Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium 09

(posted by graduate composer Jonghee Kang)

One of the great things about participating in a music festival is that one directly experiences what is currently out there within the theme of the festival. That is why I always look for the opportunities to go, and this summer, I was lucky enough to go to the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium(OBFCS) held in Eugene, Oregon from June 30 to July 9.

Frankly, I had no idea what I would experience at the Symposium until I went to the registration in the morning of the first day. All the details and schedule of the Symposium were kept underground until the very first meeting. Maybe that was why I was more than stunned upon looking at the long line of people at the registration. Before going to Oregon, I imagined what it would be like there - Maybe be 10 to 20 composers (I received some group emails from the Symposium, and assumed the numbers based on them)? Or less than 10? Crazy discussions about modern music all day long (Would I be still alive then)? Concerts every night (because it is part of a “festival”)? …And here is a brief description of what happened during the 10 days: About 80 composers from undergrads to college professors participated. 4 full days of reading sessions followed by series of new music concerts. 3 days of gamelan workshops for a concert performance. Improvisation concerts around midnight. Beer and talk every night. Yes, it was intense, both physically and spiritually. But that’s somewhat expected when going to a summer camp/school/festival, and I am always excited by this sort of musically stimulating package. (Well… I guess it was up to me whether I would be sitting in all the reading sessions and concerts or having my own time in my dorm room…) Anyhow, I'm going to present my 10 day jouney to the OBFCS09 by posting pictures (a lot of them) and adding comments to them.           

June 30, the First Day


Reading sessions were held at “the Cube,” a big, squared space with very simple recording setup. You can see how high the ceiling is…

While a reading session was going on, some other participants had rehearsals in either the Beall Hall or other assigned classroom.

My works, Cube Play at 10 for solo guitar No.1 and No.2, were read in the first reading session after a short rehearsal with the players. (The pieces were read by two different guitarists.) The first session was held after the morning registration & introduction to the symposium. Gosh, I didn’t know my piece was scheduled to be read on the day, so went there without ANY preparation for presentation. (At least I could have tried a better hairdo and worn less wrinkled pants!) I’m standing next to Oren Fader, who read my second piece.

So the first meeting of readings was over, and I didn’t have to anxiously wait for my presentation any more! I enjoyed the rest of the symposium and concerts and gamelan playing, etc… This photo was taken during our first dinner at the dining room in the Barnhart Hall, where I and most of the composers (and other festival participants – there were a few choir groups) stayed during the festival. The guy sitting next to my right (picture-right, not to my right-arm side) is Justin Morell, who read my first piece. He’s a jazz guitar player, and also studies composition at the Univerisity of Oregon. After dinner, we went to the lounge in the Barnhart Hall, and enjoyed some fooseball (I googled the name of this game, and a few different spellings came up. Fusball? Fussball? Foosball?) This was my first time ever playing this game. I played terribly, but it was so much fun! Then we had another reading session at the Cube. It was around 9:30 pm when it was over. During the symposium, Dr. Robert Kyr, the director of the OBFCS, kept encouraging us to get together at a local bar to meet with other fellow composers. (But it’s not him in this picture – this is Dr. Jonathan Northrop, who’s teaching music theory at Central Connecticut State University.) We went to the 13th Street Café for the first few days, and later to the 19th Street Café. Both of them had good selection of beer, and we enjoyed drinking and talking every night. The bar was too small to have about 80 people (well, there were a few under-age students, and they couldn’t make it to the bar, so I guess the number was less than that. But still a large group) at the same time. It was crowded, but people didn’t mind standing up and drinking and talking until the bar was closed.                                

More Readings (until July 3)

    All readings and new music concerts were held at the University of Oregon. The school has a beautiful campus. I took a picture of one of the entrances. Regretfully, I didn’t take any shot of the campus. The weather was fantastic, as we can see in the picture, throughout the symposium period. A squirrel stayed still while I was taking a few pictures of him. I think Oregon squirrels are bigger than Pittsburgh squirrels. Here’s Dr. Robert Kyr. A great composer, conductor, percussionist, and educator. He was always positive about everything, and inspired us a lot with encouraging comments and creative thoughts. At the reading sessions, participants listened to the music with the corresponding scores. In this Symposium, almost everyone did a double job. All ensemble works were conducted by a few participants who also applied as conductors. Almost all of the performers were also composers. They played great. I was amazed by the level of the performances. The following four photos were also taken during the reading sessions. They show how the sessions went by.               

