Nov. 25, 2020
Six weeks into the 2014 academic year, the Conservatory teamed together with the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers (CFAMC), Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts (CCCA), and the Torrey Honors Institute to host a grand festival of new music.
Over 65 composers from all over the United States and Canada converged, together with Orthodox priest and celebrated European composer Father Ivan Moody, to share in 12 concerts made up almost exclusively of their own original works. All of these pieces were written within the past 30 years, and several even received their world premieres at this event. Other featured guest artists and ensembles included the award-winning Cadillac Moon Ensemble, pianists Paul Barnes and Solungga Fang-Tzu Liu, baritones Richard Zeller and Joel Balzun, Ensemble Christo LA, and the Paul Delgado Singers.
CFAMC was founded in 1994 by Mark Hijleh to provide a place for Christian composers to come together and share their thoughts and perspectives on what it means to be a follower of Christ who is concerned with the advancement of “art music,” as opposed to popular music or music expressly written for church functions. Composers sharing their music is a vital part of this interaction that is best achieved by means of live performances at annual conferences such as the one held here at Biola.
The schedule for the conference was carefully planned in order to accommodate as many activities as possible while participants were in town and able to take part. The first day of the A Weekend of Wonder conference featured, among other excellent works, an hour-long composition by Fresno Pacific University’s Walter Saul. Saul was inspired by a vivid array of quilts that he displayed in sequence on a large overhead screen during the performance. After a mixed media presentation by collaborative artists Steve and Jeffrey Roden, virtuoso pianist Paul Barnes concluded the evening with an electrifying solo concert including works by Phillip Glass, Joan Tower and Victoria Bond.
Barnes featured CFAMC composers as well, including Biola alumnus Lucas Floyd and current student Jonah Gallagher, whom Mr. Barnes referred to as “the youngest composer I have ever performed with.” Gallagher is currently working toward a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Biola.
“As a student here at Biola it was great to work with someone who really understood the spirit and soul of the piece,” he said after the performance. “[Barnes] was an amazing person to be around and it was so inspiring to get to know him and see his enthusiasm and the pure joy that he gets from music.”
Friday’s schedule included no less than five separate concerts. The day’s highlights included a complete performance of Tegel Passion, an oratorio based on the life of Friedrich Bonhoeffer for tenor soloist, choir and orchestra by Lincoln Hanks of Pepperdine University.
The day concluded with “An Evening with Ivan Moody,” a two-part event beginning with a banquet held in Father Moody’s honor at which he gave his keynote address. Following this was a concert dedicated exclusively to Moody’s work. Richard Zeller, Metropolitan Opera veteran of 12 years and current Biola Conservatory faculty member, was one of those who performed at this concert, singing Moody’s “Romance Sonambulo” for baritone and piano. The Biola Chorale, led by Shawna Stewart, along with the Cadillac Moon Ensemble and Paul Barnes, premiered Moody’s “Cielo Della Luna,” a work commissioned by CCCA for this very special event. In response, Father Moody commented that this was “one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” and that he was “humbled and impressed by the dedication of [the Conservatory] students, the staff and the musicians who took part in a truly amazing concert.”
The exclamation point for the conference came with its final concert, where the Cadillac Moon Ensemble, a New York-based group of new music specialists, performed a concert entirely comprised of CFAMC premieres. Local clarinetist Eric Henry Jacobs joined the ensemble for the last piece on the program, a stunning work by Wheaton Conservatory’s Shawn Okpebholo.
“Christianity in the arts is, unfortunately, often synonymous with mediocrity,” the composer said after the performance. “In this event, we proved that the serious Christian artist can rise to the level of excellence — this is immensely important in advancing the kingdom.”
Composition area coordinator and professor Dr. Robert Denham said that hosting the conference alongside CCCA was one of the most significant endeavors of his life.
“This was God-appointed, of that I am sure; all the pieces fit together in such a brilliant and unique way,” he said. “From the recent formation of CCCA, to the recent addition of performers like Richard Zeller to our Conservatory faculty, to the exponential growth we’ve experienced in our composition department here at Biola — all of these resources came to fruition at just the right time to make this conference the grand celebration that it proved to be.”
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