Contemporary music on campus

An interview with ensemble director Kirk O’Riordan

The Lafayette College Contemporary Music Ensemble (LCCME) will perform their final concert this evening. The concert will be held at 8 p.m. in the Williams Arts Center, and opened to the general public.

Assistant Professor of Music Kirk O’Riordan has directed the LCCME for the past several semesters. Here’s what he has to say about the upcoming concert:

Does Friday’s performance have a theme?

Not really…although the music is mostly minimalist in nature. We are doing two pieces by noted minimalist composer Philip Glass, and my piece is in many ways similar to music by Steve Reich. Kala Pierson’s piece isn’t really “minimalist” in the conventional sense, but it is very meditative and tranquil. Jay Batzner’s is also minimal with regard to the number of notes it uses.

What musicians can we expect to hear?

The ensemble roster is large this semester. This is because we either need a lot of different instruments (for the Kandinsky, for example) or people can’t make rehearsals for one of the pieces. We have 17 players on the program, many of whom are playing more than one instrument. There are a lot of first-year students in the ensemble this year, too, and only two seniors. The ensemble will be in good hands for a long time.

Do you have a piece for which you are most excited?

I am excited about all of this music. Kala’s piece is gorgeous…serene, tranquil. The two Glass works are pretty well known, especially the solo piano piece, Metamorphosis One (that was used in BattlestarGalactica). Jay Batzner’s piece is also quite beautiful, but in a much more abstract way than Kala’s. My piece was written specifically for the ensemble, and it is always exciting for me to present a new piece for the first time. And the Kandinsky is just fun…we are using three Kandinsky paintings as graphic scores, and we will be attempting to depict how Kandinsky, who had synesthesia, night have “heard” his paintings.

The biggest piece on the program is the Kandinsky. Each movement (there are three) will run about seven minutes, though it is hard to predict exactly how long each movement will run. Kandinsky painted a series of canvases, which he called “Compositions”: we are performing Compositions 4, 8 and 11.  As I mentioned, Kandinsky heard his paintings in his head, and when you look at some of his more abstract works (Composition 8 fits into that category), they make more sense when you remember that these are works of sound as much as they are of color and geometry.

We will use a different “set of rules” for each of the three movements. We spent a long time simply discussing the paintings and on developing these rules, and they help focus the improvisations and prevent us from sounding like 10 individuals.

My piece is for flute, clarinet, alto saxophone, bassoon, horn, trumpet and two marimbas. It is both highly static and kaleidoscopic, simple but deceivingly difficult to perform. I really like that combination of instruments…I think the sounds blend really well together, and the players have done a terrific job putting it together.

How do you gain entry into the ensemble?

The members are invited to play with ensemble. They are among the most experienced and skilled musicians at Lafayette…I need them to be able to prepare their parts on their own and be able to handle extended techniques, improvisation, abstraction and the pressures of learning the pieces quickly (we usually only have a six-week rehearsal cycle). They need to be fearless on stage and thrive on taking risks artistically.

When did rehearsal for the final concert begin?

We started working at the end of October…we rehearse once a week, but due to schedule conflicts, some of the pieces were rehearsed on different days. The string quartet, for example, worked mostly on their own…a testament to the kind of motivation these people have.

Overall, are you happy with the way the LCCME semester has gone?

Yes…this has been a good semester. I always wish I had more rehearsal time with them, but not because I feel underprepared. I enjoy working with them, and I always wonder how much more we could accomplish with more time.

Free tickets are available at the box office from noon to 2 p.m., 4 –5 p.m. and one hour before the show.

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