Sensory Percussion: Q&A with Alumnus Ben Sloan on His Work with The National

Ben Sloan is a musician, producer and teacher who is passionate about making music accessible to all. Last year People’s Liberty awarded the CCM alumnus with a $10,000 grant to build Percussion Park in East Price Hill. This year he’s experimenting with sensory percussion, which led to a performance as Artist-in-Residence at The National’s Homecoming Music Festival in April and a short tour with the rock band.

Ben Sloan. Photo by Ryan Back.

Ben Sloan. Photo by Ryan Back.

Sloan (BM Jazz Studies, 2011) is grateful for the opportunity to tour with The National and thinks they will work together again in the future. He’s now on a two-week tour with local ensemble A Delicate Motor, which releases a new album Fellover My Own on June 29. Later this summer, Sloan will travel to Berlin to participate in an experimental music festival called PEOPLE.

When he isn’t performing, Sloan works as a teaching artist at MYCincinnati, an after school youth orchestra program directed by CCM alumnus Eddy Kwon (BM Jazz Studies, 2011). He teaches the pre-orchestra students, ages 5-10, in a class that combines singing, movement and percussion.

We caught up with the busy alumnus to talk about his work with sensory percussion and his experience with The National.

What is sensory percussion? When did you start working it?
Sensory Percussion is amazing, and that’s about 90% of what you need to know. It was developed by Sunhouse, and though it’s making the rounds with musicians all over, it is still a relatively new technology. Sensory Percussion is essentially a collection of sensors (you can use up to four), which attach to a drum. Using a corresponding software, the sensors analyze the vibrations of the drum to determine where the player is hitting, i.e. the center, the rim, the shell, the edge, etc.

It’s up to the player to “teach” the sensors how and where one prefers to hit the drum — it is a very individualized system. This “mapping” of the drum allows the player to specifically pinpoint quadrants of the drum and assign samples, midi data, effects and a host of other functions. The result is a totally dynamic and fluid interplay between electronic, sample-based sound and acoustic drumming. I’ve had the sensors for about a year now, and over the past few months I’ve been really digging into them. They are so powerful, it’s incredible. I think the open ended nature of the software, makes the sensors so compelling. No one really sounds the same, because it’s up to the player to set the musical palette and craft the sounds.

How do you incorporate sensory percussion in your work with music groups and local projects?
Since they are still a bit new, I haven’t fully utilized them with any projects other than my own. For the longest time I sort of felt that the music I created through recording and manipulating samples wouldn’t or couldn’t be realized in a live context, but with the sensors, I can take a lot of that material and produce it live, or even embellish the sound. They are just really dynamic instruments.

I’ve brought them to MYCincinnati for our students to use, but because this technology is so new and exciting to play it makes normal drums less enticing. I have to win them back over by playing something really fast or loud — it only kind of works.

You also brought this percussion style to the National’s Homecoming Festival. How did you get involved in the festival?
I ended up using sensory percussion pretty heavily at Homecoming. I was working with A Delicate Motor ensemble to write a set of new music, but I knew I wanted to do something entirely on my own, which was impetus for writing some music with the sensors. The process was an endless tweaking of a sound palette until I could improvise an entire piece. From those improvisations, I would distill whatever I thought was good, and cut out the rest.

I got involved with the festival through Bryan Devendorf, drummer of The National. He’s always been inviting, and over the years we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. He reached out to meet while I was touring with the band WHY? and since then we’ve stayed in touch. He asked if I would be interested in being this year’s artist-in-residence at the Homecoming Music Festival, something they hadn’t done in the past, and I said ‘yes, like duh, of course!’

What was performing with The National at the festival like? Any plans to reconnect with The National in the future?
It was affirming. I spend a lot of time being critical of my work and my abilities, but when artists on that level invite me to play, it’s feels like a major validation of the hours put in. It’s also time to step up and not look like a doofus on stage! I mean, I totally ‘look’ like a doofus, cause that’s how drummers look when they play, but I think it sounded good.

Ben Sloan at The National's Homecoming Festival in April 2018.

Ben Sloan at The National’s Homecoming Festival in April 2018.

After the Sunday night show, The National invited me out for a short tour, so I ended up hopping on the bus for a few days with them. It was a treat to spend some time with the band, and see everything behind the scenes — touring on that scale is crazy! They had such a big crew, all of whom were kind and patient. I’m still reflecting on it all. I’m just grateful. I’m not sure how or when, but I think we will work together again!

