Student classical music competition:

Wednesday night was filled with anticipation, as anxious parents, relatives, friends, and other fans talked amongst themselves waiting for the competition to begin. The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic tuned instruments in the background as the announcer introduced the annual Student Composers Concert, explaining that the competition would be split into two parts this year: an undergraduate and a graduate section, with a winner for each part. The winners were awarded a scholarship of $1000 each, funded in part by the Harry G. Archer Memorial Fund.

?The competition isn?t really a competition like an instrumentalist competition. I don?t think anyone really thinks about the competition when they are writing,? said Paul Pinto, one of the composers. ?I?d say that if anyone walks out of the concert with a good recording of their piece, it is just as valuable as any amount of money.?

There were three judges for the competition: Donald Wilkins, professor of organ; Eduardo Alonso-Crespo, artist lecturer in music history; and Mahmood-Reza Vali, associate professor of composition.

Each piece was very different from the others in the performance. The composers? emotions and creativity were evident and their individuality shone in each piece. The competition was a showcase of senior composition majors; each had selected a piece from their portfolio to perform. Under the direction and teaching of Leonardo Balada and Nancy Galbraith, they all composed a wide range of different pieces throughout their four years here at CMU?s School of Music. Each received thunderous applause from the nearly full music hall and the CMU Philharmonic which played each piece to perfection.

The first pieces were played by the undergraduates. Christopher Thomas Ruth?s piece ?Die Rote Kapelle,? German for ?The Red Orchestra,? started off shrill and eerie and had elements that were electronic sounding. The mood was scary and suspenseful. Quietly dissonant then suddenly fast paced, the volume built up until the piece concluded at a fortissimo cut-off. Ruth had intended his piece to evoke a historical network of Soviet spies during the Nazi regime in Germany.

?This piece attempts to capture some of the determination, fear, and foreboding experienced in [spy] work,? said Ruth.

The second piece was Friederich Myers? ?The Unified Theory of Everything.? It started off with a few cellos thinly humming and then high-pitched ringing tones from the percussion section. There was a continuous hum from the bass instruments all throughout the piece.

Myer?s composition did not sound unified at all, as the instruments seemed to play their own melodies and rhythms, but one could hear the well-placed transitions and general theme encompassing the whole piece. It had a dreamlike feel as the instruments slowly crescendoed only to be stopped by a lone bell, and then returned to the sound of the introduction.

?It was composed with simplicity in mind, beginning and ending in roughly the same way, employing quasi-minimalistic techniques, and made up of a simple harmonic language,? explained Myers. The piece was dedicated to his parents.

The third piece was ?No Dragons,? by Blake Ragghianti. This piece had a very upbeat and driving sound. The strong piano, marimba, and glockenspiel along with the tambourine dominated the melodies. The piece was more modern and less traditional than the other orchestral pieces.

?It sounded as if it belonged in a movie,? said Paul Baginski, one of the audience members. Ragghianti had been involved with local musicians and bands including The Wild Geese, Crisis Car, and the Michael Murphy and the Shannon River Band.

The fourth piece was ?Two Symphonic Moods? by senior Matthew Heap. There were indeed two distinct moods expressed in this piece. The first mood was subdued and gentle, and had the feel of a distant rumble. The second mood was dark and loud. The two moods took turns throughout the piece going from calm to angry to calm and ending with angry again.

?The contemplative first section, marked by humming by the orchestra for atmospheric color, gives way to a faster and more angry section,? described Heap.

The fifth senior up was Paul Pinto and his piece titled ?1984: Images for Orchestra.? It had a dark mood, as one would expect from a piece reflective of George Orwell?s novel 1984. It was propelling and had a forward-moving feel from the driving piano to the rhythmic string section. It incorporated a cello solo, almost as a ?breath of air? in between the intense sections.

?The cello solo is an escape from the whole piece,? said Pinto. His piece was written over four days during Pinto?s trip to the Festival of Musics for Compostition in Torroella di Montgri, Spain, this past summer.

Devin Arrington, a graduate composer, also attended the festival. ?It?s not a programmatic work ? programmatic being telling a story. It?s more a reaction to the book,? said Pinto, ?that book makes you so angry ? and my piece was kind of a rhapsodic piece based on my thought progression.?

The last undergraduate piece was ?Phlegethon? by Mark Fromm. There were distinct changes in tempo almost as if the composer did not want to bore the audience with a monotonic pace. It started off with same simple note progressions and then suddenly changed the melody but stayed in the same key. There was obvious coherence despite the different melodies and tempo. The piece sounded like two different pieces stuck together, but the listener could hear what links them together.

?They are sort of related on what they are based on ? [which are] the ideas and harmonic language that I use. It?s kind of a common form in music ? choral and dance,? said Fromm.

?The piece is filled with contrasts of solo lines, orchestral tuttis, and powerful percussion, culminating in a majestic sonorous statement of the theme, which is followed by an even faster coda of the dance material,? described Fromm. Phlegethon is the River of Fire in Greek mythology, which reveals Fromm?s love for imagery from this genre.

Fromm is involved with the 6:30 Jazz Ensemble, the saxophone quartet, the Kiltie Band, AUO, and the wind ensemble at CMU.

The graduate pieces started off with Arrington?s ?La Vie Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows),? which he wrote during the festival in Spain. Marked by loud slaps and snaps, it painted a picture of the torturous whip across Jesus Christ?s back. ?La Vie Dolorosa? was based on the path that Christ walked on his way to the cross before he was crucified. This piece had excellently placed harmonies, integration between the different sections, and clearly expressed emotions. It ended with a short harp solo.

?Shortly into the work a theme is introduced in the bass which is contrasted with the aggressive tutti orchestra. The music proceeds to move restlessly between contemplating Christ?s love and identifying with his sufferings,? said Arrington. Arrington teaches violin, composition, and theory at the Pittsburgh Music Academy.

The next graduate piece was A.D. Mobley?s ?An American Mosaic.? It truly was a mosaic of different voices and melodies encompassed into one flowing composition. The different sounds were pieced together at odd times. The whole piece was sandwiched between a shrill-sounding introduction and conclusion. ?A pseudo-European theme is offered in fragments ? West African and South American rhythms dominate the second movement,? said Mobley.
The final piece for the graduate section was Cody J. Wright?s ?Temps Perdu.? The piece opened with throaty cellos, the long notes drawn out. Mostly comprised of tremolos and fermata tones, there was a slow progressive build up of tempo and volume. There were flitters of notes from the woodwinds while the piece ends with a pizzicato solo from the second violin section. Wright currently teaches composition and theory at the Pittsburgh Music Academy.

After a brief discussion amongst the judges, the decision was announced and the winning pieces were replayed.

Fromm was the winner of the undergraduate section and Wright took first place in the graduate category. Fromm plans to apply his scholarship money toward his studies and looks forward to choosing a graduate school from his acceptances including McGill University and possibly the Manhattan School of Music.