Arts & Culture

Concert showcases student compositions

Contributing Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2011

Black tuxedo. Evening gown. Polished shoes. A set protocol for when you can and cannot applaud. If you have ever been intimidated by the classical music scene, with its staid professionalism and grand history, you are not alone.

Enter Fermata. The brainchild of music concentrator Ben Kutner ’14, Fermata is not just any musical ensemble, but a student-led group expressly devoted to making instrumental music more accessible.

The group was founded on the philosophy that to make classical music accessible to younger generations, some stuffy traditions may have to go. Fermata, which is dedicated to performing new music by University students, had its first performance Saturday night in Hunter Auditorium. Kutner, who is also a Herald senior staff writer, based the concept on the informal format of the a cappella performances ubiquitous on campus.

There are no genre requirements for submissions to Fermata. The group is only a “classical ensemble” in the sense that they use typically classical instruments — primarily strings and brass.

According to Gabe Flateman ’12, Fermata has given the University’s student composers a chance to showcase their own work. There is a tendency to view classical music as a strictly academic pursuit, but in performing new student compositions, it is clear that the music is “vibrant and alive and accessible,” he said.

There are many outlets on campus for electronic music, but, until now, more serious classical music had not been “marshaled into a cohesive unit,” said Jack Boeglin ’12, a composer with Fermata and University orchestra president.

Fermata also helps establish a more human connection between performers and composers, something foreign to most members of the group. Performers do not necessarily speak the same language as composers — the former often focus on technique while the latter are concerned with theory. Exploring the relationship between the two is at the core of Fermata’s mission.

Violist Ana Farmer ’14 said she had the unusual opportunity to hear about the process and motivation behind a piece through Fermata. Flateman said it was highly instructive working with performers. As a musician, he sings and plays piano and trumpet, so he said composing and instructing music for strings gave him a greater appreciation for the translation between a technical description of music and a more conceptual, intuitive one.

Though in the future Fermata hopes to host two shows per semester, Saturday’s show was brought together on very short notice, as the group has only been functional since early November. The group managed to pull off quite a polished performance considering the circumstances, with an impressive crowd turnout of friends and family.

An unprogrammed surprise was the performance of an energetic Lady Gaga medley at the conclusion of the show.

Bassist Katie Parker ’14, though not a composer, said she hopes in the future to practice arranging similar medleys herself.

Parker also said she was delighted to have the chance to play a piece centered around her instrument. Basses are not typically included in string quartets, but Boeglin’s opening piece, “Adagio,” featured a complex bass part that represented a distinct deviation from the norm.

Group members have high hopes for the future, including booking shows in Providence and hosting similar groups from other schools.

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