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New Music Ensemble Concert Showcases New Talent and Memorializes Icons

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Aside from works by two composers who died this year, the evening also features two alumni and SFCM composition department faculty David Garner.

September 25, 2023 by Alex Heigl

Appropriately for its name, SFCM's New Music Ensemble (NME) celebrates two of its own at its Sept. 29 performance, while also honoring some departed trailblazers. 

Under the direction of Nicole Paiement, the NME is featuring works by two prominent female composers: Jocelyn Morlock's Lacrimosa and Kaija Saariaho's Terrestre. (Both women died this year; Morlock in March and Saariaho in June.)

"Kaija was kind of a mentor for me," Paiement said. "When I was just starting in Paris, she took me under her wing a little bit; she became someone that I really always valued a great deal. Terrestre is one of my favorite pieces of hers: She was a person who loved nature, who was very influenced by the power of nature, so I thought that would represent her work really well." 

Paiement chose the Morlock piece, she explained, to contrast with the nature-focused Saariaho. Lacrimosa, written for Morlock's father, takes its inspiration from Christian requiem texts.The piece moves from complicated bitonal passages for the singers to ringing bells and harmonics from the strings to portray the passage of life into death and the afterlife.

The rest of the evening's program celebrates SFCM's own voices: Works from alumni Clayton Luckadoo ('23) and Jay Cruz ('22) and composition faculty David Garner round out the evening.

Clayton Luckadoo

Clayton Luckadoo

Luckadoo's piece, Phenomenologies, is the culmination of a journey he began with his first efforts at composition in sixth grade, though he graduated from SFCM with a performance degree, studying clarinet with woodwinds department Chair Jeff Anderle. It stemmed from a composition for non-majors class he took in which students were directed to take two intervals, create a melody, and harmonize it.

"I used it for the assignment and I thought, 'Okay, I like this melody, but I don't know what to do with it yet. I tried it in a couple different forms and finally landed on this one in December 2022. After trying to write it as a sonata or sonatina for clarinet and piano and doing different things with it and not feeling quite satisfied, I just kind of started from scratch again."

The school's concerto competition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic one of the years Luckadoo was eligible, he explained, "So it finally hit me: 'What if I wrote my own concerto?' And I talked to Jeff about it, he was like, 'Yeah, go for it.'"

Clayton Luckadoo

Clayton Luckadoo

"Having not gone through a composition program, there's a lot of imposter syndrome, feeling like, oh 'Well, I'm not a real composer because I don't have a degree for it," Luckadoo says. "I've wanted to compose for a long time without feeling comfortable calling myself a composer and finally starting to get to the point where I'm feeling comfortable with that. And after focusing on performance for so long, now I get to be doing it from two very different perspectives at the same time—rarely do I get to play the role of a soloist, let alone the composer and soloist. It's a little surreal." 

Nicole Paiement

Cruz's piece Hermes is a true marriage of acoustic instruments and technology: The piece utilizes complicated delay patterns that are subdivisions of the tempo, which have to be coordinated through a laptop. Cruz said that he was inspired by working with Nicole and the NME on a piece by Missy Mazzoli "that used a simple eighth-note delay, but I wanted to take it further, so there's like 16 delay patterns in this."

"I have to say, I am going to be looking forward to more works by Jay," Paiement said. "How much he can get out of the viola and electronics is really impressive; the piece grasps that language of combining those two beautifully."

Paiement's Opera Parallèle deepens the SFCM connection this season: Their new commission is by Kenji Oh, an SFCM alumni who studied with Garner. The culmination of two years' work and premiering as part of the Opera's "Hands-on-Opera" program, it will debut in October. 

Guests are asked to reserve tickets for this free event Friday, September 29 2023, 07:30 PM inside the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. Learn more about SFCM's New Music Ensemble.