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MacDowell Club Showcases Young Composers

Classical Preview

Oct. 21, 2009
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There’s long been a certain anxiety among Classical Music’s lovers and practitioners that somehow our music will one day fade into oblivion. Could modern pop culture with its disposable music and ever-shortening attention span spell Classical Music’s doom? But all is truly not lost when we observe the young talent emerging from our schools.

The MacDowell Club of Milwaukee hosts an annual Young Composer Competition to showcase and reward such talent, and in 2008 called upon Wisconsin youth to compose a four- to six-minute piece for four-part chorus (soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices) with optional instrumental accompaniment.

Appleton’s Chelsea Komschlies was 17 and a senior at Fox Valley Lutheran High School when she submitted her entry, The Call of the Land, for chorus and flute obbligato. Her text comes from The Stolen Child and Song of the Happy Shepherd, two poems by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). “My piece is about Ireland pleading with its people to return to their roots and heritage,” Komschlies explains, having been awarded third place in the competition.

Mequon’s Emily Cooley was 18 when she composed her piece called Lullaby for chorus and cello solo. Cooley says that she found her inspiration in a poem by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) “because of its consistent tone and mood. I was looking for a text that conveyed a sense of safety and restfulness.” Cooley took second place with her work.

The winner of the Young Composer Competition is, interestingly, also the youngest: Minh-Tam Trinh, 16, a senior at Whitefish Bay High School whose work, Gitanjali (Song Offerings) was written when he was 15. It’s derived from an English translation of poems by Asia’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). “By my interpretation the pilgrimage these poems describe is a metaphorical one, a journey taken by the poet ending in union with eternity at the moment of death.” Trinh’s work is for chorus and piano accompaniment.

In addition to prize money, these young composers also won something perhaps even more satisfying: the opportunity to have their works performed in public, and that is exactly what takes place in a free concert with vocalists and instrumentalists from the MacDowell Club as well as the Whitefish Bay High School Bel Canto Choir. Rounding out the program are several additional works by Chopin, Cimarosa, Donizetti, Kreisler, Ravel and others.

This concert takes place in the Joan Steele Stein Center of Cardinal Stritch University on Oct. 25.


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