New Music from Old Traditions

Two world premieres by David Crumb and Terry McQuilkin in Eugene reflect the past in music of today


A pair of 21st century compositions by University of Oregon faculty members premiering next week look back to 19th century music for inspiration.

Pianist Henry Kramer performs composer David Crumb’s Nocturne, in a University of Oregon Beall Hall concert on November 14. Three days later, Terry McQuilkin’s Invisible Light: Fantasy for String Quartet will be performed by the Delgani String Quartet at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church. Both Drs. Crumb and McQuilkin are members of the UO School of Music and Dance composition faculty.

Delgani premieres Terry McQuilkin's new string quartet.

Delgani premieres Terry McQuilkin’s new string quartet.

The Delgani String Quartet commissioned Terry McQuilkin’s Invisible Light: Fantasy for String Quartet specifically for its season-opening concert that also includes the first quartets by Prokofiev and Mendelssohn. The November 17 performance, titled “New Beginnings,” represents a fresh start for Delgani as they embark on their inaugural season with new violist Kimberlee Uwate.

Composer Terry McQuilkin: Photo: UO School of Music and Dance

Composer Terry McQuilkin: Photo: UO School of Music and Dance.

McQuilkin is a composer, educator, and music reviewer who in 2006 selected as the Oregon Music Teachers Association’s Composer of the Year. Fantasy, McQuilkin notes in an email message, is not a fixed form and the meaning of the word has evolved over time. For his own composition, he has been inspired by composers of the late Renaissance, as well as some from the 20th century, who have explored this inspirational form.

Invisible Light is based on the hymn tune, “Detroit,” published in the early 19th century shape-note hymnbook, A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony. “My attraction was to the tune itself rather than to any particular text and my piece is a free-form series of variations built on the original tune – or rather fragments of the tune,” McQuilkin wrote. “In the process, the musical texture, tempo, harmonic language and style change quite a bit.”

McQuilkin suggest that readers who wish to look up “Detroit” on line will want to listen first to the tenor line that’s the main melody. “When, about one-third of the way into Invisible Light, I present the hymn in four-part harmony, I give the melody to the soprano voice — that is, the first violin, but retain, I hope, some of the straightforward, raw quality of the original.”

Night Music

David Crumb.

David Crumb.

Crumb’s Nocturne is inspired by the beautiful melodies and poignant harmonic language of Frédéric Chopin’s piano Nocturnes. “I think the challenge of undertaking a project like this was to attempt to capture something of the flavor of the Nocturnes, while not composing an actual stylistic ‘homage,’” Crumb notes in an email message. “The listener should experience this as a truly original and contemporary work, created in my own personal language. However, some elements, like the accompanimental figuration and singing melody are clearly evocative of the mood, texture, and harmony of Chopin’s music. The work has a clear tonal architecture and compound formal aspect that brings to mind certain of Chopin’s works.” Kramer will also play pieces by Chopin in his recital, which repeats on Sunday at Freeman Motor Company in Portland.

Pianist Henry Kramer.

Pianist Henry Kramer.

Crumb has received prizes, grants (including a Guggenheim Fellowship) and performances of his music around the country and released recordings on several classical new music labels. Henry Kramer’s performance of Crumb’s Nocturne is a part of the Rising Star series and commissioning project initiated by Portland Piano International to enrich the 21st century solo piano repertoire. Jeff Winslow recently reviewed the previous installment featuring music by Portland composer Michael Johanson, who along with Jack Gabel, Sarah Zipperer Gaskins, Bryan Johanson, and Greg Steinke was selected by an international committee to write music for this year’s series. PPI’s new series and the Delgani Quartet’s commitment to contemporary music are contributing to an increasing tide of  new Oregon music.

Henry Kramer plays a free concert of music by Crumb and Chopin at 6 pm November 14 at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall, and at 4 pm Sunday, November 15 at Freeman Motor Company, 7524 SW Macadam Avenue, Portland.

The Delgani String Quartet plays music by McQuilkin, Prokofiev and Mendelssohn at 7:30 pm November 17 at United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington St, Eugene. Tickets are $22 in advance online and $25 at the door. Students can purchase tickets for 50% off. 

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.

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