What else are you working on right now?
A Delicate Motor started a two-week tour on June 18. We have a lot of momentum from the festival, and the record Fellover My Own is due to be released on Sofaburn later this month. Our album release is June 29 at Northside Tavern. I’m trying to invest as much time in my solo project as possible. It’s still so fresh, but I hope to put out an EP in the coming months.

Later this summer, Price Hill Will/MYCincinnati, in collaboration with The Contemporary Arts Center is hosting the third annual Price Hill Creative Community Festival, which is an ever-evolving and beautiful festival. Each year we host artists-in-residence to work collaboratively with MYC students for two very intense weeks. Along with the artists in residence, the festival curates a huge array of great performers to come do their thing. This year we are hosting cellist and composer Tomeka Reid, who has cultivated some powerful momentum in the Chicago improvisation and jazz scene. I strongly encourage you to go check her work immediately! We also have Josiah Wolf (CCM alum), multi-disciplinary arts collective Collaborative, Jarrod Cann and Paradox Teatro. The full list of artists, and their work is listed online at creativecommunityfestival.org/artists.

That Price Hill Creative Community Festival usually consumes me in the best possible way. It’s happening on August 3-4, the performances are unique and sometimes challenging, it’s all ages, we have great local food and admission completely free!

 

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International Trombone Festival Features Performances by CCM Alumni

CCM alumni are preparing to take over that stages at the International Trombone Festival, which features performances and recitals from a number of alums and professor Tim Anderson. Hosted at the University of Iowa, the festival runs July 11-14, 2018.

The Elysian Trombone Consort. From left to right, Chad Arnow, Nate Silar, Brett Shuster and Timothy Anderson.

The Elysian Trombone Consort. From left to right, Chad Arnow, Nate Silar, Brett Shuster and Timothy Anderson.

The festival features a performance by the Elysian Trombone Consort, which includes Nate Siler (DMA Trombone, 2012), Chad Arnow (BM Trombone, 1997; MM Trombone, 1999; DMA Trombone, 2014), Anderson and Brett Shuster. The quartet will give a new music recital at 1:30 p.m. on July 11 at the festival.

Devoted to the development of trombone repertoire, the Elysian Trombone Consort frequently premieres and performs new works including the compositions of David Fetter, Rodney Oakes, Frank Gulino and John Siler. The group also premiered John Crouch’s Concerto for Four Trombones and Wind Ensemble with the Peabody Wind Ensemble and previously with the CCM Wind Symphony and Wind Ensemble in 2012.

On the second day of the International Trombone Festival, alumnus Russ Zokaites (MM Trombone, 2010; DMA Trombone, 2017) presents a lecture on commissioning new music at 9 a.m. and a recital of new works for bass trombone at 11:30 a.m.

Russ Zokaites.

Russ Zokaites.

Zokaites will be assisted by alumna Brianna Matzke (MM Piano Performance, 2011; DMA Piano Performance, 2014) and Anderson. His recital features works by Will Timmons (MM Trombone Performance, 2009), Inez McComas (DMA Composition, 2009) and Carrie Magin (MM Composition, 2010; DMA Composition, 2013).

“I aim to increase appreciation for classical music through education and performance,” Zokaites says. “By creating a community surrounding musical pursuits, we can make music for everyone. Collaboration creates energy and excitement. This enthusiasm is contagious and encourages curiosity in audience members. We create for them.”

Zokaites has commissioned and premiered 19 works that utilize the bass trombone, and he has performed new music at the American Trombone Workshop, the International Horn Symposium, National Sawdust and the ArtSeedZ Festival in the Netherlands. He was a fellow at the 2012 Alessi Seminar and is an artist for Lätzsch custom trombones.

The International Trombone Association, whose mission is to promote the trombone and all trombone-related activities around the world, hosts the annual International Trombone Festival at a different university each year. In addition to the festival, the I.T.A. also produces a quarterly magazine, publishes sheet music, commissions new works for trombone and holds competitions, along with other activities. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

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CCM Sound Design Alumnus Wins Daytime Emmy for Disney’s Broadway Hits Broadcast

Theatre will always be Matt Kraus’ first love, but the CCM alumnus has made a name for himself by taking on diverse sound design opportunities in multiple mediums. He’s worked on theatrical productions with Liza Minelli and Kristen Chenoweth, and has also been involved in many live telecasts such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar live in concert.

Most recently, Kraus (BFA Sound Design, 2001) won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing for his work on the TV broadcast of Disney’s Broadway Hits at Royal Albert Hall. Directed by Jeff Lee, the production brought well-known Disney artists and beloved hits to the London stage.

