Vincent van Gogh proposed that artists should "exaggerate the essential, and leave the obvious vague." But for Ofer Ben-Amots, William Hill and a dozen other contemporary composers scheduled to present their works at Colorado College's eighth annual New Music Symposium, merely discovering the essential elements of songcraft can be a study in mystical transcendence.
Noting the recent resurgence in mystical attitudes regarding musical composition and performance, Ben-Amots, Colorado College composer-in-residence and symposium director, claims that the growing cultural fascination with mysticism "is a sign of the times."
"Whenever people can't find answers to the things happening around them, they grab for something bigger. If they let themselves experience it, there's a mystic aura to everything," says Ben-Amots, whose monodrama (an opera for one person), Dybbuk, describes the supernatural calamities that afflict a woman possessed with the ghost of her lover.
Based on a turn-of-the-century play by the Jewish dramatist S. Ansky, Ben-Amots describes Dybbuk as "Romeo and Juliet meets The Exorcist." With accompaniment by clarinet and piano, the composition's sparse, emotive themes are embellished by the magical realism of the story's Eastern European Hasidic roots.
And yet, Ben-Amots is not alone in emphasizing, or perhaps exaggerating, the supernatural elements that saturate daily life. William Hill, the master percussionist in the Colorado Symphony and an internationally recognized composer, has discovered that the confluence of Native American mysticism and classical technique also provides fertile ground for musical composition.
Inspired in equal parts by van Gogh and Southwest painter Frank Howell, Hill's piece "Mystic Visions, Spiritual Echoes" is the work of a composer whose fascination with the visual elements of sound may seem paradoxical to some, but become wholly understandable from a numinous perspective. The magical interplay between the instruments, in a piece composed for Native American flute, two percussionists, and viola, constantly hints at something beneath the surface, a burgeoning mysticism that embraces ancient wisdom.
"In many of this year's pieces, the abstraction of the music is so similar to the mysticism in nature," said Ben-Amots, who also notes that the stylistic breadth of the symposium's featured works is more noticeable this year than ever before, though many of the pieces possess a common thread: an awareness of supernatural intensity.
"Throughout history, there were periods where composers tried to be rational and use clear structures," said Ben-Amots, "but there has always been a mystical backlash."
"Bach is full of mysticism, and so are the Gregorian chants. John Cage used mysticism but he rationalized it. So we are not watching mysticism reborn; it has always been here."
The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will also feature composers Carlton Gamer, Leonard Rhodes, Jan Jirasek, Donald Keats, Fredrick Kaufman, Robert Patterson and others, as well as a performance by the DaVinci Quartet.
Opening the festivities, with a unique combination of classical and country music, will be the guitar duo Dos Americas, featuring guitarist Alejandro Davila. Clearly, the stylistic contrast between composers is meant to be blunt.
"All this music is very fulfilling. Our festival features such a wide variety of contemporary classical music, it is really the best kept secret in Colorado," said Ben-Amots.
A secret, hopefully, not for long.
-- Joe Kuzma
New Music Symposium Concerts
Thursday, July 15 and Friday, July 16, 7:30 p.m.
5 W. Cache La Poudre St.
For more, call 389-6607.