Enriching Education: Laureate Artists at the UMKC Conservatory

Photo courtesy UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance

In anticipation, a student who attends college expects a certain caliber of teacher. Professors are often passionate about their chosen field and usually that passion rubs off. However, what happens when guest speakers come in? The excitement is seemingly electric. That’s what happened when Grammy-nominated and previous winner eighth blackbird and Oscar-winning composer John Corigliano came to the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance as Barr Institute Laureates.

Patricia and Howard Barr Institute for American Composition Studies, launched in 2004, is the fulfillment of a longtime dream of Howard (DMA, UMKC Conservatory of Music, 1971) and Patricia Barr. The Barrs had distinguished careers as pianists and teachers in southern California, often performing and promoting the works of contemporary American composers. The Institute celebrates their love of American music and their dedication to its continuing study and performance.

Every three years, the Barr Advisory Board selects a major figure in American music as the Barr Institute Laureate. Composer Steven Stucky was honored as the first laureate during the years of 2006 to 2009 and composer Stephen Hartke came in from 2009 to 2012 as the second laureate. All current and future works of each composer become part of the Barr Institute Collection.

Laureates visit the UMKC campus several times each year to participate in performances of their work, master classes and lessons, and presentations to public schools and other organizations. The Conservatory also partners with other performing organizations to present the works of the Barr Institute Laureates. Stucky’s works were performed by the Kansas City Chorale. Hartke’s works were performed by eighth blackbird this past March, by the Conservatory’s new group Musica Nova in April and the Kansas City Symphony in June.

The performance and residency marked their first return to the Conservatory since their popular performance and master classes here in 2007. The ensemble provided coaching and master classes to Conservatory students during their tenure which was spread out across the 2012 academic year. They performed Hartke’s Meanwhile in March at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. They also took on Corigliano’s Tambourine Man as part of their early November performance with Music Alliance, a presenting partnership between the Conservatory, and Kansas City’s Friends of Chamber Music.

Photo courtesy UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance

Conservatory Dean Peter Witte says, “… eighth blackbird’s residency in Missouri came together through a partnership of many of Kansas City’s leading arts organizations and all four campuses in the University of Missouri System. We give thanks to the University of Missouri’s Olson Fund, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Friends of Chamber Music and especially the Kansas City Symphony for making eighth blackbird’s Missouri residency a reality. As a result, our students will work side by side with a visionary ensemble of 21st century musicians.”

The Conservatory’s Wind Symphony performed Corigliano’s Circus Maximus to critical acclaim in the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Corigliano won a 1999 Oscar for his composition for the film The Red Violin. Conservatory Singers also perform Fern Hill, piano graduate students Richard Jeric and Charles Dickinson perform the duo piano work Chiaroscuro, the Conservatory Wind Symphony performs DC Fanfares and Tarantella from Symphony No. 1. The program also included Duet: As Summer Brings a Wistful Breeze (from The Ghosts of Versailles), performed by students Rachel Coleman and Jenny Beauregard and Quartet: Come Now, My Darling (from The Ghosts of Versailles) performed by Jenny Beauregard, Rachel Coleman, Ellen Hinkel, and Jared Johnson.

James Mobberley, Curators’ Professor of Music at the Conservatory, says that no matter how dynamic the faculty members are and how amazing the programs are, in the midst of a semester, life can become routine. “However, you bring in an ensemble or an individual who has a view of the larger universe, we are all refreshed and the buzz, the electricity is felt for weeks.”

With the composer residencies, Mobberley says the joy comes in watching the students interact with these leading composers. Corigliano’s three-day visit in the fall proved a full schedule with six rehearsals of around 250 students which included the entire choir and wind ensemble, the concerts at White Hall, and two master classes – one for composing students and one for conducting. The group eighth blackbird’s visit overlapped with Corigliano’s. They performed a collaborative concert with student composers and students, plus the ensemble spent time with Corigliano and performed selections from his Mr. Tambourine Man, and work by Bermel, Muhly, Mackey and Ligeti.

“Composing is an isolated affair. You spend months, even years on a piece, and then within a couple of days, the rehearsals and performances are over. And you go back into musical isolation to write another piece. Interaction with musicians is essential for your mental health – and interaction with enthusiastic young musicians is especially rewarding. Spending time with young creators and performers is a real joy, and inspires one to write more music,” Corigliano says.

For Mobberley, it’s a chance to spend time with fellow colleagues and to share ideas. “I know many of these people via travel. I get to know them on a deeper level. They are colleagues and friends, but the teacher hat for me is even stronger. I appreciate watching interactions and seeing what students come away with … it is gold, just gold.” Mobberley says details are being worked on as to when Corigliano may return. Potential collaborations are in the works as well. “We want him or his music represented around town. There’s some interest, but we want to show his work to even more in the community. That’s another goal – letting the community see and hear what is going on at the Conservatory. It can fuel an audience.”

“I hope the community gets to know me and my work. Hearing one piece by a composer tells one little about him or her. We know Beethoven because we know his body of work. One piece would not reveal him to us. My works are about all sorts of things, and the more an audience knows the works, the more they know me. I am always available to speak at concerts so that the audience can get to know me even better, and a residency over several years is the best way to accomplish that goal. In my future visits, more of me will be revealed by my works and my presence in Kansas City,” Corigliano says.

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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