CUA (The Catholic University of America) organized the 2-day Festival New Voices @ CUA from 2010 to 2014 under the title A Festival of New Vocal Music. The festival was showcasing cabaret songs, chamber and sacred music, and art. The festival was set up in cooperation with the university’s student chapter of the Society of Composers, Benjamin Rome School of Music, and the Great Noise Ensemble.
The first New Voices @ CUA festival was featuring almost 20 composers from the U.S. and abroad, and included a few world premieres.
The festival’s opening concert included several works by composers who are CUA graduates and performed by CUA graduate students. The three other concerts included works created by Festival Composers, and were divided into three categories, chamber music, sacred music, and art & cabaret songs.
Students from the Benjamin Rome School of Music performed sacred music and art and cabaret songs, and the chamber music pieces were performed by the Great Noise Ensemble that has residence at CUA. The composers featured at the Festival were chosen from more than one hundred submitted compositions that were received after an open call in July. The composers group of CUA students was judging the pieces and subsequently, on August 31, the results were published.
The last time the unique New Voices @ CUA festival (A Festival of New Vocal Music) was organized was in January 2014, on the 24th and 25th. The festival included four concerts and highlighted the masterpiece works of 17 vocal composers from the U.S. and England. Besides the traditional categories (chamber music, sacred music, and art & cabaret songs) included this last edition also vocal compositions from CUA students.
The Friday and Saturday night concerts highlighted the new CUA’s ensemble “Ensemble Next Parallel” that performed interesting pieced under Robert Baker’s direction. Robert is one of CUA’s leading Music Theory & Composition professors. Read also the notes from Steven Berryman. His composition ‘Versa est in luctum’ was among the performed compositions during the festival.
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What gave you the inspiration to become one of the leading composers?
Steven: One of my first memories of music was the discovery of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. By that time I was around ten years old. I immediately felt the urge to get into the music, and I was really fascinated by the orchestral sound power and by the strings’ timbre. It didn’t take me so long to start trying to compose short music pieces by myself, and I did many experiments to find out about how to best combine various sounds. Usually, the early pieces I made were sort of pastiches of all the other repertoire that I need to study as a flutist. As a teenager, I wrote very obsessively, and I was checking out the solo sonata genre. I even was trying to compose a piano concerto in those days!
What was your inspiration for ‘Versa est in Luctum’ and for what reason did you choose this text?
Steven: The text of ‘Versa est in Luctum’ was actually requested by a London-based vocal group (named Voce Sanctis) and was meant to be part of a Renaissance vocal program that the group prepared to perform. Versa est in Luctum’s text offers great opportunities to paint with words, such as “My harp is tuned for lamentation”, “My flute to the voice of those who weep”, and “Spare me, O Lord, for my days are as nothing”. I was, however, a little reluctant to such word painting. I would rather focus on specific harmonic materials to deliver my personal interpretation of the impressive text. In March 2012, Versa est in Luctum was for the first time performed at St. Luke’s in Chelsea by Voce Sanctis.
From which genre or style of music do you get you inspiration and influences?
Steven: my most important source of inspiration has always come from teaching music to students. I love teaching music to a wide variety of musicians, from all age groups and of different capacities and abilities. All these students frequently have inspired me through their various composition and improvisation talents in class. On the other hand, as a listener, I engage with all kinds of music, and what intrigues me, or by what I get inspired, is really varying by the week. I love discovering unfamiliar or new music, and over the past months, I have been focusing on the work of Matthew Herbert, Thomas Adés, Fauré, and Handel. That sort of work could be found on my Spotify playlists. What fascinates me particularly is what Barthes described as the ‘grain of the voice’. Voice is what fascinates me most and it will help me to keep on writing music.