This past Wednesday, the University Philharmonia Orchestra hosted “An Evening of World Premieres” at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, a tradition of the students of composition. In this annual performance, undergraduate or master’s students present their original orchestral pieces at Hill Auditorium. These students are talented musicians and skilled composers, and their expertise shines through in this high-stakes context.

The student composers gave a brief synopsis of their piece prior to its performance. Composers talked about why they wrote the particular piece, any motivations that went into the work and perhaps some foreshadowing of what the audience was about to hear. These students then sat in the audience, taking in the music they had worked so hard on.

The night brought original works from Music, Theatre & Dance graduate student William Appleton, dual-degree undergraduate Dayton Hare, Music, Theatre & Dance graduate student Noah Fishman, local Ann Arbor composer and Music, Theatre & Dance alumnus, J. Clay Gonazalez and Music, Theatre & Dance undergraduate Henry Dickson.

The performance also brought in a surprise guest: David Lang, Professor of Music Composition at the Yale School of Music and Artist in Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He presented “simple song #3,” which he informed the audience was part of the film score for “Youth,” which he composed for director Paolo Sorrentino in 2015. The performance involved operatic vocals from Music, Theatre & Dance doctoral student Jennifer Cresswell.

One piece that especially caught my attention was “Binary Variations,” composed by Music, Theatre & Dance graduate student William Appleton. He told the audience he wrote the piece in hopes of “learning to become more accepting of the unknown in life,” which was demonstrated through changes in tempo and key throughout the orchestral piece. It involved stretches of dissonance and runs of resolve, constructing elaborate prose within the music. Though these aspects changed, one part of the the binary — alternating between two chosen chords for a certain allotment of time before switching to a new form — remained constant. The piece demanded attention; I was unable to draw myself away from the music being played, and was on the edge of my seat as I anticipated which variation might come next. 

“An Evening of World Premieres” highlighted the extraordinary talent from the University’s student composers. Hill Auditorium became the birthplace of five original student pieces, true Michigan-made works of music. It was enlightening to see the talent of the student composers and the clear passion that went into the work. The University Philharmonia Orchestra did a service to the students who crafted the music for them, and the audience was fortunate to hear it.


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