The broadcast featured the BBC orchestra, led by Keith Lockhart, and nine Broadway vocalists including CCM alums Alton Fitzgerald (BFA Musical Theatre, 1986) and Ashley Brown (BFA Musical Theatre, 2004). It also included the West End cast of Aladdin, a children’s choir of 100 singers and award-winning composer Alan Menken. Kraus has worked on similar shows with Disney over the years but says that this production was much larger.

“The logistics were daunting, as we were loading into the iconic venue and performing all in the same day,” he remembers. “We prepared for months to make sure that once we arrived at Royal Albert Hall, we would have all the tools at hand that we’d need to do the show.”

“The hardest part was keeping the audio team on track to make sure that we kept up with the tight schedule and quality of the audio. All that while getting nine primary vocalists and a world-renowned orchestra comfortable and happy with the sound.”

Disney’s Broadway Hits at Royal Albert Hall aired to much acclaim internationally on SKY TV, Broadway HD and BBC Radio. Kraus says he has enjoyed his work with Disney Theatrical because the productions always bring together a talented team of artists, musicians and directors.

Kraus has worked on many live telecasts, including Macy’s July 4th Fireworks, Tony Bennet’s 90th Birthday Celebration at Radio City, The Wiz, Peter Pan, The Sound of Music and the 2016 International Jazz Day broadcast live from the White House. He has also been the audio coordinator on remote shoots of the Tonight Show, which has filmed all over the country. He’s worked on hundreds of high-profile events like iHeart Radio’s annual Music Festival in Las Vegas, a Gucci/H&M Fashion Show featuring Prince and Nicki Minaj, and Elton John’s 60th Birthday Celebration at St. John the Divine.

Kraus is now a nationally-known sound designer, but he still fondly remembers his time as a student at CCM. He recalls countless late nights drafting and finishing CCM tech rehearsals and finishing the long days with “a milkshake at UDF and a high five.” He credits CCM with molding him into the sound designer he is today.

“Current students should be open to all kinds of opportunities that may come their way,” Kraus advises. “It’s normal to be focused on one medium or design aspect, but there are so many rewards to becoming a well-rounded artist with diversified projects.”

“Theatre will always be my first love, but I’ve had some really amazing experiences working on concerts, live events and television.”

Learn more about CCM Sound Design at ccm.uc.edu/theatre/tdp/sound.

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CCM Alumni in 5 Tony-Nominated Productions

Update: Congratulations to CCM alumnus Stephen Flaherty (BM Composition, 1982), who wrote the music for Once On This Island — winner of the 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical! Alysha Deslorieux (BFA Musical Theatre, 2012) plays the role of Andrea in the musical and Chris Fenwick (BM Piano, 2001) is the music supervisor.

Tony Awards LogoCCM alumni are involved in at least five productions that have been nominated in the 2018 Tony Awards, which air live on CBS at 8/7 central on Sunday, June 10.

John Riddle (BFA Musical Theatre, 2012) stars as Hans in Disney’s Frozen, the Broadway installment based off the hit animated feature film. Noah Ricketts (BFA Musical Theatre, 2014) also performs in the Frozen‘s ensemble. The musical has received three Tony nominations.

Joe Medeiros (BFA Musical Theatre, 2006) is in the ensemble for Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, which received six Tony nominations.

Christine Cornish Smith (BFA Musical Theatre, 2013) is in the ensemble of the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, which received 10 Tony nominations.

Alysha Deslorieux (BFA Musical Theatre, 2012) plays the role of Andrea in the Broadway revival of Once On This Island, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards. The musical features music by CCM alumnus Stephen Flaherty (BM Composition, 1982) with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and alumnus Chris Fenwick (BM Piano, 2001) is the music supervisor.

Nick Belton (BFA Musical Theatre, 2002), Garrett Hawe (BFA Musical Theatre, 2009) and Kelly McCormick (MM Theatre Performance and Voice, 1996) are ensemble members in the Broadway revival of Carousel, which received 11 Tony nominations. Belton is also the understudy for the leading role of Billy Bigelow and McCormick is the understudy for the role of Mrs. Mullin.

The Tony Awards, hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, will be broadcast live on CBS at 8/7 central on Sunday, June 10. Find out more by visiting tonyawards.com.

Are you a CCM alum with news? Stay in touch by sharing your story with us!

