School of Music holds Composer’s Workshop to debut student compositions

Composition students debut their work at the second Composer’s Workshop of the semester, sharing an impressive variety of musical styles, perspectives, and techniques for a live audience.


Double Bassist Will Yager gestures to the graduate student composer Zachery Meier at the Composers’ Workshop Concert in the Voxman Music Building on Sunday, December 8, 2019. Yager performed Meier’s piece “Sul” which sought to mimic the movements of light in nature.

Addie Bushnell, Arts Reporter

The University of Iowa School of Music held its second Composer’s Workshop of the semester this Sunday at the Voxman Music Building. Seven composers, each under the instruction of professor and director David Gommper, debuted their pieces for a small live audience in Voxman’s concert hall.

Despite the grandiosity of the concert hall, the workshops are intimate events. Designed to allow composition students the opportunity to work closely with music performance majors and get feedback on their pieces, the audience is largely made up of their peers.

“The Composer’s Workshop exists to promote a dialogue between composer and composer, composer and performer, composer and audience, and just generate a collaborative community,” said Trinton Prater, a first-year Master of Arts student with a focus in composition. “I think that’s what the spirit of the composition program here tries to be.”

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Prater debuted Jhuené, a piece for solo trombone that experimented with the limits of the instrument’s abilities. The piece was performed by Mark Rheaume, a graduate teaching assistant of Gompper, whom Prater described as a brilliant trombonist. Prater encouraged Rheaume to share his own input on the piece during the writing process.

“As a former performer, I found myself feeling kind of boxed in by not really having any say in what was happening with the piece,” said Prater. “I moved to composition to give control to the performer so that it’s a collaborative effort.”

The Workshop featured an array of unique styles and sounds, with some compositions following a more traditional form while others reached into the realm of the abstract.

Zachary Meier’s piece, sul, was written for a solo double bass. The composition, which was a beautiful, yet haunting collection of notes and harmonies, produced a collective shiver within the audience. Bassist Will Yager’s performance was mesmerizing, and he handled the experimental qualities of the piece with ease.

Related: Trombone Fest wraps up at Voxman

Liliana Peraza, a freshman studying flute performance and composition, debuted a melodic and bittersweet piece featuring flute and piano. Her piece, Be Still, is just one of the movements from a sonata in progress, and was an emotional composition that jumped between fluttering joy and slow lamentation.

The soft, grounding piano portion of the piece was contrasted by the piercing, painful cries of a flute.

“The sonata is dedicated to someone I was very close to, and still love dearly,” said Peraza. “This piece comes from a very sensitive, hidden part of myself.”

The workshop ended with Soaring Over a Storm, a composition for violin written by Hongwei CAI, who is a fourth-year doctoral student in the composition program. It was a frantic, harrowing piece that moved through an endless series of runs at an almost impossible tempo. Violinist Yixue Snow Zhang gave an incredible and riveting performance.

Soaring Over a Storm was the perfect, show-stopping end to the Composer’s Workshop, and showed just how much time and effort these students put into their compositions.

“Composing has never been easy for me, but when I listen to the performance of my music, all the effort seems to be worth the hard work,” said CAI.