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New Music Festival Preview: Bent Sørensen

Bent Sørensen foto Lars Skaaning
Bent Sørensen foto Lars Skaaning

Editor's note: Over the next several days we'll be previewing the upcoming 2014 New Music Festival at the University of Louisville, through posts on this blog. The posts were written by U of L faculty Jean Christensen and students of Rebecca Jemian: Justin Giarrusso, Andrew Maxbauer, Ian Schroeder, Jabez Co, Iara Gomes, Chris Kincaid, Ben Williams, Michelle Gilfert, Jon Hodge, Matt Wetmore and Samantha Holman.

Composer Bent Sørensen has been a noticeable figure in Danish music life since the mid-1980s. Born in 1958, he was a star student of the leading composition teachers of the day, Per Nørgärd and Ib Nørholm, and it was said that he had mastered compositional technique even before his debut concert. Already in 1988, three of his early string quartets were recorded by the highly-esteemed Arditti Quartet (Alman, 1983-84, Adieu, 1986, and Angel’s Music, 1987-88) and in 1996, he was the recipient of the esteemed Nordic Music Prize for his violin concerto (Sterbende Gärten/Dying Gardens), one of only three Danes to be so honored. In 2002, his first full-scale opera, Under the Sky, was premiered at the Royal Opera House. He has been the featured composer at the Huddington Festival in Britain, and in 2011 his piano concerto, La Mattina, was awarded the International Prize by the British Composers Awards. (The earlier winners of the prize include Unsuk Chin, John Adams and Wolfgang Rihm.)

Sørensen often gives his works interesting and evocative titles. The Fourth String Quartet is called Cries and Melancholy, and the seven movements for violin and piano is also Seven Longings. These titles refer to strong feelings of melancholy or longing, while others might evoke something that is disappearing (Deserted Churchyards), unheard (The Shadows of Silence) or intangible (Consoling in Darkness). The music often corresponds in some manner, but not always as expected. This music invites the listener into a multi-layered texture where fragmented, delicate explorations of small tonal melodies or harmonies might recall fugitive sensations of time and space as a part of the multidimensional character of the composer’s musical universe that has often been described as “romantic.”
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Bent Sørensen commands the whole arsenal of modern performance techniques; every voice in the ensemble–instrumental or vocal–must be able to express elements from the full spectrum of sound, from the richest to the most refined nuances of the tonal system, as well as those that lie outside it--glissandos and quarter tones, for instance. Instrumentalists are often asked to play secondary instruments or sing while they play, vocal ensembles must be able to sing complex harmonic combinations with subtle vocal nuances. All efforts are directed toward intensifying the listening experience, the most consistent factor in this composer’s output.

The selections programmed for the Festival are The Hill of the Heartless Giant (2001) for solo string bass; Songs of Decay for solo clarinet; Fragments of Requiem (2007) for chorus; the early Trotto (1983) for woodwind quintet; and the recent Pantomine-Papillons (2014) for piano and ensemble. A highlight of the festival will be the premiere of Twelve Nocturnes, six miniatures for piano solo alternating with arrangements of the same for the University Wind Ensemble by Jakob Kullberg and Matthew Wetmore. The Danish pianist Katrine Gislinge will be featured as soloist in both Pantomine-Papillons and Twelve Nocturnes. Altogether the programs of the New Music Festival at the School of Music, University of Louisville, will provide a multi-faceted introduction to the music of the Danish composer Bent Sørensen (Photo Credit: Lars Skaaning)

Dr. Jean Christensen Jean Christensen is a retired professor of Music History at the University of Louisville.

Daniel Gilliam is Program Director for LPM Classical. Email Daniel at dgilliam@lpm.org.

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