Early music

Young composers get to hear the pros play their notes.

BEGINNING COMPOSERS often find themselves in a catch-22: Those who have the hardest time getting their music performed are precisely the ones who need to hear their music most. After all, the only way to learn is to take your scores off your desk and somehow get them transformed into real live sound.

Seattle Symphony Young Composers Workshop

Benaroya Recital Hall, Tuesday, May 9

That's why the Seattle Symphony's Young Composers Workshop culminates in a public concert next Tuesday, featuring the premieres of new pieces by 11 student composers. From seventh-graders to high school seniors, the participants were chosen in January from a field of 20 applicants who submitted scores and/or recordings. The SSO's composer-in-residence, Samuel Jones, led 12 weekly sessions, guiding the students through the conception, development, and completion of a new piece.

"I find the amazing thing is that outstanding talent shows itself very quickly," says Jones, who used a hands-off approach with these younger composers just as he does with college-level students. As opposed to teaching predetermined techniques or methods, Jones says "The teacher should start with what the student is thinking," and offer practical advice in helping them realize their sonic intentions.

Composer Morgan Benfield, a high school senior, agrees: Jones was particularly helpful in "point[ing] out impracticalities—he's very good at his craft." Benfield, who plans to attend the UW next fall, will present his Wind Quintet No. 1 at this concert. He cites early Schoenberg as a musical influence—particularly the freely atonal music he wrote before he codified (or straitjacketed) his chromatic explorations into the 12-tone system.

Seventh-grader Elizabeth Pederson plays bass and cello, and wrote Sea for one viola and two cellos, instruments she knows well. Her brief work comprises flowing passages separated by a smooth and slow middle section. Also on the program will be William Barret Anspach's Three Bagatelles for Double Trio, Krystal Barghelame's Bats in the Belfry, Zachary Bernstein's Divertimento for String Quartet, Chris Champagne's An Irish Fantasy, Michelle Hickner's Wisp, Marc Macauley's Contrasts, Lena Nietfeld's Cascadian Spring, Kingsley Tang's Brief Lives and A Hymn Tune, and Ashton Thatcher's Trio for Woodwinds. All will receive performances by SSO members. The concert will offer quite a variety not only of colors—every standard orchestral instrument will be represented, including percussion and harp—but of styles. As Jones puts it, the audience will hear "eleven pieces that all sound quite different—which is as it should be."

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