The USC Thornton Symphony performed new compositions written by student composers in their “New Music For Orchestra” concert Friday evening in Bovard Auditorium. The new compositions included “Relapse” by Peter S. Shin, “Chasm” by Ryan McWilliams, “Amargosa” by Bryan Kurt Kostors, “The Good-Old Days” by Georgi Dimitrov and “Unearth, Release” by Julia Adolphe. The concert provided insight into the musical possibilities of contemporary classical music, even if contemporary trends are an acquired taste.
The pieces for the evening were characterized by their experimental styling. What has come to be a contemporary trend in composition, deconstructivist and dissonant leanings, while not a crowd favorite, can be valued for its academic and critical merit.
Heavy dissonance and a lack of uniformity characterized Shin’s “Relapse.” A highly figurative theme and musical language made up McWilliams’ “Chasm.” Mellan’s “…on transcendance…” seemed to lack specific direction.
There seemed to be two forces working against the student composers: the first being their age and level of composition maturity, the second being general contemporary trends throughout the high-art world throughout various mediums, including classical music. However, credit is deserved where credit is due. The three pieces seemed to showcase maturity and progression in the compositional style. “Amargosa,” according to the concert notes, was written to reflect on the Amargosa desert region — a California desert at the Nevada state line named for its amargosa or “bitter water.” Kostors’ composition took on a defined, cerebral style. The piece acted as a strong soundscape that embodied the unique culture and geography of the California desert in a musically mature way.
Dimitrov’s “The Good-Old Days” also deserves a mention for its musical clarity. The melody and musical progression was commendable, albeit slightly simplistic. Dimitrov’s slight cues to historical styling also added an interesting element of post-modernist musical language.
Fronted by viola soloist Cynthia Phelps, in “Unearth-Release,” the spirit of experimentation resulted in a successful piece. Phelps and the orchestra brought together opposite musical forces creating controlled tension. The first movement was characterized by a definitive fractured musical symmetry emphasized by the viola, harp and piano. Transitioning into a faster and brighter second movement, the piece was accentuated by frenzied passages. The third movement highlighted the piece’s overall structure, never creating a definitive statement but providing an all encompassing soundscape as a big-picture, musical idea.
Thornton’s spirit of experimentation and effort in breaking new boundaries is something to be celebrated among student composers. No matter how contemporary music is conceived, the pieces that were performed on Friday are perfect examples of the progress that composers have made.