Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium

OBF Composers Symposium: Collaboration, co-creativity, community

University of Oregon program shows composers how to build connections and reach audiences 

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

When Shannon Lauriston, a student at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia,  checked in on first day of the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium this summer, she felt an “instant sense of community.” Lauriston and 90 other composers and guest artists were about to set course on an intense 12 day journey of collaboration and co-creativity that would culminate in the preparation and public performance of 76 compositions — 55 of them world premieres.

Since 1990, the biennial University of Oregon symposium has brought together composers, composers who perform, musicians who compose, vocalists, instrumentalists, conductors, and emerging directors of music ensembles to participate in a new kind of culture for the creation and performance of contemporary music.

“We provide a creative context for our participants to interact and engage in creating and performing new works, but equally important, to deeply connect with each other in order to develop future projects and collaborations across the boundaries of their cities, states, and nations,” symposium director Robert Kyr explains. “We are not merely a composing and performing organization: we are committed to stimulating and encouraging new kinds of collaborations, and a wealth of future opportunities for co-creation, creative interaction, and community-building.”

Composer/performer Rebecca Larkin (flute) plays "Monkey Puzzel" by Nathan Engelmann.

Composer/performer Rebecca Larkin (flute) plays “Monkey Puzzel” by Nathan Engelmann.

The symposium envisions the composer as an individual who can take on various tasks needed to pull off collaborative performances of new music: conducting, performing in an ensemble, curating, administering, presenting and more. Such skills are essential today, when audiences who want to hear contemporary music and composers who want to be heard face limited opportunities to do either.

“Today, the most prominent emerging composers are wearing all of these hats and they understand that collaboration and community-building are essential to the artistic (as well as professional) success of their creative endeavors,” observes Kyr, who also chairs the UO music school’s composition department. He sees this as a welcome change from what he experienced in the latter part of the last century when there was often a “painfully strict divide between composers and performers.” Now, Kyr suggests, “many composers are more complete musicians, who are committed to building strong, collaborative communities of composers, performers, and listeners. And in the future, nearly all composers will probably be engaged in this way.”


Oregon Bach Festival Symposium: Composing a Career

Composers Symposium panel offers career advice


“In the past several weeks since my college graduation, I have become progressively more “lost” (for lack of a better term). Many of the hopes and dreams I had prior to completing my undergrad education have slowly diminished, and I feel as though I am at the point where I have no idea what my dreams are anymore.

I’ve been composing less and less — I haven’t touched my manuscripts or opened up Finale in close to a week now. Not because I don’t have the time, but because I feel no motivation to work on the craft for which I earned a bachelor’s degree.”

Career Development Panel with L-R FearNoMusic members Nancy Ives and Paloma Griffin Hebert, Duo Damiana (Dietter Hennings and Molly Barth), and Dr. Robert Kyr, panel moderator. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Career Development Panel with L-R FearNoMusic members Nancy Ives and Paloma Griffin Hebert, Duo Damiana (Dietter Hennings and Molly Barth), and Dr. Robert Kyr, panel moderator. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

College graduation is a time of transition, which isn’t always easy, especially for those majoring in the arts. Having just left the nurturing environment schools provide, many graduates find themselves unsure about the future. This apprehension was well expressed in a recent Facebook posting, quoted above, by a music composition graduate and used here by permission of the author.

Trying to answer the question, what to do after graduation, was the task of a recent career development seminar at the 2014 Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium at the University of Oregon in Eugene. A panel, including cellist Nancy Ives and violinist Paloma Griffin Hebert of Portland’s FearNoMusic, Duo Damiana members guitarist Dieter Hennings and flutist Molly Barth, and symposium director Robert Kyr, who heads the University of Oregon’s music composition program, shared their own transitional experiences to provide insight into this process.


Oregon ArtsWatch Archives