Third Angle preview: spring planting, fall harvest

Gary Ferrington, contributing writer, Oregon Arts Watch

Collaboration is an underlying theme of the 21 October Third Angle New Music house concert with guest artist soprano Tony Arnold. The event, premiering works by six diverse composers from around the country, brings closure to a project that began last March at the very first Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. It was at that spring residency the ensemble, Arnold, and invited composers, all of whom are early in their professional careers, planted the seeds for what is now a fall harvest of new compositions for voice and strings.

Academy participant and former Oregonian Brandon Scott Rumsey discovered his passion for composing while attending Lane Community College and the University of Oregon in Eugene and then went on to nurture his art at the University of Texas and University of Michigan. The Las Vegas born composer is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Michigan’s Madonna University, where he teaches music theory and counterpoint. A performing bassoonist, he serves as the artistic director for the Emblems Quintet, a teaching artist with the Trade Winds Ensemble, and an editorial assistant and engraver at the University of Michigan Gershwin Critical Edition.

For Rumsey, the concert will not only be the opportunity to have a new piece premiered, but also the chance to revisit Oregon, which has long been a home in spirit and where he has many colleagues and friends. It will also be a reunion with his fellow participants from the Academy’s inaugural class held on Frank’s beautifulcountry farms in Boonville, a small rural California community 115 miles north of San Francisco where the composers and guest artists participated in engaging seminar discussions, coaching sessions with master composer/mentor Gabriela Lena Frank and readings performed by guest artists Tony Arnold and Third Angle.

The Poetry of Presence

Rumsey’s Invocation (2017), dedicated to Tony Arnold and Third Angle, is based on American poet Geoffrey Nutter’s short poem of the same title. Rumsey, who earned a doctoral degree in composition from University of Michigan this past spring, has explored Nutter’s poetry for several years. “He frequently writes about mythology, nature, plainness and mundanity, and I return to his poems time and time again for his use of “motivic” language that tells a story while phrases wander, stall, and twist,” Rumsey says.

Before Invocation, Rumsey had included other Nutter poems in his song cycles In the Primal Garden (2014) and Remembering the Clouds (2015). Then he reached out to Nutter when contemplating the composing of a song cycle for his DMA dissertation. The poet graciously responded by providing a series of six original love poems “named for the unassuming brown birds that stand for the ubiquity and beauty of love.” Rumsey set two of the poems to music in his 14 minute dissertation piece The Sparrows (2017) for tenor and sinfonietta. He has recently returned to this project and is setting the remaining four poems for later performance by tenor Jason Weisinger.

“While interpretations of Nutter’s texts vary from listener to listener,” Rumsey explains, “I base my own settings of these poems on personal reactions to the texts’ metaphors such as the sea and its waves, past and present, companionship, and commonplace birds to invoke themes of childhood, memory, nostalgia, and sexuality.”

And now, written as his contribution to the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy concert, Rumsey adds Invocation. Much of Rumsey’s musical repertoire, the composer told ArtsWatch, “reflects an appreciation for the beauty held within the seemingly insignificant minutiae that comprise the grandness of everyday life and, in terms of musical inspiration, Invocation comes from this place.”

For Invocation the “keywords that came to mind were “Reverence,” “motion,” “summoning,” “entanglement,” and “stillness.” Each, he notes, played an influential role in terms of his use of harmony, texture, counterpoint, and affect. Nutter’s poetry “demands presence—his words center my mind in a noisy world of distractions and sing themselves right off the page and into my ears.” Rumsey hopes listeners will have the same experience when hearing his new piece.

Creative Cycles

The Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music has held two more “cycles” since spring. By the end of the year it will have brought together 19 diverse composers who have collaborated with nine accomplished guest faculty performers.

The Cycle One group, whose new work is performed this Saturday in Portland, includes: David Coll Please me, place meHitomi Oba FifteenthDave Reminick Lullaby: From the Top of a TreeBrandon Scott Rumsey InvocationNina Shekhar Quirkhead, and Carlos Simon Let America Be America Again.

A second cadre of composers and guest artists followed with the September premiere of new works written for the celebrated violin-cello duo Johnny Gandelsman (from Brooklyn Rider and The Knights) and Seattle’s Joshua Roman. That concert, held in Boonville before a packed house, highlighted Dr. Frank’s interest in having music performed in smaller communities with “low arts access.”

Cycle Three composers will be the last to premier their work in 2017 when music written for the marimba duo Chris Froh and Mayumi Hama will be performed during the Festival of New American Music at Sacramento State School of Music on November 8.

The Academy has so far survived the threatening firestorms of Northern California and nothing has been postponed for Cycles 4-6 in 2018. Next year the Chiara String QuartetDuo Cortona, and California four-hand piano team ZOFO will be working with the next crop of composers. “The music making continues,” Frank told ArtsWatch.


Gabriela Lena Frank