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CCM Alumnus Marcus Shields Returns As Visiting Assistant Professor of Opera Directing

UC College-Conservatory of Music Interim Dean bruce d. mcclung has announced the appointment of CCM alumnus Marcus Shields (MM, 2015; AD, 2017) to the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Opera Directing. Shields’ appointment will officially begin on Aug. 15, 2018.

Shields is a New York City-based director who specializes in the presentation and performance of classical music and opera. His experience ranges from installation/performance art to fully produced theatre, blending his artistry as a pianist, singer, visual artist and director into works that probe the boundaries of genre.

He has served on the directing staff of the Lyric Opera Chicago, Atlanta Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Wolf Trap Opera and the Curtis Institute of Music. Directing credits include La Vida Breve with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and Northern Kentucky University School of the Arts, and a touring production of The Bolcom Cabaret with engagements at the Neue Galerie in New York and the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

Recently, Shields directed Bernstein’s Mass at Cincinnati’s May Festival, which attracted a sold-out crowd at Music Hall. At CCM he directed a semi-staged production of Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake and the 2017 Mainstage Opera production of Mozart’s Idomeneo, which was praised by arts reporter Janelle Gelfand as “striking” and a “rare treat.” In the fall of 2018, Shields will direct Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at New York City’s Madison Theater.

Recipient of the 2018 Stage Directing Fellowship at San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program, Shields holds a Master of Music degree in Voice and an Artist Diploma degree in Opera Direction from CCM. In 2017 he was a recipient of the Drama League Opera Directing Fellowship in conjunction with the Metropolitan Opera and Wolf Trap Opera.

On the announcement of Shield’s appointment, mcclung commented:

“CCM opera and voice students will benefit from Shields’ expertise as an opera director, visual artist and diction coach. His experience at San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program, Atlanta Opera and Chicago’s Lyric Opera promises to enrich CCM’s renowned opera program, ranked third in the country according to the most recent U.S. News and World Report ranking. I am grateful to the Search Committee Chairs Alan Yaffe and Robin Guarino for their collaborative effort on this successful search.”

Please join us in welcoming Marcus Shields to the CCM family!

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Stanley E. Romanstein Named Dean of University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

An accomplished leader in education and the arts as well as a UC alumnus, Romanstein’s appointment follows a national search for CCM’s next dean.

Kristi A. Nelson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Cincinnati, today announced the appointment of Stanley E. Romanstein, PhD, as Dean of the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). Romanstein’s appointment becomes effective July 1, 2018, pending approval of the University’s Board of Trustees.

“I am delighted to welcome Stanley Romanstein back to his alma mater as Dean of UC’s College-Conservatory of Music,” said Nelson. “He is an outstanding organizational leader, entrepreneur and scholar, in addition to being a proud UC alumnus. I was most impressed with his passion for arts advocacy, his engaging interpersonal skills, and his forward-thinking and student-centric approach to education.”

Romanstein is an accomplished nonprofit executive with 22 years of leadership and management experience in education and the arts. He comes to CCM from Georgia State University’s Creative Media Institute, where he has served as a professor of practice/music and the arts for the past four years. He also serves as a principal at BLJackson Associates, a consulting firm that works with arts, humanities and education-focused nonprofits across the country. Romanstein was previously President and CEO of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, President and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center, Director of Development at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Executive Director of the Baltimore School for the Arts and Baltimore School for the Arts Foundation, and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Music at St. Lawrence University.

“I have firsthand knowledge of CCM’s excellence in music and arts education and I am a proud beneficiary of those high standards. I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute to my alma mater’s continued success as its next dean,” said Romanstein. “CCM’s reputation as a leading performing and media arts school is 150 years strong, and that reputation continues to grow thanks to the talents and dedication of its faculty, staff, alumni, donors, volunteers and community partners. Working together, we will continue to nurture the talents of our students and inspire future generations of artists, teachers, creative thinkers, innovative problem-solvers and media-savvy arts entrepreneurs.”

Romanstein continued, “I have found ideal partners in President Pinto and Provost Nelson and I look forward to working with them to build on CCM’s history and successes while advancing CCM’s role within the university’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here.”

Romanstein’s appointment follows a national search begun in fall 2017. The search was led by the UC Provost Office and chaired by Greer Glazer, Dean of the College of Nursing.

Nelson expressed her gratitude to bruce mcclung, who has served as CCM’s interim dean since July 2016. “I would like to acknowledge the outstanding service of Dean mcclung,” said Nelson. “UC owes mcclung a huge debt of gratitude for his leadership during the past two academic years, culminating with CCM’s 150th anniversary celebration.”

