International music festival showcases ASU faculty, students, alumni

Musicians and dancers performing in Katzin Concert Hall.


Twenty-three music and dance faculty, students and alumni in Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and Theatre are featured performers at the international Walled City Music Festival’s closing gala virtual concert on March 28.

Cathal Breslin, internationally renowned pianist and assistant professor in the school, and international flutist Sabrina Hu co-founded the Walled City Music Festival in 2008; the festival creates an inspiring platform for classical, chamber and contemporary music and also presents innovative programs from the world’s most exceptional musicians.

This year’s closing gala concert combines four different art forms – music, dance, poetry and film – into seven original projects performed by music and dance faculty, students and alumni. The collaboration is a creative exploration connecting Irish arts with ASU and ASU-associated artists of different styles and generations and was filmed in Katzin Hall on ASU’s Tempe campus, in the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix and in Cutúrlann, Derry, Northern Ireland. 

Traditional Irish folk music is merged with hip-hop and contemporary modern dance, contemporary Irish music is fused with contemporary modern and Afro-Latin salsa dance, a work by ASU’s Daniel Bernard Roumain is fused with postmodern contemporary dance, and a new music/abstract film by composition faculty Christopher Norby is premiered. 

The festival, which has been held in the historic walled city of Derry, Northern Ireland, for the past 11 years, moved entirely online for the first time this year.

“Moving the festival online has allowed us to showcase the collaboration and talent at ASU and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on an international stage,” Breslin said.

This is the second year that ASU students have participated in the festival. Prior to the pandemic last year, Breslin invited four piano students to perform at the festival, including the 2019 winner of the Walled City Music International Piano Festival, ASU doctoral student Selene Wu.

“We have always tried to stretch the boundaries  of what a music festival is, even what people consider it is,” Hu said. “When we knew it would be online, we had an ocean of possibilities that opened up because we were able to think about not just a concert with audio, but what we can do visually. We were really excited to involve the dance faculty and the music faculty that wanted to learn music by Irish composers.”

Breslin said the festival has previously paired music with film and music with sports, but this year provided an opportunity to pair music with different styles of dance. He said when the Herberger Institute merged the disciplines of dance, theatre and music to create the School of Music, Dance and Theatre last year, he and Hu began thinking about creating the collaborative project of music and dance as part of the festival.

“Our vision was not only to merge the arts, but we started thinking about how wonderful it would be if we had traditional Irish music and a dance form like hip-hop with a desert background,” Hu said. “It was so great to have ASU as a place where we could do all this.”

Music faculty Christopher Creviston, Hannah Creviston and Jiji Kim selected works by Irish composers that they were interested in performing, and dance faculty were asked if they could choreograph to the selected music.

Dance faculty who choreographed works include Carley Conder, Mary Fitzgerald, Jorge Magana (House), David Olarte, Eileen Standley and Keith Thompson.

“What interested me most was the chance to intersect my movement language (contemporary dance) with this rich traditional Irish heritage,” Conder said. “This music lends itself to dancing – you can’t help but dance when you hear the traditional Irish music.” 

Conder said she and her third-year students dove into the complexities, history and structures of the traditional Irish music, in particular an unaccompanied, vocal selection in Gaelic that they translated to better understand the meaning.

“I hope the ASU students learn that there are sparks that fly when mixing the old and new, traditional and contemporary,” Conder said. “Also, that limitations often open doors that would normally be closed. COVID provided a collaboration between the deserts of Arizona and green rolling hills of Ireland. I’m grateful for that.”  

Hu said that having the festival filmed and online this year has allowed them to incorporate more people and present more artists internationally. The opening concert was filmed in Singapore, Munich and Nova Scotia; Friday night’s concert was filmed in Derry; Thursday night’s concert was filmed at the National Sawdust Festival in Brooklyn; and the closing concert was mostly filmed in Phoenix. There is also a four-composer panel workshop with young composers on March 27 featuring two music composition faculty – Fernanda Navarro and Christopher Norby.

The virtual gala concert is available at 1 p.m. Arizona time on March 28 on the Walled City Music Festival YouTube channel and website. More event information

The festival runs through March 28 and all concerts and events are online.

2021 Closing Gala Concert program, in order of appearance:

Greg Caffrey, composer: “Honk,” performed by Christopher Creviston (soprano saxophone) and Hannah Creviston (piano), choreography and dance by David Olarte.

Linda Buckley, composer: "Sólás," poetry by Doireann Ní Ghríofra, performed by Cathal Breslin (piano) and Sabrina Hu (flute), contemporary modern dance choreographed by Keith Thompson, dancers Kayla Anderson and Brayden Guentzel.

Jonathan Nangle, composer: “Solas,” performed by Jiji Kim (electric guitar), Afro-Latin salsa choreography and dance by David Olarte and Carla Leon.

Christopher Norby, composer: “Moviola Music,” performed by Cathal Breslin (piano) and Sabrina Hu (flute).

Daniel Roumain, composer: “Seven Simple Solos,” performed by Daniel Bernard Roumain (violin), postmodern dance choreographed by Mary Fitzgerald and Eileen Standley.

Buí (performed and recorded in Cultúrlann, Derry) with contemporary modern dance choreographed by Carley Conder, dancers Lauren Jimenez, Emily Laird, Amy Symonds and Victoria Ward.

Buí (performed and recorded in Cultúrlann, Derry), music remix by Lawrence “Reflekshin” Martinez with hip hop choreography by Jorge Magana (House), dancers Dominique “Domo” Brown, Mike “Mr. Groove” Cruz and Ruby Morales.

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