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Appreciating Music

Student composers showcase new works at Boise State


Local composers Mikel Bell, Luke Strother and Annette Mackey presented recent works to a nearly full house in the student-side Morrison Center Recital Hall (better known as C-200) on December 8. J. Wallis Bratt, associate professor of music at Boise State, hosted the year's final student recital performed by talented local musicians.

Compositions by Bell showed the widest stylistic range. From "Camp Vaudeville March" for tubas and euphoniums, to the jazz-influenced "Piano Sonata No. 1," to the choral "While the Lavenders Were Blooming," Bell's work was consistently and pleasantly surprising. The Marsing High Band and Choir performed two of Bell's ensemble pieces under the direction of Dawn Sandmeyer I found Bell's arrangement of "O Holy Night" as played by these fledgling musicians to be a perfect expression of the oft-cited (and too-often cliched) spirit of the season. The highlight of the program, "Ezkonberrien Dantza (Dance of the Newlyweds)," was rendered by one of Boise State's excellent string quartets, led by violinist Anna-Marie Hladik and including violist Henry Olivera, both members of the quartet awarded first prize in the Boise Chamber Music Society String Quartet Competition in May. "Ezkonberrien Dantza" successfully blends folk references with 20th-century tonality. Bell, an ethnomusicologist interested in Basque music, combines the complex meters and harmonies of modernism with the simple appeal of traditional folk melodies. In this and other pieces, his notation calls on performers to imitate improvised jazz riffs through major and minor modes before bringing listeners back to the original theme.

Strother's "Eulogy in E," also written for string quartet, originally accompanied Suzanne Haag and a small ensemble of dancers from Ballet Idaho. This piece, along with "'Til Death Do We Part" (performed by the University Symphonic Orchestra under the direction of Craig Purdy), were presented as recorded tracks. While Strother's tight, Shostakovich-like harmonies and percolating meter were well-mixed by John Fransen, I look forward to hearing actual live performances of Strother's work.

Selections from Mackey's musical, Saul, rounded out the program. "Alone," for flute and guitar, evoked a daisy-filled meadow with its delicate 1970s folk-song feel. In contrast, the barbershop quartet-style "Stone Him" juxtaposed an upbeat tempo and pleasant harmonies with comedically gory lyrics. As a cap to the evening, pianist and Master's candidate James Berry smoothly executed Bell's rhythmically challenging sonata with a playful edge. Bratt promised more compositions by these and other student composers to be performed next semester. That leaves five months for local music lovers to find a map of the "other side" of the venerable Morrison Center.