The sixth annual Mizzou International Composers Festival takes place this month on the University of Missouri campus. This year’s lineup continues an impressive run for the series, which features both guest composers and the amazing talent and skills of eight young resident composers competing for this year’s MICF Prize.
The 2015 festival, which runs from July 20 through July 25, includes a series of public concerts presenting music from these resident composers, as well as workshops, master classes and other events. This year’s guest composers are the gifted Danish maestro Hans Abrahamsen and Los Angeles-based symphonist and teacher Andrew Norman.
Saturday night’s grand finale at the Missouri Theatre will showcase the world premieres of new works from each of the festival’s eight resident composers, performed by the acclaimed new music group Alarm Will Sound, who will once again serve as resident ensemble conducted by artistic director Alan Pierson.
MICF judges used a portfolio application process to sift though and evaluate the compositions of more than 200 young applicants from around the world. Eight finalists were selected. The youthful composers will take part in discussions and master classes with Abrahamsen and Norman, participate in workshops with Alarm Will Sound, and receive a professional live recording of the premiere performance of their work.
That this relatively new Missouri festival could retain avant-garde heavyweights such as Alarm Will Sound as the “house band” these last several years is a tribute to the devotion (and largesse) of sponsors that include Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield and the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. The couple has been instrumental (pun intended) to the success of the Mizzou New Music Initiative, along with the Missouri Arts Council, and recently donated $10 million to the MU School of Music. This is not the first donation the Sinquefields have made to promote the fine arts at MU, though. Jeanne Sinquefield has worked for more than a decade to promote Missouri as a mecca for music composition by starting camps for young musicians and funding scholarships for undergraduate composers. Sinquefield says her family chooses to fund these programs through the University of Missouri because they allow her to try fun ideas.
Alarm Will Sound met and began performing at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and is well-known for its imaginative and diverse repertoire and recorded work — most recently on the estimable Nonesuch label. The group’s recorded work runs the gamut from archly modern (works by and collaborations with contemporary masters such as Steve Reich and John Adams) to “other” modern music such as pop and electronica (the group has recorded with Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood and its most recent release is an acoustic tribute to EDM pioneers Aphex Twin). Recent in-concert collaborations for the ensemble include “The Getty Address,” an expansive piece written with Dirty Projectors frontman Dave Longstreth. Last March, Alarm Will Sound performed with Bjork at Carnegie Hall to honor her recent Museum of Modern Art exhibition and kick off the world tour for her “Vulnicura” album.
Since 2013, Alarm Will Sound has taken up a sponsored residency in St. Louis for what the group calls its “St. Louis Season,” intending to complement its existing touring schedule and bring to the Midwest the work they do around the country and abroad; at the same time, AWS hopes to grow a local audience for contemporary performing arts. Over the last three years in St. Louis, AWS has presented concerts at the Sheldon Concert Hall, the Touhill Performing Arts Center and The Pageant.
New Kids On The Block
Even more promising for this year’s festival — if that is possible — are the new works that the 2015 MICF Competition will spotlight.
Leading the list are two current Missourians: University of Missouri graduate student and St. Louis native Justin Pounds, and Washington University professor Christopher Stark. It is heartening to see and hear that Missouri can apparently hold its own in just about any measure of musical contest. Also serving as 2015 resident composers are Thomas Dougherty, Houston; Emily Koh, Waltham, Mass.; Andrew McManus, Chicago; Alessandro Ratoci, Lausanne, Switzerland; Anthony Vine, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Conrad Winslow, Brooklyn, N.Y.
If you have any young noisemakers in the household looking for insight and inspiration, remember all rehearsals during the weeklong Missouri International Composers Festival are free and open to the public.
Kevin (aka Kelvin) Walsh considers himself a student of music’s effect on people. Since moving to Columbia in 1975, his professional ventures have included music retailer, radio show host and a brief stint as Truman the Tiger. He currently hosts “The (So-Called) Good Life” from 3 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday on KOPN-FM 89.5 and streaming live at www.kopn.org.