It was wonderful to hear soprano Sage DeAgro-Ruopp and the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble perform a selection of four of my Sandburg Songs at Oberlin Conservatory on May 4. Under the direction of Tim Weiss, these young musicians gave a confident account that emphasized the music’s coloristic and rhythmic shifts. Sage handled the vocal part with ease. Her precise pitch and tender, refined timbral palette were a pleasure to hear. The entire group gave me renewed confidence in the future of contemporary music performance.
The concert also included new works by Christopher Dietz and Christopher Stark. There is much to say about both their works, but what stood out to me most in Dietz’s work was its rich harmonic landscape and Chris’s ability to maneuver complex contrapuntal textures across the ensemble. In this respect, the piece occasionally recalled the music of Roger Sessions.
Stark’s work for trombone and ensemble, with the outstanding Lee Allen as soloist, displayed a clear mastery of orchestral colors and led the listener on an adventurous journey that covered many textures, moods, and landscapes. What I most liked was the coy humor that seemed to emerge in the work, and with which the work ended. This music clearly fell within the scope of the late Steven Stucky’s compositional orbit , but all of us who studied with Steve are the better for his influence.
Hearing my work at Oberlin made me even more excited to hear soprano Tony Arnold and Eastman BroadBand perform the complete 5-song cycle this July at the soundSCAPE Festival, where I will teach private composition lessons to festival students. With Tim Weiss also leading that performance, I know the music is in good hands.