February 21, 2017

Student Compositions Featured in Museum Exhibition

Student Compositions Featured in Museum Exhibition
CIM composition students Joseph Tolonen, Qingye Wu and Alex Cooke premiered their new works last weekend at the Massillon Museum

CIM composition students Alex Cooke, Joseph Tolonen and Qingye Wu, all of whom study with department head Keith Fitch, premiered new works commissioned by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at the Massillon Museum in Canton this past weekend.  These works, all for string quartet, were commissioned for the museum’s new exhibition, Blind Spot, which brings abstract paintings to the blind and visually impaired through music, technology and tactile models.

Each composer wrote a piece inspired by a different work in the collection, helping to translate the art to those who cannot experience it visually. Cooke’s composition was based on Celebration by Richard Florsheim. He found the process of writing for a specific art piece to be a bit of a challenge. “I think writing for a specific art piece is tricky because neither should be subservient to or derivative of the other, yet they need to exist in a related manner,” he explains. “So, one needs to live in the world of the art for a little while, then forget the piece (temporarily), but take that world with them. Then, the two can often find some sort of symbiosis between literal representation and distant metaphorical representation — not transcription or translation so much as pointed interpretation.”

Where Cook found composing for a specific art piece deviated from his usual process, Tolonen was able to use the artwork as a good starting point. “I usually start a piece with a title and general idea of what I want to represent,” he says. “Granted, I did have to take the time to get to know the piece of art, and try and decipher what the painting was trying to represent.” Tolonen wrote his piece based on a work entitled Abstraction by Walter Quirt. The work resulted in a personal piece for Tolonen, which he dedicated to his dad. “Once I figured out what I thought the key parts of the painting were, and of those, what I wanted to represent, I just started composing, continuing to keep that general idea in mind as I would for any other piece,” he says.

Wu used Shoreline by Julius Faysash as inspiration for her work, being particularly struck by the use of color in the piece. “I was amazed by how many tightly connected colors there were in the painting. I also see a broad and beautiful landscape covered by the paints of nature, as if a palette had been spilled,” she says. The title of Wu’s piece, “The Spilled Palette” illustrates that aspect of the work. “I tried to reflect these different colors and spaces through a variety of harmonies and timbres in my composition.”

Each piece was performed by a Canton Symphony Quartet at the opening exhibition on Saturday.