Composition Majors Present Cumulative Work

Colin Roshak, Staff Writer

Musicians often fill Warner Concert Hall with classical and romantic masterpieces. Occasionally, the Contemporary Music Ensemble will offer some variety, but very rarely is Warner home to a concert of completely original and truly contemporary works. This past Wednesday, members of the Oberlin community were treated to a welcome change of pace: the second of three year-end concerts featuring newly composed pieces by Conservatory Composition majors. While the performances adhered to very traditional instrumentation, the music that was presented was far from normal.


First on the program was a piece for solo piano titled Bear. The piece, written by Conservatory first-year Gabriel Hawes and performed by double-degree senior Daniel Hautzinger, began triumphantly with fortissimo major chords sustained until the sound had almost completely died away. Delicate dissonances at the highest range of the piano contrasted the strong opening chords. Hautzinger paced the music expertly, allowing for high dissonances to be heard above the low bass chords before continuing. Punctuated by long, anticipation-filled silences, the piece alternated between thick sonorities and clearer textures. The original opening choral motif recurred many times throughout the piece, interlaced with shorter ideas derived from the same musical phrasing and melodic ideas balanced on top. The opening musical gesture was reiterated a final time at the end of the piece. Hautzinger held the final resounding chord until the sound had completely dissipated.


The next piece on the program, How about u, darling?, by Conservatory junior Greg Manuel, offered a stark contrast to the slow pace and thick texture of Bear. Political and social commentary charged the piece, which was written for voice and piano, and expertly performed by College sophomore Jourdan Lewanda and doubledegree senior John Etsell, respectively. The libretto for the piece included subjects such as God, sexuality and societal boundaries. The piece called for a speech-like vocal technique, often called sprechstimme, highlighting the text rather than melody or harmony. The fairly simple piano part offered a strong foundation which supported the text without inhibiting the vocals. The music undulated with a flowing eighthnote pulse in the piano and sporadic interruptions in the vocals. Instead of centering the voice part around melodic ideas and specific pitches, Manuel instead decided to emphasize certain groups of words and letters in different sections. The words “simple” and “similar” were often repeated, mirroring the simple piano accompaniment. Etsell played with sensitivity and nuance, giving Lewanda room to shape and contour each phrase. Lewanda occasionally gestured with her hands or made certain facial expressions, but for the most part, she let the music and text speak for itself. Lewanda made subtle changes in her demeanor and vocal inflection throughout, adding to the hazy, atmospheric feel of the piece and giving the audience a strong sense of musical direction.


The concert concluded with an inspiring performance of Come back to my body by Geoffrey King, OC ’14. Violist and Conservatory junior Daniel Orsen and Hautzinger flawlessly maneuvered the changing moods of the piece. It began with strong chords in the piano and a ferocious technical passage in the viola. The viola line charged ahead; Orsen played with intention, drive and unparalleled technical precision. Underneath the viola line, the piano played long sustained chords that acted as a foundation for the virtuosic viola line. Moments of sheer calamity were juxtaposed by tender interludes in which Orsen played delicate pizzicatos and Hautzinger wove descending motifs in and out of the transparent soundscape. After a quasi-cadenza that Orsen played with flawless technique and musical intention, Hautzinger slowly joined back in. The music swelled and crescendoed before dying away and building again one more time. At last, a dramatic cut-off at the peak of the final crescendo ended the piece. Hautzinger and Orsen played with flexibility and delicacy and breathed great energy and life into the piece.


Although short, the recital offered three distinct and well-crafted pieces of varying styles. The final concert of the Composition major series is on April 22nd, and if it’s half as engaging and well-executed as this one, it should be a rousing success.