{President's Report 2003}
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Budding composers get a big audience

The compositions of three Memorial music students shared a concert program with Mendelssohn and Mozart in April 26, at a Sinfonia Series concert performed by the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. Adam Foran, Jason Noble and Clay Puddester were in the audience and, in addition to enjoying the pieces by Mozart and Mendelssohn, they also heard chamber orchestra pieces they themselves had written as part of their participation in an innovative composition seminar they attended over the last year.

Their respective musical compositions were crafted with the guidance of professional composer and music school professor Dr. Clark Ross, who led the seminar. The seminar was the first of its kind at Memorial. and possibly the first time that a Canadian professional orchestra has sponsored the creation of new works by three students and agreed to play them as part of a regular concert series, sight unseen. The result, according to both the audience and the musicians involved, seems to have been an unqualified success.

Dr. Ross said that the process of preparing a score they knew would be played added a dimension to his students' growth as composers.

“Composing the music for the Sinfonia Series was perhaps the most important exercise they have done,” he told the Gazette. “It's one thing to play your music back to a teacher, another to have it played publicly. They had all year to prepare for this and do as good a job as they could do. They had to learn the detail work required to write music for a large number of instruments.”

Dr. Peter Gardner, the symphony conductor and recipient of an honorary doctorate from Memorial, noted that the arrangement that made it possible for student work to be featured at a Sinfonia Series concert grew out of the close connection the School of Music has with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.

“We have a close and successful partnership with the music school,” Dr. Gardner said. “This sort of opportunity will really give our students a leg up. Now all three have experience in the act of having a piece they composed played publicly, similar to the essential experience that soloists and performers have when they reach graduate school.”

The three composers were chosen by Dr. Ross and Dr. Tom Gordon, director of Memorial's School of Music. The three had to compose within a set of parameters, set out by Dr. Gardner, outlining the kind of music (it had to be scored for chamber orchestra with specific instrumentation) and length (six to eight minutes).

Clay Puddester, a fourth-year music major who plans to continue his studies in a graduate composition program at the University of Toronto next year, said that, at its simplest, the challenge was producing an interesting and enjoyable work.

“The challenge for all of us was to create an expansive, six to eight minute piece that would keep people's attention.”

He also noted that the composition seminar was a learning experience par excellence. “Hearing our pieces played was enjoyable and it's not often that a young composer hears his music played by an orchestra,” he said. “This concert was a great motivator for all of us.”

Mr. Puddester's piece was titled And There Were Gardens Bright With Sinuous Rills, a line from the Coleridge poem Kubla Kahn. All three pieces were recorded and were introduced by a recorded message by the composer. Dr. Ross also delivered a message to the capacity audience at the Cook Recital Hall. Adam Foran's piece was titled Saidin, and Jason Noble's piece was titled Prelude to the Trial of Socrates.

The student compositions were framed within two works, one by Mendelssohn, and one by Mozart. Dr. Gardner said the concert program was designed to highlight the point that these two greats had composed music when they were very astonishingly young, Mendelssohn was 12 and Mozart was 16 when they each composed the pieces featured at Saturday's concert. Dr. Gardner said that the musical community, either orchestras or audiences, needs to encourage composition.

“It is important for professional orchestras to play music of our time,” Dr. Gardner explained. “The classics are important, but the music we designate as classical was the popular music of its day too. This idea is supported by having a professional orchestra play student compositions. We can't keep music alive if we don't encourage new works, new compositions. This concert was a success and I can see that the composers are coming out of the shadows, as it were, and are being seen. This will hopefully lead to more student interest in composition,”he said.

“The talent level in composition here in Newfoundland is tremendous,” Dr. Ross added. “I believe that if we could continue to create opportunities like these for student composers and encourage them in our undergraduate program, Newfoundland could emerge as one of the leading areas in the country for composition.”

Please see the Audio Section of this report for recordings.