Composers write like they’re running out of time

72-Hour Composition Project inspires new music

By Emily Schweich

Photo by Dylan Singleton 

12 University of Maryland student composers.  72 hours to write, learn and rehearse a new piece of chamber music.  It has the makings of a reality show.  The TEMPO 72-Hour Composition Project kicked off Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and will culminate in a concert on Friday, September 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall as part of The Clarice’s third annual NextNOW Fest.

“The great thing about this challenge is that you kind of can’t prepare for it,” said Bradley Green, who is organizing the challenge.  A doctoral candidate in composition and member of TEMPO, the School of Music’s graduate student-run new music ensemble, Green is also participating as a composer.  “It’s kind of like creating a piece of visual art without knowing if it will be a sculpture or a painting.”  

Each composer has 36 hours to write a piece for a chamber ensemble made up of musicians drawn from a hat, which can result in some unique combinations. Green is writing for a trumpet, bassoon and drumset trio; another ensemble features an electric guitar, French horn and cello.  Though writing for a nonstandard ensemble can be a challenge, Green said the composers can draw on their composition training to harness their own aesthetic.

“One of the hardest things to do when you first start composing is learning the instruments and learning how to structure a piece of music,” Green said.  “When you get kind of a weird ensemble, you start thinking those things don’t work, but in reality, you have that training and you can still use that on a strange ensemble . . . you still have your own style.”  

On Thursday at 6:30 a.m., Green sent new compositions out to the performers, who have 36 hours to learn and rehearse the piece before Friday’s concert. 

Jon Clancy, a senior percussion performance major, has participated in the challenge twice before as a performer, but this is his first time participating as a composer.

“I am particularly nervous about how my piece will be received, as I have strayed dangerously from the paths of tonality and conventional conceptions of melody and lyricism,” Clancy said.  But he added that the nature of the challenge encourages composers to add humor into their writing.  “In the end, most of us are doing it simply for the fun of it.”

Erika Binsley, a doctoral candidate in French horn performance, is performing in two ensembles for this year’s challenge.  She said creative events like this are what drew her to the University of Maryland School of Music.

“Without embracing new music and trying experimental things, I think we risk falling behind the rest of the world,” Binsley said.

The concert will conclude with a premiere by the Inscape Chamber Orchestra of a new work, “All the folded wings,” composed by University of Maryland alumna Dale Trumbore as part of the NextNOW Fest Alumni Commissioning Project.

Green said he is excited about the performance (and the sleep he’ll be able to get afterward)!

“It opens up really, really new classical music to people who might not have heard it before,” he said.  

The TEMPO 72-Hour Composition Project culminates in a free concert on Friday, September 9 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.  This project is part of the NextNOW Fest, a two-day festival featuring free music, dance and theatre performances.