The New York New Music Ensemble has been carrying the torch for today's composers for nearly 30 years. In that time, the group has been on the cutting edge of contemporary music, performing hundreds of concerts and frequently presenting works that have expanded the very concept of music.
"We've played a lot of music," said flutist Jayn Rosenfeld, "so we have a pretty good perspective."
Rosenfeld and colleagues Jean Kopperud, clarinet; Linda Quan, violin; and Christopher Finckel, cello, along with guests Christopher Oldfather, piano; Tom Kolor, percussion; and James Baker, conductor, are currently on an extended West Coast tour.
They'll be making two stops in Utah, playing in the University of Utah's Dumke Recital Hall on Monday, and in Madsen Recital Hall in the Harris Fine Arts Center at Brigham Young University on Tuesday.
The program, which will be the same for both concerts, includes music by two Utah composers — "Past Light" by the U.'s Morris Rosenzweig and "Mild Violence" by BYU's Steven Ricks.
Also on the program is Mario Davidovsky's "Flashbacks," Harvey Sollberger's "The Advancing Moment" and David Felder's "Coleccion Nocturna."
"I'm very pleased with this concert," Rosenfeld said. "It's sort of a presentation of classical mainstream composers." She added that while Davidovsky, Sollberger and Felder are "known all over," Rosenzweig and Ricks should be.
Rosenzweig and Ricks wrote their pieces for NYNME, and both will receive their world premieres on this tour.
"Past Light" is Rosenzweig's most recent work. It was commissioned by the ensemble, which will also record it later next week in Salt Lake City. The work is scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. "It's the same instrumentation as Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time,' " Rosenzweig said. "It's dangerous waters to tread in, but if you stay away from what (he) does, then you're OK."
This is the first time Rosenzweig has worked with NYNME, although he has known the musicians for years from other ensembles. "I've worked with these individuals for 25 years, but in different ensembles and in different contexts. I've never connected with them (as NYNME) until now."
"Past Light" is in three movements.
Like Rosenzweig, Ricks knows and has worked with individual members of NYNME in the past, but these concerts mark the first time that he's worked with the entire group together.
"Mild Violence" was written for and dedicated to the ensemble. It takes its title from the rating system for video games. "My wife plays PlayStation 2, and the games she likes are rated for 'comic mischief and mild violence,' " Ricks explained. "It's a strange grouping of words, and my imagination went with that."
In his mind, the phrase "mild violence" is a contradiction. "I have to ask myself, 'Is there such a thing?' " But there is a correlation between the title and his music, Ricks said. "A lot of my music tends to be aggressive and violent, although nobody gets hurt by it."
He added that somebody does get shot figuratively in the piece. "Violence or violent outbursts end up taking over and cut things short."
There is a clear connection to Joseph Smith in "Mild Violence" as well, Ricks said. "I teach at BYU, and a lot of my colleagues are writing pieces commemorating Joseph Smith's 200th birthday. This is my contribution. The piece is about life being cut short by violence."
Ricks noted that there is a personal link to some of the works on the program. "Morris was my primary teacher for my doctorate, and my most influential teacher. And Morris studied with Mario. So we have three generations represented. We'll have to see if there is a thread of commonality running through our pieces." "I think this is a very good program that we're taking on tour," Rosenfeld said. "And I find that people always enjoy our concerts more than they expect. They find them exciting, funny and interesting. They just need to give new music a chance."
Rosenzweig agrees. "This should be a very entertaining concert," he said. "I hope people come and enjoy it."
Davidovsky and Sollberger, who are former Maurice Abravanel Distinguished Composers, will be in Utah for the concerts. They will hold a seminar at the U. Monday afternoon before the performance. And they, together with Rosenzweig, will be part of a panel discussion at BYU Thursday morning.
Sollberger, who is a noted flutist as well as one of today's foremost composers, will also give a recital in BYU's Museum of Art on Thursday evening.
For more information on the events at BYU, log on to www.chambermusic21.com.
If you go . . .
What: New York New Music Ensemble
Where: Dumke Recital Hall, David Gardner Hall, University of Utah
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
How much: Free
Also: Seminar with Mario Davidovsky and Harvey Sollberger, Dumke Recital Hall, 3-5 p.m., Monday, free
Additional performance: Madsen Recital Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., $7 (general) and $4 (students), (801-422-4322 or artstix.byu.edu/Wt4/)
Also: Panel discussion, Madsen Recital Hall, 11 a.m., Thursday, free; flute recital (with Harvey Sollberger), Museum of Art Auditorium, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, free