About Stanley E. Romanstein
Stanley E. Romanstein, PhD, brings to his new role at CCM extensive experience as a visionary leader, entrepreneurial strategist, engaging communicator, passionate fundraiser and successful manager.

In November of 2014, Romanstein began his tenure as professor of practice/music and the arts at Georgia State University’s Creative Media Institute, where his work focused on building music industry collaborations. During this time, he also served as a principal at BLJackson Associates, a consulting firm based in Atlanta that works with arts, humanities and education-focused nonprofits across the country. The firm creates and implements tailored solutions to challenges in organizational strategy, governance and development/ fundraising.

Romanstein has 22 years of leadership and management experience in education and the arts. As President and CEO of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (2010-14), he strengthened the orchestra’s connection to the community through expanded concert offerings and a wide range of impactful education offerings. He also created and implemented a new business model that reversed a 12-year history of financial loss and positioned the orchestra for long-term sustainability and artistic achievement.

As President and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center (2001-10), Romanstein transformed the center from a small organization with a local focus to a highly regarded regional and national leader in its field. He also created and distributed acclaimed new media; this included a collection of four Somali folk tales taken from oral tradition and written down for the very first time, as well as an Emmy Award-winning documentary, Iron Range: Minnesota Building America.

Romanstein proved to be an enthusiastic and productive fundraiser at the Minnesota Humanities Center, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum and the Baltimore School of the Arts. He attracted new local, regional and national funding to support the center’s $4 million annual budget, including support from the Minnesota State Legislature by establishing partnerships with the state’s four ethnic councils: American Indian, African American, Latino and Asian. As Director of Development at the University of Minnesota’s Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (2000-01), Romanstein led what was, at the time, the highest grossing annual fund drive while laying the groundwork for the museum’s successful capital campaign. As Director of Baltimore School for the Arts (1996-2000), Romanstein positioned the school for a successful capital campaign as well as a facility renovation and expansion.

From 1987-96, Romanstein served as an associate professor and chair of the music department at St. Lawrence University, a highly selective liberal arts institution in New York. He refocused the department’s traditional music curriculum to emphasize interdisciplinary and multicultural perspectives and created meaningful connections with departments and colleagues across the campus.

Romanstein earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree, cum laude, from Carson-Newman College in 1976. He then came to CCM to earn a Master of Music in Choral Conducting in 1980 and a PhD in Music in 1990. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Israel in 1985-86 and in Japan in November-December 1998.

About the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Declared “one of the nation’s leading conservatories” by the New York Times, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) is a preeminent institution for the performing and media arts. The school’s educational roots date back to 1867, and a solid, visionary instruction has been at its core since that time.

CCM offers nine degree types (BA, BM, BFA, MFA, MM, MA, AD, DMA, PhD) in nearly 120 possible majors. The synergy created by housing CCM within a comprehensive public university gives the college its unique character and defines its objective: to educate and inspire the whole artist and scholar for positions on the world’s stage.

CCM’s world-class facilities provide a highly creative and multidisciplinary artistic environment. In 2017, the college completed a $15-million renovation of its major performance spaces, ensuring that CCM’s facilities remain state-of-the-art.

The school’s roster of eminent faculty regularly receives distinguished honors for creative and scholarly work, and its alumni have achieved notable success in the performing and media arts. More than 150 internationally recognized faculty members work with students from around the world, specializing in the areas of:

  • Composition/Musicology/Theory,
  • Electronic Media,
  • Ensembles and Conducting (Choral Studies, Commercial Music Production, Jazz Studies, Orchestral Studies and Wind Studies),
  • Keyboard Studies (Harpsichord, Organ and Piano),
  • Music Education,
  • Performance Studies (Strings, Voice and Woodwinds/Brass/Percussion) and
  • Theatre Arts, Production and Arts Administration (Acting, Arts Administration, Dance, Musical Theatre, Opera and Theatre Design and Production).

The largest single source of performing arts events in the state of Ohio, CCM presents nearly 1,000 major public performances each year, ranging from faculty and guest artist concerts to fully supported acting, dance, musical theatre and opera productions.

CCM is an accredited institution of the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD), the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST), as well as a member of the University/ Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA).

Learn more by visiting http://ccm.uc.edu.

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New Work by Professor Douglas Knehans Premieres at New York Opera Fest

It’s been an exciting and busy year for CCM Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar Douglas Knehans, a recent winner of the Ohio Arts Council’s 2018 Individual Excellence Award.

