Friday, March 12, 2010

Guest blog by Reg Unterseher- ACDA Northwest Conference in Seattle

In talking to some buddies, I realized that perhaps they could guestblog about some of the other ACDA conferences. My very good friend/composer/really funny guy Reg Unterseher reports in from ACDA NW in Seattle. Reg and I met at the Oxford University Press/Lehigh University summer composer sessions in 2002 through 2004 led by Steven Sametz and OUP's Chris Johnson. In fact, that's how Reg and I got our OUP publishing start thanks to Chris's loving guidance (sadly he and OUP parted ways a few years back, a big mistake by OUP management for sure). Reg writes great, imaginative music in a variety of styles- his website is at

Here is Reg's report:

Notes from NW ACDA conference in Seattle

The NWACDA conference in Seattle has so far been all the things I want from these events. Inspiring concerts, reading and interest sessions that are worth your time, and the chance to rub elbows with some really great people. This note is just going to be a quick overview of my favorite concert moments so far.

Wednesday night started out with a bang, with a concert featuring Seattle Pro Musica, conducted by Karen Thomas, and the University of Washington combined choirs and orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Boers. First up was SPM, which was the perfect way to set the bar for the whole conference. Clear, precise, energetic, expressive singing and conducting in a program that included some pieces new to me and some favorites, ending with a portion of the Martin Mass for Double Choir. I have been a fan of SPM for years, had high expectations, and they absolutely lived up to them.
Next up was a program that could be, all by itself, the subject of a long article. It was titled “A Mass For Our Time,” taking the structure of the mass as the outline, with each movement taken from different sources. These parts were stitched together with newly composed pieces by Eric Barnum, who is a grad student there. The opening was from the Duruflé Requiem, then parts of the Poulenc Gloria, the Tavener “Eternal Sun,” Robert Kyr’s “Pacific Sun,” and selections from the Vaughan Williams “Dona Nobis Pacem.” I knew we were in for something when the set-up/intermission period was overlaid with a recorded soundtrack that started with what sounded like audience noise and turned into an engaging, interactive aural experience. The performances of each of the pieces would have been terrific, even if they were presented traditional concert style, but the other elements, including three dancers, took it even further. I was especially taken with the Pacific Sanctus. It had great emotional impact on first hearing, and it stood up well in the company of Duruflé and Vaughan Williams, no small task.

Thursday morning’s concert started with the Cheyenne All City Children’s Chorus, conducted by Diane Hultgren. I loved the integrated use of movement-it was engaging to both audience and the young singers, and supported the music rather than smothering it. The program was blessedly free of cliché. Next up was Gary Weidenaar’s Central Washington University Chamber Choir. Impeccable, engaging, thrilling. My favorite piece was “Contrition,” by Ola Gjeilo, in its American premiere. Ola is a truly unique voice, and every new piece of his takes a step forward. This piece has stunning layers of color and texture and packs an emotional punch. I want to hear it again. Next up was another amazing Seattle chorus, Choral Arts, conducted by Robert Bode. He is headed out next year to take the choral program at UMKC, my alma mater. He will continue with Choral Arts, though, we are glad to say. I was immediately reminded of what makes Seattle such a great choral city, the variety of style and sound that qualify as excellent. They have a full, rich, mature adult sound that goes right to your center. Again, great programming, including Bruckner, Averitt, and a beautiful performance of the Brock Commission piece, which I loved, by Joan Szymko.

The afternoon concert was the Crystal Children’s Choir from the Bay Area, a program based in Chinese culture. They were just what we expected, a world class musical experience. Lots of music that was unfettered by European cultural traditions, and on the other side of things, a beautiful setting of Shenandoah.

From that concert, we walked a block to Plymouth Congregational Church for the Music In Worship service. A wonderful space, creatively used. Highlights for me were the “congregation” singing the Duruflé Ubi Caritas, Kris Mason’s
Seattle Children’s Chorus singing in the round, and the drummers on “Praise The Lord,” a processional song from Cameroon arr. by Ralph Johnson.

Barely time to grab a bite to eat, then off to Jazz Night. The venue was the downstairs space of Town Hall, which had a great club feel. It started with a Jr. High Jazz Choir, which explains the the regrettable lack of access to martinis. Confession time—Jr. High Jazz Choir sounds to me more like something I would avoid rather than attend, but this was excellent. Teachers like Dan Davison, who kicked things off with his Ballou Jr. High jazz kids, and has the patience and skill to turn a motley crew of Jr High kids (weren't we all?) into musicians, are my heroes. I loved every minute of it. The other highlight of the evening was Groove for Thought. Exciting, complex, direct, precise, hugely fun, world class vocal jazz. When I woke up this AM, their rendition of Spain was still in my head, and that made me happy.

More later...


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