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MU grad's new-music composition featured in SLSO lineup

Credit reallyboring / Flickr

For the first time in memorable history, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra chose to play a recent MU graduate’s work during its 2014 season. The symphony’s focus on new music is giving Stephanie Berg the chance to hear her music come to life in Powell Hall. An MU program made this possible.

Stephanie Berg practices clarinet in a practice room on the MU campus. Berg came to MU to major in clarinet performance, but after taking a few composition classes, she realized what her true calling might be: “Like it was funny, in the some 12 years I had been playing clarinet at that point, I had had way more success at composition in like 2 years than I had had ever on clarinet.”

Berg stayed at MU for graduate school and majored in composition, partially because of a program called the New Music Initiative.

Stefan Freund is one of Berg’s composition professors, and is a director of the New Music Initiative. The initiative is a program focused on growing new composers through summer composition workshops, scholarships and festivals: “All of these things that we have in place we believe prepare our students and composers in Missouri in general for a professional career in composition.”

Berg wrote the piece, “Ravish and Mayhem,” last summer for the New Music Initiative International Composers Festival. The piece is going to be played by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra this winter. It is rare for composers to have their work played by major professional orchestras, and even more rare for students.

Bret Dorhout is the Vice President for Artistic Administration at the symphony, and he says the symphony enjoys featuring new music: “You know we’re not just a museum so playing music that’s hundreds of years old all the time is not necessarily the music that speaks about things that are happening now,” he said.

The symphony first heard about Berg’s piece because of the New Music Initiative festival.Freund says Berg’s piece reflects well on the entire MU music department. “To have the symphony orchestra performing on two subscription concerts a piece by one of our graduates is a huge accomplishment,” he says.

Berg says the exciting thing about having her piece played is that she is being treated as a professional composer: “It’s not being handled as like a prize or having won something, it’s being handled as an actual professional gig. And so I’m learning the ins and outs of what exactly that means. I’m really inexperienced in working with professional orchestras, because I’ve never done it before.”

Berg’s piece is being played as part of a series contrasting Beethoven pieces with more modern works. Ravish and Mayhem will be played with Nielsen’s violin concerto and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Dorhout says Berg’s piece was chosen because it complements the other works being played: “When you’re in a concert and you’re siting through it, each piece effects how you listen to the next piece and it really makes a journey for the listener.”

Even though Berg has graduated from MU, she is still taking classes as a non-degree seeking student at MU, so she can be in the New Music Ensemble. She hopes this professional success will help her in the future: “I think all musicians wear different hats to a certain extent, you know I’ll have my composer hat and my performer hat and my teaching hat and whatever other hats I need to you know to make do,” she says, “but I’m really hoping that this success will catapult me into other successes as well too hopefully.”

The symphony is scheduled to play “Ravish and Mayhem” in January. 

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