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University of Iowa News Release

March 28, 2006

Center For New Music Performs Dembski April 9

The University of Iowa Center for New Music (CNM) will present a concert featuring the music of guest composer Stephen Dembski, long-time head of the composition program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 9, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The concert, featuring several UI music faculty performers, will be free and open to the public.

David Gompper, head of the CNM and a member of the School of Music faculty, will conduct the concert. Other faculty performers in one or more pieces on the program will be Scott Conklin, violin; Christine Rutledge, viola; Tony Arnone, cello; Volkan Orhon, double bass; Katie Wolfe, violin; Tamara Thweat, piccolo; and Mark Weiger, English horn.

A flexible organization devoted to the presentation of the music of the past 100 years, the CNM is part of the UI Division of Performing Arts. The center supports its own performing ensemble, including both faculty and students of the School of Music, and presents concerts of recent music by guest artists.

The April 9 concert will open with two of Dembski's works, "Out of my System," composed in 1995 for violin, clarinet, cello and percussion; and "Stacked Deck," composed in 1979 for a mixed ensemble of winds, string, piano and percussion.

Other works on the concert will be "Edges" by UI doctoral student Luke Dahn, for small chamber orchestra; and Alban Berg's Chamber Concerto for violin, piano and 13 winds, considered one of the masterpieces of the early 20th century's Second Viennese School, with violinist Katie Wolfe and pianist Kazuo Murakami as soloists.

Dembski's many compositions include orchestral, chamber, choral and solo instrumental and vocal music, as well as works for electronically- and digitally-synthesized sound, and long-form compositions for ensembles of improvising musicians. A broad variety of his music can be heard on about a dozen recordings.

His work has represented the United States at international festivals in France, Germany, Denmark, Poland and England, and in Italy it was recognized by the Premio Musicale Citta di Trieste. At home, his honors include three commission-fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation and the Goddard Lieberson Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Dembski has written that "Out of My System" is "a miniature chamber concerto for violin. Chasing a few unruly ghosts of concerti past, it plays with these spirits and eventually makes them its own. Even its network of scales and harmonies is in the spirit of the tonal system that encouraged the friendly ghosts of so many old musics. 'Going to other times and places to see what's worth taking' is how Walter Becker of Steely Dan characterizes what he calls this 'culturally colonialistic period.'

"Whatever you call it, with this piece, commissioned by the Network for New Music with support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, this composer may finally have written such cultural colonialism out of his system."

"Stacked Deck" was written for the inaugural season of conductor Efrain Guigui's ensemble Vox Nova, which played it for the first time in May 1979. Since that first performance, Dembski has written about "Stacked Deck" on several different occasions, each time finding a new way to describe the score. Most recently, however, he finds the earlier descriptions inappropriate for current times.

"If its cultural context has changed anywhere near so much as the political context has, how, I wonder, will this old music sound after so many years?" he writes. "Just as each listener makes individual compositions out of sound heard in the air, so will each era, or even moment, with its peculiar circumstances, make that music new?"

Among Dembski's current compositional projects is an operatic setting of a libretto written for him by the surrealist artist and novelist Leonora Carrington. Other ongoing work includes the development of a compositional theory -- including its realization in software -- and a series of verbal publications to document, defend and disseminate the work of other composers.

Dahn took the title for "Edges" from two paintings in the UI Museum of Art, one by Philip Guston and one by Adolph Gottlieb. The paintings, which share the common title "Edge," face one another across the gallery.

"I would often go sit in front of these paintings while working on my own 'Edges'," Dahn writes. "I found the space to be quiet, yet fertile, teeming with creativity. While 'Edges' is not strictly based on either of these paintings, many of the musical ideas came to me while contemplating these fine works of art."

Dahn holds a bachelor degree in music theory and composition from Houston Baptist University and a master's degree in composition from Western Michigan University. "Edges" will be recorded by the CNM later this spring.

Dedicated to his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg's Chamber Concerto for violin, piano and 13 winds was written between 1923 and 1925, receiving its first performance in 1927. While Berg's previous works had been highly expressionistic, the Chamber Concerto moves decisively towards a more classical style, suggesting a response to neo-classical works by Stravinsky. The concerto also represented the continuation of the composer's use of Schoenberg's 12-tone system, or serial composition.

The score is based on a basic melodic sequence, or "motto," that uses the letters of the names the names of the three composers associated with the serial technique of composition: Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern. Threaded through each movement are other musical ciphers and numerical analogies that celebrate their partnership. The number three figures prominently in the construction of the piece -- three movements, three principal motives, total number of instruments divisible by three, three principal motives based on the three friends, and so forth.

The three movements are played without a break, with the first movement featuring the piano, the second the violin, and the third both soloists.

The Center for New Music was founded in 1966 with a seed grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The center promotes the performance of new music by providing a core group of specialists in contemporary performance techniques. Its programming has included world premieres as well as acknowledged contemporary masterworks.

In 1986 the center received the Commendation of Excellence from Broadcast Music, Inc., the world's largest performing rights organization, and it recently received grants from the Aaron Copland Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts. Today, the Center for New Music is supported by the UI Division of Performing Arts.

More information on the CNM, including complete program notes for the April 9 concert, can be found on its Web page:

The CNM and School of Music are parts of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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