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In Their Own Words

Five BC composers talk about the pieces they’ll present this month

Boston College composers
(L-R) Boston College composers Thomas Oboe Lee, Ralf Gawlick, Erin Huelskamp and Kevin Cao ’16, along with Mark Berger (not pictured) will present their works Oct. 25. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Office of News & Public Affairs |

Published: Oct. 15, 2015

Five Boston College composers – four Music Department faculty members and a senior – will present their works at a concert on Oct. 25 in Gasson 100 at 8 p.m. “New Music by Boston College Composers” will feature compositions by Professor Thomas Oboe Lee, Associate Professor Ralf Gawlick, part-time faculty members Mark Berger and Erin Huelskamp, and Kevin Cao ’16. 

Chronicle invited the five composers to describe their pieces and the inspiration for them.

Mark Berger, “Landscape”: “My composition is a short, atmospheric piece for piano quartet that was commissioned in 2007 by Music at Eden’s Edge in honor of their 25th season. The piece is all about creating an atmosphere, a type of imaginary landscape through instrumental color and sonority.”

Kevin Cao, “String Quartet”: “The piece is inspired by the Tiananmen Square protest. One of my father’s graduate school colleagues was killed during the protest. I dedicate this piece to the students and soldiers who were sacrificed during the protest, since most of them were used as tools for the elites’ special interests.”

Thomas Oboe Lee, “Suite for Solo Cello”: “I met Jan Müller-Szeraws back in the 1980s, and since then Jan has participated in a number of performances of my work. ‘Suite for Solo Cello’ is dedicated to him. The inspiration? Bach, of course. It is modeled after his ‘Six Suites for Unaccompanied Violoncello’; the sequence of movements in my suite is similar to that Bach’s.”

Erin Huelskamp, “Obsidian Mirror”: “This is a single movement piece for string quartet based on four intervals: the perfect fifth, major sixth, minor second, and major third. The title is suggestive of the reflective and somewhat yearning nature of the melody. Written in 2008 at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, this piece was inspired by several conversations with Samuel Adler regarding abstract music and atonality as well as the beautiful string writing in Samuel Barber’s  ‘Adagio for Strings.’”

Ralf Gawlick, “Glocken-Spiel”: “Perhaps there is no clearer description that better illustrates and captures the essence of the brazen call of the bell than Friedrich Schiller’s words that preface his ‘Lied von der Glocke [Song of the Bell]’: ‘Vivos voco mortuos plango [I call the living, I mourn the dead].’ I am not only drawn to the powerful symbolism behind the bell tone, an anchor of constancy and regularity amidst uncertainty and inconsistency, but also the enormous range of associative antipodes. The same bell calls the living and laments the dead, calls for solemnity and celebration, summons restraint and proclaims exuberance.  We give different meanings to the same sound.  As such, metaphorically, the unwavering, steadfast bell toll encompasses the swinging pendulum of experiences. 

“In ‘Glocken-Spiel,’ for piano quartet, the concept of associative antipodes springing from the same source transfers to all significant structural levels of the composition.  Thus, much like the numerous meanings, range of experiences and associations signaled by the bell toll, ‘Glocken-Spiel’ changes the meaning of its fundamental material during its course.  By the end, the pendulum has swung from one end to the other.”

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