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A musical connection between Corvallis and Houston helped pave the way for this year’s premiere work in the Chintimini Chamber Music Festival – a work written as a tribute to a longtime festival supporter.

In an email interview with composer Karim Al-Zand of Rice University, he elaborated on his piece, “Canticle and Caprice,” which will be performed Sunday evening in the festival’s fourth concert. (See the related story for details.)

Here are excerpts from the interview:

The E: How did this commission for Chintimini come about? I understand that the initial contact came from Adam Matthes (a festival musician and mid-valley native). Is that correct?

Karim Al-Zand: I’m on the faculty at the Shepherd School of Music (Rice University) where I teach composition and theory. Adam was a student in one of my classes when he did his masters there a few years back. Since then, Adam played a piece of mine and I guess passed my name along to festival organizer Erik Peterson. (This happened over several years – I think Adam graduated in 2009.) We applied for and received a grant from New Music USA, which helped support the commission.

The E: Will you be in Corvallis for the premiere? What kind of experience is it for a composer to hear a work performed for the first time?

Al-Zand: Yes, I’ll be in Corvallis for the premiere and also to work with the performers beforehand. I will likely also briefly introduce the work at the premiere on Sunday. The festival is also doing a work of mine on their children’s concerts, a piece called “Swimmy,” based on the well-known children’s book by Leo Lionni. Unfortunately, I won’t be there for the performances of that. Hearing a work performed for the first time is always a thrill, especially so when you’ve got such wonderful performers to interpret your work.

The E: Was there a specific point of inspiration for the piece?

Al-Zand: Erik asked that that I write a piece in memory of Molly Bloomfield, a long-time supporter of the festival. I didn’t know her, but through (festival board member) Joan Caldwell I learned that she was a remarkable woman, with many diverse interests and talents, beloved for her passionate devotion to the Corvallis community. Rather than an elegy, I decided to write something which would commemorate her contributions in a more celebratory way, which seemed appropriate both to the festival and to her memory.

Here is the program note for the piece:

“Canticle and Caprice” is a short work for string trio in two contrasting sections. In the first, a sustained lyrical melody is played by the violin and viola together, accompanied by plucked notes in the cello. (“Canticle” is from the Latin “canticulum,” meaning “short song.”) The second section, which follows directly, is swift, lively and animated, in a kind of perpetual motion. Canticle and Caprice was written for the Chintimini Music Festival, with grant assistance from New Music USA. The piece is written in memory of Molly Bloomfield, a long-time supporter of the festival.

The E: How did you get into composing in the first place? What were your inspirations? What advice do you have for your composition students?

Al-Zand: Like most composers, I think, I began composing as a sort of extension of performing and taking lessons – in my case piano and saxophone – and playing in ensembles and band and so forth. I was always interested in how music was put together, what made my favorite pieces so engaging. And for me the way to do that was to try to write music of my own.


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