BY JOEY MALTESE, STAFF WRITER
“Music exists in an infinity of sound. I think of all music as existing in the substance of the air itself. It is the composer’s task to order and make sense of sound, in time and space, to communicate something about being alive through music,” composer Libby Larsen said in the program notes for her concert.
As the second installment of the Martha Baker Blessing Musician-in-Residence Series, Susquehanna welcomed Larsen to lecture, coach and work with musical students from Oct. 20 through Oct. 23, culminating in a concert featuring students performing her own compositions held on Oct. 22 in Stretansky Concert Hall.
Larsen is a widely renowned American composer. With a catalogue of over 500 pieces, Larsen has been recognized as one of the most fruitful modern composers, being a recipient of countless honors including a Grammy Award for an album she produced and composed, “The Art of Arlene Auger.” Additionally, Larsen has held several significant residencies at the California Institute of the Arts, the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, the Philadelphia School of the Arts, the Cincinnati Conservatory, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Charlotte Symphony and the Colorado Symphony.
Larsen’s compositional repertoire is vast, spanning 40 years, and, as evidenced by the diversity of the performances during her Oct. 22 concert, unable to be defined or characterized by one particular genre.
Beginning the concert was “Aubade,” a solo flute piece performed by junior Lyne Padmore. Slow and sweet and exemplifying the idiosyncrasies in nature, Padmore welcomed the audience with an intimate performance, delicate and lovely.
By contrast, a second solo flute piece was performed by junior Sarah White. “Now I Pull Silver” was a drastic departure from the first, as it required a heavy multimedia component. A pre-recorded reading of an eerie and pervasive A.E. Stallings poem over ambient percussion and guitar accompanied White, whose flute was amplified through a speaker system.
Throughout the evening was a dialogue between Larsen and Associate Professor of Music Patrick Long, the head of the composition program.
In response to Long’s question regarding the evolution of concert-going, Larsen explained the origin of attending classical concerts as a “cultural ritual.” She said that the development of technology, such as the record player and Walkman, have positively impacted the nature of how audiences internalize music.
“This experience has changed,” Larsen said. “We [listen] because we love music and are curious.”
In a later setting, Larsen added, “All things that connect music to emotions have changed, and will change.”
Senior Christopher McCormick was particularly impacted by Larsen’s visit, as he was able to work with her as a performer and composer.
“She wanted to collaborate,” McCormick said of Larsen. “Above all things, she wanted to know where I was coming from in my compositions.”
McCormick performed a movement during the concert from “The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes,” a narrative inspired by the testimony of the man regarded as America’s first serial killer. The piece featured a juxtaposition between the carousel-esque piano, played by accompanist Diane Scott, and the prose, which McCormick recited.
Another notable performance came from senior saxophonist Parker Adel, who performed a movement of “Song Concerto,” a piece he described as “classical funk saxophone.” Adel’s squealing saxophone was a reward for his intricate and extensive chromatic runs, which were accompanied by pianist and lecturer in music Ilya Blinov, who brought accessibility to the piece with a theme reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” a similarity noticed and appreciated by Adel.
The pianists, first-year Anna Fedenyuk and sophomore Alethea Khoo, the youngest performers of the evening, closed the concert, performing sections from one of Larsen’s more popular pieces, “Ghosts of Old Pianos.” After a dramatic exchange of dissonant ideas between the two pianos, Larsen took to the stage, ending the night by giving the two underclassmen a hug in congratulations.
“A double bar is always a risk,” Larsen said of ending a composition.