Sounds Of Enchantment: The Unm Composers’ Symposium

Symposium Spotlights Nuevo Mexicano Composers

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Sounds of Enchantment
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John Donald Robb was an accomplished composer and ethnomusicologist who, in the ’40s and ’50s, ventured throughout New Mexico recording traditional folk music and dances.

“I think his real legacy was his enormous curiosity,” say Christopher Shultis, artistic director of the John Donald Robb Composers’ Symposium since 2001. “He was just curious about what kind of music gets made in New Mexico, so he went to the reservations and made recordings.” Shultis says much of what he captured is now considered essential historical documentation of a period that’s gone. “One of the great things about being here in New Mexico is that—if you have that curiosity to show up—there’s an endless amount of things going on.”

Back in 1989, then symposium co-director Scott Wilkinson came up with an idea to highlight the work of UNM composition students, inviting more 40 alums back to coincide with the university’s centennial festivities. In planning this year’s events, Shultis took inspiration from that model but expanded the criteria to allow for a fuller representation of contemporary composers who have been influenced by New Mexico’s culture, history and landscape.

This year’s symposium presents 55 contemporary composers with meaningful connections to New Mexico. Themed with the state’s centennial celebration in mind, all the featured artists live here, studied at UNM or lived in New Mexico for at least a year.

This is Shultis’ last year at the helm of the proceedings. He retired from his UNM Regents’ Professor of Music position at the end of 2011 to dedicate himself full-time to composition and performance. Although he’s since relocated to Pennsylvania, his appreciation for New Mexico’s physical and cultural landscape is evident. Shultis says he believes that Albuquerque’s divergence from the niche “scene” mentality of other cities inspires artists to cultivate distinctive voices and fosters collaboration over exclusivity.

Having partnered with Outpost Performance Space for several years, the symposium is branching out even further into the community this time, with concerts at several satellite venues. Showcases curated by music aficionados at The Kosmos, Small Engine Gallery, North Fourth Art Center and the Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe are intended to broaden the scope of presented composers and encourage cross-patronage.

“I’m hoping that we all bring each other to these concerts,” Shultis says, “that the Keller Hall crowd comes over to Kosmos; Kosmos people maybe come over to Keller.”

Connections through both academia and locale exemplify the spirit of this year’s symposium. One of Shultis’ former composition students, Raven Chacon, is participating as a composer and curator. In 1988, a 10 year-old Chacon attended the symposium with his piano teacher, Dawn Chambers, and met sonic pioneer John Cage.

This year, Chacon has two solo compositions slated for performance. Italian classical pianist Emanuele Arciuli will play Chacon’s composition for overly amplified piano, “Nilchi’ Shada’ji Nalaghali (Winds That Turn From the Sun).” And the Chatter A Chamber Ensemble take on his “Biyán (Song),” a composition for flute, violin, clarinet, cello and percussion. The Southwest-based interdisciplinary artist collective to which Chacon belongs, Postcommodity, will make a rare Albuquerque appearance at the Small Engine Gallery showcase, performing a “generative composition based on game algorithms.”

Over the years, the symposium has brought a number of compositional heavy hitters, such as Pauline Oliveros, Cecil Taylor, Robert Ashley, Michael Colgrass and George E. Lewis. There’s no headlining act hierarchy this time, but notable guest ensembles include the Robb Musical Trust’s artist-in-residence Del Sol String Quartet (San Francisco), percussion ensemble Gamelan Encantada (Albuquerque), digital arts collective localStyle (Chicago) and saxophone group Iridium Quartet (Illinois / Louisiana / New Mexico).

The scale of this year’s symposium is larger, with the typically three-day festival expanding over more than a week of composers’ talks, master classes and concerts. Daytime and nighttime events at UNM proper are free and open to the public. Events at satellite venues have varying prices ranging from $7 to $20. A UNM student ID gains free admittance to ticketed concerts at Outpost Performance Space.

There’s no one concert or showcase Shultis is most excited about experiencing. “If you really love music, this would be the week to immerse yourself,” says Shultis, “This is going to be something that will be hard to duplicate. I’m going to be at everything.”


Events are free unless otherwise noted. More at

Thursday, March 22

7 p.m. Native American Inspirations / New Mexico Composers; various artists

Scottish Rite Temple (463 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe); $15

Friday, March 23

8:30 p.m. Postcommodity; William Fowler Collins; Marisa Demarco; Drake Hardin

Small Engine Gallery (1413 Fourth Street SW); $7

Saturday, March 24

7:30 p.m. various artists

Keller Hall, UNM Center for the Arts

Sunday, March 25

10:30 a.m. Sunday Chatter; various artists

The Kosmos (1715 Fifth Street NW); $15, $9 for people under 30

7:30 p.m. Mark Weaver’s UFO Ensemble with Harris Eisenstadt; Christian Pincock

Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE); $15, $10 members and students, free for UNM students

10 p.m. The Very Rich Hours by Steve Peters

89.9 KUNM-FM

Monday, March 26

9 a.m. Panel discussion with Bill Wood, Scott Wilkinson, Steven Block, Christopher Shultis, Peter Gilbert, Karola Obermüller

Kurt Frederick Rehearsal Hall (B-120, UNM Center for the Arts)

4 p.m. various artists

Keller Hall

7:30 p.m. John Donald Robb Concert; various artists

Keller Hall

Tuesday, March 27

9:30 a.m. "John Donald Robb’s Imperative to Collect: Towards an Archival Ethnography of the Robb Archive for Southwestern Music" lecture by Raquel Rivera

Kurt Frederick Rehearsal Hall

11 a.m. “New Kid on the Block—The Rise and Significance of the Wind Ensemble” lecture by Michael Colgrass

Kurt Frederick Rehearsal Hall

2 p.m., various artists

Keller Hall

5:30 p.m. Gallery talk with installation artists Yim, Novak and Duran

UNM Art Museum (UNM Center for the Arts)

7:30 p.m. various artists

Keller Hall

Wednesday, March 28

9 a.m. Panel discussion with Bill Wood, Scott Wilkinson, Steven Block, Christopher Shultis, Peter Gilbert, Karola Obermüller

Kurt Frederick Rehearsal Hall

10 a.m. “The Key to Creativity: Think Like a Kid” lecture with Michael Colgrass

Kurt Frederick Rehearsal Hall

4 p.m. "The Process of Live Creation in Music" lecture with Julio Estrada and David Felberg

Keller Hall

7:30 p.m. various artists

Popejoy Hall (UNM Center for the Arts)

Thursday, March 29

2 p.m. various artists

Keller Hall

7 p.m. Trio M: Myra Melford, Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson

Outpost Performance Space; $20, $15 members and students, free for UNM students; includes admission and round-trip shuttle from the Outpost to North Fourth Art Center for
Garden, “Night”

9 p.m. Garden, “Night” by Chris Jonas; performed by the Del Sol String Quartet

North Fourth Art Center (4904 Fourth Street NW); see above

Friday, March 30

7:30 p.m. Dino J.A. Deane’s Out of Context Orchestra with pianist Myra Melford; CK Barlow

Outpost Performance Space; $15, $10 members and students, free for UNM students
Sounds of Enchantment

The Robb Musical Trust’s artist-in-residence, Del Sol String Quartet

Sounds of Enchantment

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