Festival brings together students, faculty, international artists

After Eric Mandat finished the first piece of his recital at the Old Baptist Foundation Recital Hall Friday, he said it still sounded good in the building 30 years after he first performed it there as part of his interview to join the School of Music.

He performed five of his clarinet compositions Friday, which ranged from lilting to abrasive, as part of the annual Outside the Box festival. Six student performers joined him for three of the pieces.

Rob Reed, a senior from Sparta studying music, performs Saturday at the opening event of the Outside the Box music series held at Old Baptist Foundation Recital Hall. Saturday’s event featured music composed by Eric Mandat, an SIU music professor, who performed his pieces with several students. The Outside the Box music festival runs until April 15. Chris Zoeller | Daily Egyptian

“Just to have the opportunity to be together with fresh minds who can think in new ways … helps keep us fresh,” he said.

Students and faculty alike will have the chance to meet and work with internationally known musicians and composers at the annual Outside the Box new music festival.

The festival, founded in 2007, features performances and workshops with new music composers from both the SIUC School of Music and elsewhere. The 10-day event runs from April 6 to 15, and all but one of the performances are free.

Visiting composers this year include Susan Botti, John Chowning and Morten Lauridsen, and artists such as soprano Lucy Shelton.

Kathleen Ginther, lecturer in the School of Music, said she founded the event as a way to concentrate the university’s work in new art music into a short period of time to draw more attention to it and raise the profile of contemporary composition.

This year’s festival took about eight months to organize, she said. And while finding visiting composers and artists was not difficult, the ensuing organizational and rehearsal work has been hectic.

“It’s also kind of insane,” she said.

With a dozen concerts scheduled, faculty and student musicians have had their hands full getting ready.

Composer-in-Residence Frank Stemper said he had to take a break from his near-constant composing to attend rehearsals, some of which he found out about minutes ahead of time, for the eight pieces he performed at concerts Saturday and Sunday.

It was the first time two of the pieces had ever been performed, and the first time he’d actually heard them himself, he said.

There was no particular process in choosing which of his pieces to perform, he said, and it all boiled down to simply what he wanted to hear.

“They’re all kind of in-your-face pieces,” he said. “The audience will have an ordeal.”

Student composers will also have the opportunity to perform their own work Tuesday at an emerging composers concert in Altgeld Hall.

Rebecca Carmack, a senior from Villa Grove studying music composition, said her piece “Songs of a Highlander” will be included in the concert. She said it was inspired by a trip to Scotland and sets three poems by Scottish poet Robert Burns.

“I like to think I covered the gist of Scottish life with death, love and drinking,” she said.

She said she’s especially excited about Lauridsen’s visits to campus, as his serene, mystical choral works are inspiration for her. And if having the chance of meeting and workshopping with him wasn’t enough, she also got to pick him up at the airport, she said.

John McCowen, a junior from Herrin studying music, said he’s most excited about computer music pioneer Chowning’s visit and attended the workshop with him Friday.

He said he also had the chance to rehearse his own composition, which he described as sounding like a sledgehammer hitting a piece of steel, with Chowning in attendance.

The seriousness with which SIUC takes new music is what made it his choice school, and events like Outside the Box give students a chance to meet major figures in the field that they would have not otherwise, McCowen said.

“It’s going to be an action-packed week,” he said.


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