Attending a live symphony orchestra performance is an experience in itself. Now imagine listening to a full symphony orchestra perform one of your original compositions.
This dream came true for two Mississippi University for Women students who composed pieces performed by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra in April.
W alum, Connie Kossen, a former Mississippi Symphony Orchestra Board Member, was familiar with the Composer's Forum that was offered to college composition students. She started the conversations between Dr. Valentin Bogdan, associate professor of music at The W, and Michael Beattie, president and chief executive officer of the MSO, over a year ago. A music major at The W, she understood the significance this opportunity could have in the life of our students.
W students KevinAnthony Carroll, Jr. of Las Vegas and Biraj Adhikari of Nepal were recognized for their work as part of the symphony’s Composer's Forum at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson. The event was attended by the students’ family members, W faculty and invited alumni.
“The opportunity to work with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra was an experience like no other,” said Carroll, who will graduate with a bachelor of arts in music from The W in December 2018. "I have seen so many performances and I only dreamed that the orchestra would play one of my pieces.”
Carroll’s piece titled “Pulse of the Fallen” was written to pay homage to his favorite French composer, Erik Satie, and his way of mourning and paying tribute to the souls lost in the tragic Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando, Fla., in 2016.
“The idea of the piece is for the constant triplet pattern to act as the heartbeat, and when the piece reaches its climax, instead of being bright and energetic, it is actually the exact opposite,” he explained. “However, after the climax, the piece picks up at the original tempo and ends with a sliver of hope and satisfying chord that acts like a prayer.”
Carroll believes his piece was well received. “One of the things that was said about my piece was that it was like a breath of fresh air in a cluster of pieces that followed the same formula. The new approach to rhythm and overall programmatic structure added a new dynamic to the piece and made it more of an impact,” he said.
The experience also was an opportunity for him to learn, particularly when writing for a large group of musicians. “I would describe it as not only appraisal, but also constructive appraisal. I'm not exactly sure that is a thing, but that is what it felt like. There were things I didn't quite know about some of the instruments and the players that played those instruments were more than happy to let me know what they liked about it and how I can fix the problem areas.”
Adhikari, a junior, who will graduate May 2020, echoed similar sentiments as Carroll.
“It is a great opportunity for composers to have their music played by professionals, especially young composers like me. It is a dream that we don’t dream of this early in our composition field. When I heard about the opportunity from my professor, I was excited, really excited.
“It was a learning experience for me. It helped me to learn about compositional techniques, about problems composers face, the complexity in writing atonal music and making it sound beautiful,” Adhikari added.
He composed two movements of string orchestra titled “Journey,” and both movements were played.
Adhikari said, “I would like to heartily thank Connie Kossen for helping us get into the orchestral reading. I would also like to express gratitude to my composition teacher Dr. Joe L. Alexander for believing in me. Dr. Valentin Bogdan has always been an encouragement to me. Also, I would like to thank my department chair Dr. Julia Mortyakova for supporting young composers.”
Carroll also expressed his gratitude.
“The opportunities that I had to have my pieces played around the country and winning awards and even having one of my pieces played by a full symphony orchestra are things that I never would have imagined would actually happen. MUW is the reason I was able to have the jumpstart in my professional music career, and because of this, will always have a special spot in my heart.”
Dr. Bogdan said, “This performance represents a great educational experience for our music composition students. Having their works played by a professional orchestra, and furthermore receiving input and constructive criticism from world-class musicians is a rare opportunity, which our students will benefit from in their overall musical development.
“We must thank first and foremost our W music alumna Mrs. Connie Sills Kossen for advocating for our students to be part of this event and Maestro Crafton Beck of the Mississippi Symphony for programming our students’ works. We hope that this will represent the beginning of a long-term collaboration between our university and the Mississippi Symphony so we can further enrich our students’ musical experience during their time at The W.”
The annual Composers Forum is open to talented students from metro Jackson Colleges. Only three students were chosen with The W garnering two of the openings.
“We are really excited to expand our program out of the metro area. This is our first year to welcome The W,” said Beattie. “The students get feedback from professional musicians who do this every day.”
The program format includes an initial reading of each piece, a conversation with the composers, input from the musicians and a second performance and a recording of the selections. It has been in place for eight years now.