Philip Cashian Visits, CME Performs His Compositions

Nicole Gutman, Staff Writer

From March 4–8, the Oberlin Conservatory was graced with the presence of guest composer Philip Cashian, chair of the composition department at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has studied at Cardiff University and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Also a Benjamin Britten fellow at Tanglewood, Cashian gave a presentation of his work, two master classes and an information session about studying at the Royal Academy. His visit ended with a performance of two of his pieces by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble.

On March 5, Cashian gave a presentation of his work to the combined composition studio classes. He showed two pieces: Chamber Concerto, originally commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and Piano Concerto, commissioned by the London Sinfonietta. Cashian originally wrote arrangements for the contemporary repertoire of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, who eventually asked him to write his own work. Chamber Concerto is a great introduction to his independent work, considering that it was one of his first pieces and that there are many elements in this piece that he used in some of his later work. This piece consisted of 15 distinct sections.

Later in this presentation, the students asked him how he feels about listening to his pieces when they are performed. Cashian said that he likes the compositional process, though he does not like to listen to his pieces when they are being performed. He said, “I do not like what I write.” He likes the craft of his work, but not the art itself. Some in attendance were surprised by how honest he was on his feelings toward his music. More importantly, students were interested in what he really thinks of his own music. He is not composing because he likes the sounds that he can produce. In fact, he never likes the sounds he makes at all. He composes simply because he likes to compose. He is an artist who likes making the art, but doesn’t like the art he makes.

On March 4 and 7, Cashian gave two master classes and separately held a question and answer session about studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London on March 6. At the question and answer session, Cashian spoke about the composition master’s program at the Royal Academy, which hosts numerous multimedia collaborations with other art schools and departments in the area. Each graduate student is required to compose at least four pieces each year; these projects can be a commission from the London Symphony or a musician who is interested in performing music written by composition students.

To finish off the week, the Contemporary Music Ensemble performed a concert that included two of his works: Chamber Concerto, which he played a recording of in the presentation; and the world premiere of Concerto for Cello and Strings, featuring Oberlin faculty Darrett Adkins, OC ’91, on solo cello. The ensemble — composed of eight violins, four violas, three cellos and two basses — expertly executed the most remarkable feature of Cello and Strings: the many switches between plucking the strings and bowing them in all instrumental parts.

This week was an amazing, rare opportunity for the Conservatory’s Composition students. Students learned a great deal from Cashian, and now have exposure to the workings of music graduate programs. They also got to hear a world premiere by Oberlin’s own Contemporary Music Ensemble. If an important person visits our campus, take advantage of it: Introduce yourself, get to know them, learn as much as you can from them. You can learn a lot and make an excellent contact for your future career paths.