The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Music Department hosted The La Crosse New Music Festival from Nov. 8-10. This year’s festival brought in guest composer Arturo Rodriguez and featured three nights of concerts with only new music.
Rodriguez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and now lives in Los Angeles, California working as a composer and conductor for orchestras and for movie soundtracks, as well as orchestrating and composing for television shows and movies.
The festival opened on Nov. 8 with the “Partners in New Music” concert and included student ensembles, musicians from the community and student artists. The Hoefer Brass Quintet and Cordeiro Woodwind Trio were two student ensembles that performed new music, with the trio performing an original piece by Dr. Mike Forbes, the low brass instructor at UWL.
The piece, entitled “Tripoly”, was originally composed for a trio of tubas, according to the program notes. Forbes revised the piece for a woodwind trio, which is a flute, an oboe and a clarinet.
Assistant Professor and Director of the festival Dr. David Dies also had an original work performed by fellow UWL faculty member Dr. Michelle Elliot. Elliot performed “White Tea” on violin, and according to the program notes for this piece, was written to show how during meditation, unexpected thoughts and emotions can interrupt the stillness and silence of meditating.
The concert also featured community members Pamela Kelly and Tara Kelly, a mother and daughter duet with Pamela playing piano and accompanying Tara playing the flute. They performed a piece that premiered on Nov. 4, 2023 and was written by Mary Ellen Haupert, Professor of Music at Viterbo University. The piece is called “Breeze” and according to the program notes, was inspired by sounds from their family’s lakeside cabin in Minnesota, including the waves against the shore and the loons calling.
The concert also featured two art students, Amy West and Brevin Kruse, creating artwork while listening to jazz musicians improvise. The artists drew and painted based on how they reacted to the music. According to the notes from this concert, this project came from discussion between Elliot and Professor Jennifer Williams, Professor of Art.
The second night of the festival, Nov. 9, was guest artist Arturo Rodriguez in concert. Rodriguez performed seven pieces that he composed, including “Full Moon”, “Luminiscncia”, and “Tres Veranos”. Rodriguez also accompanied flutist Dr. Jonathan Borja, associate professor of music at UWL, on several pieces, including “Little Spirit” and “Tango Sentimental”. Rodriguez invited Borja back on stage after the concert was over to do an encore of “Tango Sentimental” as a ‘thank you’ for inviting Rodriguez to the festival.
Earlier that day, Rodriguez held a question-and-answer session for students, where he spoke about his career as a composer for television and movies. One example Rodriguez showed was a television episode that he had scored, or composed new music for. Rodriguez also shared the process behind composing music for the opening sequence of a film entitled “The Mistress”.
The festival ended with the Wind Ensemble performing on Nov. 10. The Wind Ensemble played new pieces from composers Steve Danyew, Aaron Perrine and two pieces from guest artist Arturo Rodriguez, including the Wisconsin premiere of “Cuando Hablan los Vientos” which featured two flute soloists, Heidi Keener and Borja.
“Cuando Hablan los Vientos” means “When the Winds Speak” in Spanish and according to the program notes from the concert, Rodriguez was inspired by the inability to truly see music and compared that with the way that wind cannot really be seen, only felt.
The piece was commissioned by Borja, who has been on a sabbatical, or a period of leave, premiering this piece at universities around the country, including the University of Central Florida, Kansas State University and Utah State University.
Rodriguez spent time with the Wind Ensemble while they were rehearsing his music. UWL Student Kallie Johnson is a member of the Wind Ensemble and was interviewed by The Racquet Press on what that experience was like.
“He was really nice and very thoughtful. I really liked his comments and insight on the music, like how we should be articulating a certain way to emulate Hispanic music,” said Johnson.
She continued, “[Rodriguez] talked about how he was so thankful that we were playing his music and that’s how his music stays alive. It was really cool to see him and have him give us his feedback.”This year was the third annual La Crosse New Music Festival. Learn about last year’s event here, and 2021’s event here.