Boston Conservatory at Berklee Presents 2019 New Music Festival

February 20, 2019 Madison Spahn

Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of classical music is nowhere more evident than in the school’s contemporary classical music program. Graduate students on this track explore musical influences from early 20th-century classics to electronic music, jazz, pop, experimental, and mixed media arts. Contemporary classical students alone premiere more than 150 new works per year by student composers and guest artists.

Boston’s contemporary music lovers will have a chance to experience the fruits of these students’ dedication in Boston Conservatory’s 2019 New Music Festival, running February 21 through 26. Not only will the festival celebrate seminal works by composers like Mario Davidovsky and Steve Reich, but it will also feature world-class guest artists and premiere myriad student compositions. This year, the festival is directed by Sarah Brady, Boston Conservatory associate professor of flute and contemporary music.

The 2019 New Music Festival opens on February 21 with a presentation by the Boston Conservatory Contemporary Classical Music Ensemble: contraBAND. Conducted by Brady, musicians will perform seven selections from Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms, pieces written for a combination of live instruments and pre-recorded, electronically generated sounds. Davidovsky composed Synchronisms over the course of 43 years, between 1963 and 2006, during which he won the Pulitzer Prize in music. As part of the Boston Conservatory Composers’ Recital Series, contraBAND will also premiere student compositions written in response to Davidovsky’s work.

The next day, February 22, the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble performs works by Iannis Xenakis, Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, and Olivier Messiaen, conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni. The concert, entitled “Old European Vanguard,” celebrates the mid-century avant-garde with works that were highly experimental in their time but have since become classic contemporary masterpieces. Stravinsky’s Octet and Varèse’s Octandre, both written for eight musicians, were critical works in the establishment of the 1920s neoclassicist movement, which used familiar musical forms to explore entirely new tonalities. Octandre was intended to capture the city sounds of Varèse’s native Paris, and Kaziboni describes the resulting sound as “urban chaos.” The concert also features Xenakis’ 1987 classic XAS, one of the first serious pieces to be composed for saxophone quartet.

On February 23, Boston Conservatory Choruses (Women’s Chorus, Chorale, and Conductors’ Choir) present Living Voices/Living Songs. This concert is the culmination of an exciting collaboration with Saunder Choi, a Filipino composer whose works have been performed in major concert halls around the world. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music, and returns to Boston for a six-day residency during which he will work extensively with the choral ensembles as well as composition and choral conducting students. At the concert, the choirs will perform all new works, including student compositions and Choi’s "The New Colossus," set to the famous poem found on the Statue of Liberty’s base. As Boston Conservatory faculty conductor George Case describes, “It is another time for singers and conductors to interact with living composers writing music today. This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience for our students.”

On February 24, contemporary classical performance students join guest artists from Wet Ink Ensemble, a New York City-based, cutting-edge band of composers and musicians, to perform an amalgam of works from Wet Ink’s repertoire and two premieres by student composers. Wet Ink is celebrating their 20th season together this year, and in 2018 was named “Best Classical Ensemble” by The New York Times. This performance is the culmination of a multi-day residency by Wet Ink Ensemble in which they will share their unique model of “innovation through collaboration” with Boston Conservatory students.

One of the festival’s centerpieces is the Boston Conservatory Percussion Ensemble's presentation of pioneering minimalist composer Steve Reich’s iconic work Music for 18 Musicians, co-directed by Boston Conservatory faculty members Douglas Perkins (percussion) and Vimbayi Kaziboni (conducting) on February 26. The piece, which premiered in 1976, is often described as meditative and dream-like, with the use of breath throughout the piece by both the clarinets and voices giving the music its signature structure and pulse. Performers play off each other as a collective, without a conductor, creating an experience unlike any orchestral music that came before and an unforgettable work to witness live.

The festival finishes strong with two sold-out performances of Bowie Symphonic: Blackstar on February 28 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Composer and MIT professor Evan Ziporyn’s tribute to the late David Bowie transforms his final album, Blackstar, into an avant-garde cello concerto. Boston Conservatory student musicians will join Ziporyn’s Ambient Orchestra and cello soloist Maya Beiser to celebrate Bowie’s legacy as a pioneer in contemporary American music.

Information at a Glance

Boston Conservatory Contemporary Classical
Music Ensemble: contraBAND and Composers' Recital Series

Conducted by Sarah Brady
February 21, 2019
8:00 p.m., Thursday
132 Ipswich St., Room 106, Floor 1
Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble
Conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni
February 22, 2019
8:00 p.m., Friday
132 Ipswich St., Room 106, Floor 1
Boston Conservatory Choruses
Conducted by George Case and Nathan Reiff, with Student Conductors
8:00 p.m., Saturday
8 Fenway, Seully Hall, Floor 4
Wet Ink Ensemble
February 24, 2019
8:00 p.m., Sunday
132 Ipswich St., Room 106, Floor 1
Boston Conservatory Percussion Ensemble:
Music for 18 Musicians

Conducted by Douglas Perkins and Vimbayi Kaziboni
February 26, 2019
8:00 p.m., Tuesday
Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Avenue