Wannabe Mozarts get chance at fame

By Marie-Claire Backhaus

Orchestra music brings to mind long dead middle-aged white males with unruly hair. The chance to see an orchestra play anything but Mozart, Chopin or Beethoven is a rarity. Here at the University of Calgary, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra will give students a chance to hear something different when the CPO performs a read (a practice) of students’ work.

Rarely do up-and-coming composers get to hear their work played by a full world-class orchestra; all they know is what they have written on the page and what they can imagine in their minds. Not only is this performance free to enjoy, it is also free for the student composers. The fee for an orchestra of 60 is almost impossible for new composers to afford.

This event shows a shift in the musical winds. If the orchestra sees people, such as students, enjoying and creating contemporary classical style they might start looking to the local scene to find music, following Vancouver and Winnipeg’s leads in the use of local music.

"We’re very grateful to the CPO for donating their time to this initiative," says Department of Music head Malcolm Edwards. "It’s very difficult and expensive for composers to have orchestral pieces performed and workshopped like this. Most never get the chance. The orchestra is providing our students with a rare learning experience."

All six composers are working at the University of Calgary towards a degree (one undergraduate, four working on their Masters, and one working on a Doctorate).

U of C student Keon Birney jokes about the chance to "get our music outside the protective walls of the institution."

Sonya Guha-Thakurta is a U of C graduate student, and the winner of many awards for composition is having"Piece" performed.

"It’s an unparalleled chance to see what works and what doesn’t," she said. "The composing isn’t finished until you have heard the work in a full orchestra setting."

Cameron Harbidge’s "Kraken" will be performed. David Nielsen’s piece "Aphrodite" is the first movement of a larger work called "Encounter with the Gods." Miroslav Spasov’s "…left, right, up…" is a piece for standard orchestra and an exploration of colour. Lindsay Stetner’s "Link 4" suggests the missing link for the polish composer Witold Lutóslawksi’s musical chain series, "Chains one-two-three…"

The CPO’s performance of students’ work starts March 16 at the Eckhart Grammar Centre.

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