The University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music offers a few recitals each semester called “A View from the Edge.” These free concerts showcase original works of student composers and give audiences a look over the precipice of current compositional techniques.

The first of this season’s student composition recitals is at 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26 in CCM’s Cohen Family Studio Theater. The concert program includes a set of three songs for soprano and piano inspired by the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, a freshman composer’s first piano sonata and How I Lost My Voice, a piece for flute and guitar that a student wrote in response to the Nov. 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

Daniel Harrison

Daniel Harrison.

Daniel Harrison, a third-year doctoral candidate studying music composition, is one of the student coordinators for this installment of “A View from the Edge.” CCM graduate student Alexandra Doyle got in touch with Harrison to get a preview of the upcoming recital.

Can you tell me a bit about “A View from the Edge” and the goals of these recitals?
The “View From The Edge” series was created as a way to showcase the newest compositions from the students in the CCM composition studio. At these concerts, you will hear premieres of chamber music, which range from solos to small ensembles and occasionally works that incorporate electronics. One of the outstanding characteristics of our composition studio is how diverse all of our compositional voices are; everyone has something different to say and their own way of saying it.

What’s it like to work with student performers to hone your pieces? Have you found that you make a significant amount of changes after rehearsals have begun?
Working with other students is great! I love it when there is a sense that we, as a team, are collaborating together to create an experience for a concert-goer. As a composer, I view my role in this as only a third of the equation; the audience and performer make up the other two thirds. I have gotten advice from performers that has led to some significant revisions, both in terms of idiomatic treatment of the instruments and notional choices.

Which three pieces on the program stand out to you, and why?
One of the three pieces on the concert that I’m really looking forward to hearing is Phillip Robert‘s Her em Iteru, which is a set of three songs for soprano and piano based on texts found in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. Another is our incoming freshman composer Maksym Mahlay‘s first piano sonata, which looks like a fiery and virtuosic piece for solo piano. It’s also worth noting that the composer himself will be performing the piece. Lastly, my piece for flute and guitar, How I Lost My Voice, will be premiered at the recital. This piece attempts to capture the feeling of not being able to express oneself vocally and contains extended techniques in the flute and guitar that give the illusion of a voice becoming hoarse and transparent.

Did a personal experience inspire your work, How I Lost My Voice?
While I was composing this piece, the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris attacks occurred. After the initial shock, I vividly recall feeling this wave of absolute hopelessness. What could I do? As someone whose profession is to write music, in a country thousands of miles away and separated from France by an ocean, ‘not much’ is as a gross understatement. This event radically refocused my perspective and reframed the project I was working on for a reading session, which was a simple, short piece for flute and guitar.

I began asking what purpose music served in response to tragedy. I imagined that even if I screamed until I lost my voice, there was nothing that I could do to undo what happened. My only recourse was to respond through music well after the fact.

What should people who haven’t experienced much new music expect if they come to “A View from the Edge”?
I would come in to these concerts with an open mind. Our composition studio is filled with students who have different aesthetics. No two recitals will offer the same sounds. One bit of advice that I would offer to someone who is looking to experience a new music concert for the first time is to listen to the music in the same way one would taste a new dish­ – just be open to the experience!

The first “A View from the Edge” recital is at 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26 in CCM’s Cohen Family Studio Theater. Composition students will have another opportunity to showcase their new works in the second concert at 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31 in Patricia Corbett Theater.

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Story by CCM graduate student Alexandra Doyle

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