Three Concerts of New Music - July 4 & 5 (Plus More Concerts)

        As four days of readings were over, concerts of new music began. Works by the participants were premiered through three concerts. In addition to the participants’ works, members of the two guest ensembles, Fireworks and Beta Collide, presented their creativity with mind-blowing performances. Brian McWhorter, a Beta Collide leader, played his own arrangement of a soprano aria from Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre. He did it just as a soprano singer would do on the stage with his trumpet. His performance was totally out-of-this-world-super-AMAZING. I wish so badly that I could get a recording of this! Terry Longshore, the percussionist of the Fireworks, also featured his composition for Chinese cymbals and two different sized hi-hat cymbals. His work and performance were stunning and so inspiring. Thumbs up!! After the first new music concert, Terry, Brian, and Idit Shner (Saxophonist, and University of Oregon faculty) did an improvisation too. A lot of fun! All of us got vouchers for a few concerts of the Oregon Bach Festival. I went to three of them. The first one was the complete Brandenburg Concertos played with period instruments. The picture above was taken after the performance of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was such a refreshing and splendid show. The third concert I went to was the Messiah premier, composed by Sven-David Sandstrom, the guest composer of this year’s symposium. Another shot of the concerts. Justin Morell is introducing his own trio for saxophone, bass, and electric guitar. Along with the participants' new music, Beta Collide and Fireworks got together for a unique performance with lots of improvisations. Did you find any difference between this photo and the one above? This was hillarious – they were playing according to a composition manual created for group improvisation, and one of the works’ instruction was as follows: Start to play--> Members of the groups sharing the same name exchange their clothing completely while others are playing. --> The “members” join to play. There was the Brian, the trumpet player of Beta Collide, and another Brian, the bass player of the Fireworks… Dr. Kyr later joined the group improvisation, and gave a great speech to the audience about the concerts.                                          

"The Second Phase" - from July 6

                Dr. Kyr gave a 3 hour presentation about his music and life. He talked about two major works of his: In Praise of Music, a motet commissioned and sung by Chanticleer, and Ah Nagasaki: Ashes into Light, a choral and orchestral symphony. (He has written 12 symphonies, 3 chamber symphonies, and 3 violin concerti along with numerous chamber music and choral music, and he hasn’t reached to 60 yet.) Dr. Kyr’s presentation was part of the second phase of the symposium. The phase consisted of gamelan playing, group improvisations, late night concerts called Wild Nights Café, and meeting and talks with the guest composer, Sven-David Sandstrom. Those who wished to do improvisation had meetings and rehearsals during the day time, and did group improvisations after the Wild Nights Café concerts. Since the Café concerts started at 10:30 PM, and all of us had to move to the Collier House, which was a few minutes walk away from the Cube, the improvisation sessions always started around midnight. It was a unique experience: Dr. Kyr and Brian McWhorter opened the improvisation concerts with their performance all three nights. After them, groups from the symposium participants played with each group's own theme. While they were playing, others could go downstairs and enjoy drinks and snacks that each of us bought freely for ourselves. I  usually brought a 6-pack of beer and some chips.                          

Sven-David Sandstrom: Guest Composer/

World Premiere of His Messiah

                      Sven-David Sandstrom teaches at Indiana University. He is also a “prolific composer” who has written some 200 works. He was supposed to give a seminar about his own works, but generous enough to offer another “open dialogue” with us. In conversation, he insisted that the environment to write “complex music” (here, “complex music” means new concert music as opposed to the pop music) should be stimulated more. He also emphasized to us to compose one minute of music per day. That’s how he has been so productive. The last day of the symposium began with the open rehearsal of Sandstrom’s Messiah. I love to attend open rehearsals, because I can observe the process of how the performers make the music. That is much more interesting than just going to see a finished production. The rehearsal seemed to go off without any big problems. The composer appreciated to the conductor, Helmuth Rilling, and the performers.                                      

The Last Concert, and....Adieu

                   After attending the world premiere of Messiah at the Hult center’s Silva Hall, we moved to the Cube for the final Wild Nights Café concert. There we had the gamelan performance. (Sorry, no picture - I forgot to ask to take a picture of the performance.) The gamelan experience was truly inspiring. I love the hypnotic resonance of gamelan, and wish to have a chance to compose for gamelan and premiere it someday… About the picture above – After the Cube concert, Dr. Kyr called the assistants up to the front, and we all gave them a round of applause. All events of the symposium were held well without any problem, and we appreciated them. Dr. Kyr even made a phone call at the moment to the two other assistants who were not there, and we all sang a sweet song for them! The last “after party” at the Collier House. (There were many more people than who are present in the photo.) The 10 days of symposium were full of new music, new friends, new experiences. Everyone I talked with during the symposium agreed that the group (a.k.a. the participants) was great and we were very open to one another. Yes, we were (or, at least I was) simply happy to be there, fully indulging ourselves in the music of now, created and played by us. Since the symposium, my facebook friends were more than doubled. I made good friends at the OBFCS, and this is another great thing about going to a festival. I miss the time in Eugene a lot, and I’m not the only one missing it. It was an unforgettable experience. P.S. The sky, Oregon - I took this soon after my plane left from the Eugene Airport.