New music delights at February festival

The 2006 Santa Clara New Music Festival, featuring Chen Li, was a hit.

I-Lan Lin, a member of the Firebird Youth Chinese Orchestra, plays the Chinese pipa during SCU’s New Music Festival. Photo: courtesy of Taylor Alexander

Some people came to hear the Chinese pipa, some for the stringed gu-zheng, others for the lively accordion. But all came for the 2006 Santa Clara New Music Festival, Feb. 1-4, featuring guest composer Chen Yi. Other highlights included a piece by returning 2003 festival guest composer Alvin Singleton for baritone, harp, percussion, accordion, and string orchestra, which was commissioned and sung by Thomas Buckner ’64; and a selection for piano and electronics by Samuel Pluta ’01, commissioned by Teresa McCollough, associate professor of music at SCU and director of the festival.

The world-renowned Chen was chosen as festival composer because of her unique blending of Western and Eastern instruments and sounds. “I knew that many students would not be familiar with most of those Chinese instruments. So I thought it would be interesting for them to see how these instruments sound and how they can be combined with Western instruments to create new pieces,” said McCollough.

The goal of the festival, which is held at SCU every three years, is to introduce audiences to new music by living composers, McCollough explained. “It can’t just be somebody who is famous, though,” she said. “It has to be somebody who can also work well with students and communicate with our audience.”

Chen, fellow composers Pluta, Singleton, Alex Shapiro, and resident faculty composer Pamela Quist certainly had no problem delivering on that expectation. “The students were thrilled to have all these people on campus. Not only did they get to hear music that they had never heard before, but they got to interact with guest composers and performers,” McCollough said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

The composers enjoyed the festival, as well. “Each time I’ve visited Santa Clara University, I’ve been deeply impressed by two things: the focus and enthusiasm of the students, and the support and keen interest of the audiences attending the concerts,” said Shapiro. “Those two elements together are a powerful message that contemporary music is alive and joyous.”

The festival was funded by the Center for Multicultural Learning and the James Irvine Foundation, with generous support from the Phaedrus Foundation, the SCU Center of Performing Arts Advisory Board, the Friends of Music, the SCU College of Arts and Sciences, and the SCU Office of the President.

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