a Grammy Award-winning composer and performer.

Gina:     I feel like I've actually played him on the radio before. His name is very familiar to me.

Rob:      I would bet you did either solo music or when he was with the LA Guitar Quartet. The other thing about the concerts is that people will find them very entertaining, interesting, and provocative. Sometimes when you say "new music," people think of really avant garde sounds and music that is stringent, dissonant, and ugly. That's not this music. This music is based upon beautiful tones, a lot of elements of pop music, rock music, jazz, and then all kinds of styles of classical music are interjected in it. Really interesting music. Some of the really cool music being written today.

Gina:     All music was once new music.

Rob:      That is true.

Gina:     What's the temperature of Wilmington audiences about coming to see new music? Are people shy about it? Is there a group of people who are adventurous enough to say, "Yeah, I want to go hear some new music?"

Rob:      I've been doing this series that Cameron Art Museum called Pro Musica. We're in our seventh season and out of all those concerts we've only had one bad audience. Usually people like to go hear this new music. What I do with Pro Musica also is, they are an hour long so that you can concentrate on some very good music for a short time and that’s it. So the concerts are designed to be only an hour long and as interesting as possible.

Gina:     Tell me a little bit about each of the composers.

Rob:      Andrew York's a California guy and without stereotyping anybody, he's definitely from California, a flower child kinda guy. He has written this unbelievably great guitar music. His style is almost pop music, but he's a great composer because he changes things all the time and it goes from one interesting idea into another, into another, into another. So his music is forever interesting throughout a piece and if you're a guitarist, to play his music is complete joy. It just fits under your fingers perfectly. It's wonderful. David Ketchley has written probably 10 or 12 pieces for me already. He's a really interesting composer because he was one of the first composers that I asked to write music for me that doesn't play the guitar. He studied the guitar in terms of as a composer. I gave him a guitar, he looked at it, he figured it out. A guitar is like a Rubik's cube in that the combinations of it are infinite and he figured it out, but he's not a guitarist so his music is really cool in a completely a different way. Exciting. A sort of classical rock and roll. His stuff really is over the top energetic, kinetic, and exciting.

Jeffrey Van is a composer who's really specialized in writing choral music. This is a piece written for choir and a guitar. This hauntingly beautiful piece about the Gettysburg battle during the Civil War. It has four movements. The first movement is about the bivouac on the night before the battle. The second movement is the battle. The third movement is the carnage in the aftermath. The fourth movement is the reconciliation. It's a very beautiful, emotional, and unbelievable piece. And then William Neil, one of his claims to fame is he was the first resident composer for the Chicago Lyric Opera. So he's got an impressive resume, but he's a great writer for the voice and he wrote a beautiful piece called “Darkness into Light,” which we played at the CAM last March, actually. It is a piece about renewal and has got to be one of the best pieces that has guitar as an ensemble instrument that I've ever heard or played, and it's a breathtaking piece of music to end the Thursday night concert.

Gina:     This New Music Festival is three days: Wednesday, as you said, with Andrew York and David Ketchley, Thursday with Jeffrey Van and William Neil, and then on Friday, solo guitar performance by Andrew York. The people who are performing this new music are you, Rob Nathanson, and Nancy King, Danijela Zezelj-Gualdi, and…

Rob:      Laurent Estoppey.

Gina:     Oh yes, he's a saxophonist, right?

Rob:      He's not just a saxophonist. I think he could be one of the top three classical saxophonists in the world. He's an amazing, amazing player. He's from Switzerland and now lives in Greensboro. And then we haven't mentioned the North Carolina Guitar Quartet, which I'm a member of with Ed Stephenson, Justin Hoke and Elliot Frank. Christina Brier and Mary Jo White will also be playing one of David Ketchley's pieces for harp and flute, called “Available Light”.

Gina:     Will Nancy be singing the choral pieces?

Rob:      No, when we play the Jeffrey Van piece we'll have the UNCW Chamber Choir conducted by Joe Hickman. Actually, in Vienna they were part of that concert. They were over there to perform and sing in a workshop near Vienna and so I arranged a concert. So we recently played this piece there last month.

Gina:     I just want to make sure I understand this entirely; David Ketchley is not a guitarist, but he took a guitar and got to know one and composes for the guitar.

Rob:      Yeah, his philosophy was if he could get his fingers on it, then it's playable. No matter how fast it was, he figured somebody who could play it would figure that out. And so that's how he composed the pieces. "If I can do that, so can a guitarist." His pieces are some of the hardest pieces of the repertoire. Sometimes hard pieces aren't any good because they just don't work on the guitar and they're hard. His pieces work fantastically, so you don't mind the hardness.

Gina:     Is there a workshop or two?

Rob:      There are two master classes; one on Wednesday, March 21st at 1:00 on the stage of Beckwith Recital Hall and one on Friday the 23rd at 1:00 in the same spot, Beckwith Recital Hall. Wednesday's master class is being conducted by Jeffrey Van and Friday’s by Andrew York.

Gina:     Is this compositional focused?

Rob:      No, it's technical. The students of UNCW who play classical guitar will perform for them and then they'll be critiqued.

Gina:     In both of these situations?

Rob:      Yes.

Gina:     So people who might be interested in watching this are people who like to hear guitar and people who play guitar would like to watch this?

Rob:      Yes.

Gina:     And you said 1:00 on both days?

Rob:      Yes.

Gina:     All of this is happening in Beckwith Recital Hall?

Rob:      Yes. All concerts are at 7:30 at night. All three of them. And again, they're only an hour long,

Gina:     And they're only $6.

Rob:      It's only $6, that's true. Yes.

Gina:     People don't understand what a gift it is to have UNCW to be able to support this kind of thing. I mean, how much would that cost to do this without a university?

Rob:      It would be a fortune. It wouldn't be possible.

Transcription Assistance by Production Assitant, Lindsay Wright