43rd Annual Seminar on Contemporary Music for the Young

Meghan Laska Conservatory News, Faculty, Students

Friday, April 1 – Sunday, April 3, 2022

Forty-three years ago, The Rivers School Conservatory pioneered a unique model to bring together young performers, composers, and audiences. The launch of the Seminar on Contemporary Music for the Young not only began a beloved tradition at RSC, it also set the bar for such events around the world.

The three-day event includes master classes, lectures, and concerts. The highlight of the seminar is the commissioning of a composer for a major work. This year, the RSC commissioned Chen Yi, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory, a prolific composer, and recipient of the Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In addition to being a renowned composer, she also is a strong supporter of diversity in music. Her vast experience with performing and composing as well as blending Chinese and Western traditions will provide an exceptional learning opportunity for students at RSC.

RSC director Gabriella Sanna says, “It was important to us to have a woman as our commissioned composer. The classical music world has been dominated by white male composers, and there is now a movement to make space for and appreciate the works of women composers and composers of color. A special part of this year’s Seminar is a roundtable discussion with women composers.”

Dr. Chen says, “It is my privilege to have the opportunity to work closely together with our young musicians at RSC and to have the premiere performance of my two-movement new string quartet work, Song of Spring. The two movements are Spring Vitality and Earth Dance.”

Dr. Chen seeks to reach a diversity of audiences and inspire people across different cultural backgrounds. Her music has been performed and commissioned by leading musicians and ensembles, including Yehudi Menuhin, Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, the Cleveland Orchestra, the BBC, the Seattle, Pacific, Kansas City, and Singapore Symphonies, and the Brooklyn and LA Philharmonic, to name a few.

As a cultural ambassador, she has introduced hundreds of new music compositions and many musicians from the East and West to music and education exchange programs in the U.S., Germany, the UK, and Asia. “I believe that music is a universal language. It improves understanding among people of different cultural backgrounds and helps to bring peace in the world,” she says.

Sanna points out that the Seminar is an important way to expose students to the music of their time. She explains, “It is invaluable for students to have the opportunity to talk with a composer while studying their music –rather than only playing pieces by composers who are no longer with us. At the Seminar, the composer and students work together, and the student can learn what the composer was thinking about when the piece came to life. The composer can even compose new pieces that are tailored to a student’s interests. This is a unique opportunity at the pre-college level and makes the Seminar special.”

She notes, “RSC Director Emeritus Angel Ramon Rivera and former RSC Director Richard Robbins founded the Seminar with the goal of giving students the opportunity to work on music written specifically for them and to become familiar with music that is different from their normal diet of classical, baroque, and romantic pieces. This year’s Seminar achieves that goal, as students will be exposed to not only an Asian American woman composer, but a composer who will introduce different types of music to students.”

Chair of the Seminar and RSC’s Wind Department Ethel Farny, says, “It is a privilege for students to be invited to perform in the Seminar. The music at the event introduces new playing techniques, cutting-edge sounds, and a wide range of cultural styles. Programming is unique, as pieces are performed only once, so that repertoire, composed within the last 25 years, is constantly being explored.”

She adds, “The atmosphere at these Seminars is electrifying and inspiring to all who attend. The composers who participate share the same feeling of excitement and creative energy as the young performers.”

Past commissioned composers and guests at the RSC’s Seminar on Contemporary Music for the Young have included: John Cage, Ivan Tcherepnin, Daniel Pinkham, John Harbison, Gunther Schuller, Sir John Taverner, Lukas Foss, Samuel Adler, Lowell Liebermann, Michael Gandolfi, Robert Sirota, Libby Larsen, and RSC Alum Matthew Aucoin.

-By Meghan Laska