His most recent album Unfinished Earth, released on April 6, has already won five international awards including best classical album at the spring 2018 Clouzine International Music Awards, best contemporary classical album at the Independent Music Awards and three silver medals at the Global Music Awards.

Now, Knehans is preparing for the world premiere of his operatic monodrama Backwards from Winter during the New York Opera Fest. Directed by CCM alumna Jennifer Williams (AD Opera Stage Directing, 2012), the work premieres this Friday, May 25, 2018, presented by the Center for Contemporary Opera at Symphony Space.

With a libretto by Juanita Rockwell, Backwards from Winter explores a single woman’s reflection on love and grief after she loses her partner in an automobile crash. It uses live voice, live electronic/computer music and video streams to trace the unnamed woman’s past year with her beloved.

“We tell a story of love and loss, though do so in a way that constantly asks questions rather than gives answers,” Knehans says. “We follow the inception and ultimate tragic demise of a relationship but told in a reverse chronology and linked to a reverse cycling of the seasons — Backwards from Winter.”

Knehans and Rockwell began collaborating on Backwards from Winter in 2010. He completed the composition in 2013, using only the resources of electric cello, electronically processed soprano voice and computerized sound. Knehans says the cellist will also sing, hum and intone words throughout the production, adding an extra layer of dramatic friction to the music.

“Douglas is a truly interdisciplinary artist,” says Williams. “Backwards from Winter, like much of his work, brings together modern technology and timeless lyricism. His score puts a variety of musical styles and compositional techniques in conversation with each other.”

“He is a composer who is genuinely interested in the ideas of the artists performing his work. Working with him is a very collaborative and adventurous experience.”

Williams makes her New York directorial debut with the premiere of Backwards from Winter. The production features a set designed by CCM alumnus Ryan Howell (MFA Stage Design, 2013) and video projections created by Yee Eun Nam.

“A stark, dramatic Noh-like approach to stage will be used,” says Knehans, comparing Backwards from Winter’s staging to the Noh traditional Japanese theatrical form. “This element will also permeate the symbiotic lighting, set design and video creation to evoke the external natural world that stands as a counterpoint to the rich internal questions asked by the protagonist and the music.”

The video projections represent the character’s emotional process as she confronts her grief. The woman always initiates the images seen in the projections, Williams adds. The set is composed of car debris and white, ashen boxes that represent the compartments of her memory.

“She opens one – the inside is a vibrant color, different from the rest of the world of the set – and a sapling tree grows out of it, or a gust of leaves blows out of it,” Williams says describing how the set interacts with the video projections. “The videos are an expressive extension of her action.”

Williams says she brings a feminist perspective and an interest in new technology to the productions she directs. When she first came to opera, she didn’t like how the women were nearly always victims, so she works to dig deeper into the music and underlying story elements to present women as empowered and in control of their own destinies.

Other directors have chosen to invent a husband character as a looming presence in Backwards from Winter, but Williams says the woman’s conflict isn’t with her deceased partner — it is with her own grief. Additionally, the libretto for Backwards from Winter doesn’t specify that the woman’s lost love was male.

“I wanted to avoid inventing a husband character to keep the story inclusive,” Williams says. “I want everyone in the audience to be able to see themselves and their own experience in the story. A more expressive and less traditional, cinematic approach to video design leaves space for that — it invites more perspectives into the story.”

Knehans is very proud and excited that Backwards from Winter will premiere at New York Opera Fest this Friday, May 25. There will also be a new production of the monodrama presented at the Dark Mofo Festival in Australia on June 20-23.

Douglas Knehans.

Douglas Knehans. Photo by Tina Gutierrez.

About Douglas Knehans
Douglas Knehans has received awards from the American Music Center, the NEA, the Australia Council Performing Arts Board, Yale University, the MacDowell Colony, Opera Australia, The Cannes Film Festival, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, The National Symphony Orchestra, The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Meet the Composer and a host of others.

His music has been praised by the Washington Post as “beautiful,” by the Miami Herald as “wildly inventive,” by the Australian as “brilliantly catchy and eerily bright” and by Fanfare Magazine as “…effective…incisive… and hauntingly beautiful.”

Knehans’ music is available on ERM Media, Crystal Records, Move Records, New World Records and ABLAZE Records. His full biography is available online at douglasknehans.com.

For more information on CCM’s Division of Composition, Musicology and Theory visit ccm.uc.edu/music/cmt.

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