School of Music continues to celebrate 150 years with concert highlighting BU composers – The Daily Free Press

The Boston University Symphony Orchestra receives applause during their September 30 performance. The BU School of Music held a concert on Saturday featuring past and present BU composers. SHANNON RUSNAK/DFP STAFF

To honor its 150th anniversary, the Boston University School of Music hosted a concert on Saturday highlighting the work of past and present composers with BU roots. The concert was just one of a host of celebrations that took place to commemorate the school.

The composition department of the SoM and the contemporary music ensemble in residence of the BU ALEA III presented the show in the concert hall of the SoM.

The SoM — formerly known as the College of Music — opened in 1872, becoming the nation’s first institution to award degrees in music, according to the CFA website. Later the Schools of Music, Drama and Visual Arts were merged into what is now known as the College of Fine Arts.

“The College of Music was one of the founding colleges of the University in 1872,” said CFA music professor Richard Cornell. “[SoM] has this history of innovation and tradition at the same time.

For the concert, ALEA III commissioned a piece called “Origins” from SoM alum Thomas Weaver, which featured an array of faculty, students, and guest artists.

“Boston’s classical music community is quite extensive and we always work at each other,” Cornell said. “So you can expect to see all kinds of musicians on this stage.”

With the exception of Weaver, all of the other pieces in the program are by deceased SoM teachers, including John Goodman, Joyce Mekeel, Gardner Read, Norman Dello Joio, Lukas Foss, and ALEA III founder Theodore Antoniou.

“All of these composers represent different aspects of our 20th-century history,” Cornell said.

SoM keynote speaker Rodney Lister said he wanted the concert to also feature famous composers who are still alive and working at SoM.

“There’s an emphasis…on celebrating the composers who taught here who died, but there’s not the same emphasis on doing anything for the composers who are actually alive and working here,” Lister said.

But Lister also said he recognizes there is a risk in playing music by living composers.

“If you say you play something from Beethoven or Mozart or Haydn… the music is bound to be great,” Lister said. “You say you’re playing something by a living composer that you never know…people tend to like what they know.”

ALEA III Treasurer Sam Headrick, who is SoM Emeritus Associate Professor, said Antoniou “lives for new music”. Antoniou was SoM professor of composition and director of ALEA III.

“He supported young composers of all types of aesthetics,” Headrick said. “He was playing all the different styles, which is so healthy because what we want is for every young artist to be what they are, not to have to do an academically correct style, so to speak. .”

ALEA III continues that spirit by letting “each composer be their own personality,” Headrick said.

“[Antoniou] passed away now, but he formed a band, he wants it to continue, so he has an endowment,” Headrick said. “And so his students and colleagues keep this group alive.”

For Headrick, who first came to BU aged 29 and left last year after 41, the gig was a memory of his time at BU.

“It’s my professional life,” Headrick said. “I know all the composers except one.”

Headrick said his four decades at BU were a privilege.

“I do what I love to do. I teach ambitious, hard-working young students who have a passion for music like me,” Headrick said. “The intention is to see this student as your colleague in the future.”

The SoM has rich ties to musical institutions in Boston, Cornell said, and alumni tend to stick around and become part of the city’s music scene.

“​​If you attend a concert by one of the city bands and any of the other orchestras or choirs that use orchestras or opera companies, you will see our students,” Cornell said. “They will either be in the pit or on stage.”

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