ROCHESTER, NY – The Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer George Crumb, known for his powerful and evocative use of imagery and the development of unusual and extended performance techniques, will be feted next month at the Eastman School of Music in a festival of his music. The three-day event, December 1-3, is the brainchild of Eastman doctoral piano student, Thomas Rosenkranz, with the help of Eastman Professor of Composition Robert Morris. Two free concerts of Crumb’s music highlight the festival; both take place 8 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall (26 Gibbs St.):
- The Sunday, December 2, concert is an all-piano recital with guest pianist-composer David Mattingly performing the remarkable Makrokosmos, Volumes I and II (1972-73) for amplified piano. As in many of Crumb’s works, this set of "12 Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac" utilizes unique notational aspects; every fourth piece is notated as a visual symbol. Mattingly, an Eastman alumnus and assistant professor of piano at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, has enchanted audiences on both sides of the Atlantic with his performances of traditional and more adventurous 20th-century piano music. Crumb himself has described Mattingly as a "superb pianist" and predicts a "brilliant future" for him.
- On Monday, December 3, a variety of Crumb’s works will be featured in concert. These include the 1965 Madrigals Book I (Eastman students Heather Gardner, voice; vibraphonist John Hain; and double-bassist Justin McCullock); the 1979 Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV) for amplified piano, four hands (guest duo-pianists Robert Shannon and Haewon Song); the 1970 Black Angels (Images I) for electric string quartet (Eastman’s Suzie Kelly String Quartet), and the celebrated 1970 song cycle, Ancient Voices of Children (Musica Nova, Clay Greenberg conducting, with Eastman student Martha Cluver, voice). Both Ancient Voices and Madrigals are based on texts by the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose texts inspired many of Crumb’s compositions.
The Eastman connection to the vocal works is undeniable: Crumb conceived Ancient Voices of Children for the late Eastman Professor of Voice, Jan DeGaetani, who premiered it (and Madrigals as well) and made it one of her signature pieces, both in performance and on record.
In speaking about Celestial Mechanics, Crumb calls the four-hand idiom "a strange hybrid of the pianistic and the orchestral," and one that "lends itself readily to a very free and spontaneous kind of music." The piano duo of Robert Shannon and Haewon Song, both faculty members at the Oberlin Conservatory, will be featured in a compilation of Crumb works on an upcoming disc for Bridge Records.
"The programming of Black Angels is perhaps one of the most timely choices of repertoire on the concert, although the repertoire decisions were made last year," says Rosenkranz, who met Crumb while performing as a guest pianist at the University of Oregon’s Festival of the Millennium. Inspired by the Vietnam War, the work is subtitled "Thirteen Images from the Dark Land." Crumb’s comments in 1990 on the piece are frighteningly contemporary: "Things were turned upside down. There were terrifying things in the air… they found their way into Black Angels," he said. The work pits God versus the devil; the image of the "black angel" was a device used by early painters to symbolize the fallen angel. The many sounds Crumb calls upon include shouting, chanting, whistling, whispering, gongs, maracas, and crystal glasses.
"George Crumb’s remarkable music came on the scene in the late 1960s and represented a new and unprecedented voice in American new music," says Robert Morris. "His emphasis on exquisite and elegant timbres in the context of performance ritual was immediately noticed and applauded by European composers, who had up until that time only been interested in the most radical of American composers, mainly Charles Ives and John Cage."
Kicking off the festival on Saturday, December 1, will be a theory symposium on Crumb’s music (2-5 p.m., Room 209). On Sunday, December 2, the composer will be on hand for a piano master class (3-5:30 p.m., Howard Hanson Hall and Room 120), in which four of his works will be performed by Eastman students. On Monday, December 3, Crumb will speak at a composer’s symposium (1:30-3 p.m., Howard Hanson Hall).
All festival events are free and open to the public. For more information, call 585-274-1100.
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Note to editors: A black-and-white photograph of George Crumb is available.