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2023 PRISMS Contemporary Music Festival reimagines diverse musical traditions

Prisms Festival logo.

The PRISMS Festival takes place Nov. 17–20.

November 15, 2023

The 2023 PRISMS Contemporary Music Festival, “Re-Works,” features a lineup of composers and performers who are exploring the many ways in which composers can reimagine, reconceive and reenvision existing music, and the diversity that arises from those sonic conversations.

This year, PRISMS is organized by School of Music Dance and Theatre faculty Simone Mancuso, founder of PRISMS; Gabriel Bolaños, assistant professor; Fernanda Navarro, assistant professor; Alex Temple, assistant professor; and Jody Rockmaker, associate professor. 

Garth Paine, professor of composition and theory in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, is organizer of the Ambisonic Dome concerts, a collaboration with Fonotecha Nacional de México curated by Mexican sound-artist F. Tito Rivas.

“PRISMS explores the ways in which music can be used to express the unique perspectives of different cultures and how the notion of 're-work' acts as a lens through which to understand these diverse musical traditions,” Bolaños said.

Mancuso said festival works include the monumental “Sur Incises” by Pierre Boulez, new works by emerging composers, and electronic music for the Ambisonic Dome. The “Sur Incises” lineup includes Canadian harp soloist Michelle Gott, the Dallas Symphony principal harpist Emily Levin, ASU harp instructor Charles Lynch, and Cathal Breslin, associate professor of piano.

“The classical music world is very good at preserving the music of the past, but the flip side of that is that it sometimes neglects the music of the present,” Temple said. “A festival like PRISMS illuminates the kaleidoscopic variety of sounds and ideas that composers are working with in the 21st century.”

“This year we held an external call for scores and received over 190 submissions from all over the world,” Bolaños said. “We are also excited to announce that the festival features 12 world premieres.”

Composer Julie Zhu’s piece “lawrence st.” was selected as the winning score and will be performed by Kodachrome, ASU's award-winning student saxophone quartet.

Zhu will visit ASU during the festival and will also present her work at the composition seminar on Nov. 20. 

The PRISMS committee also selected four honorable mentions, some of which will be performed at the festival and some at next year's festival.

  • João Pedro Oliveira: “Towdah.”
  • Heather Hindman: “Fanfare for an Uncommon Person.”
  • Iván-Manuel Tapia Bruno: “Di(a)sociaciones.”
  • Becky Brown: “On the Ontology of Sound in Multidimensional Space - or - Does My Scholarly Paper Really Need a Soundtrack??”

The opening concert on Nov. 17 in the Ambisonic Dome, curated by Rivas, features music by contemporary Mexican composers who explore soundscape, acousmatics and multichannel language as elements in their compositions.

The concert on Nov. 18 features Pierre Boulez's monumental “Sur Incises,” a piece described by music critic Tim Page as "charged with a bright, cold, hard brilliance, like a spray of crushed ice." Rounding out the program are works for instruments and electronics by Temple, Bolaños and Daniel Bernard Roumain, who are all ASU music composition and theory faculty, and alejandro t. acierto, assistant professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies.

The Nov. 19 concert includes Julie Zhu's winning score “lawrence st.,” which Zhu describes as "a mathematical sweep, constructed from swirls and grids." The program also includes chamber music by Becky Brown (United States), Yader Ugarte (Nicaragua), Iván-Manuel Tapia Bruno (Chile) and ASU composition students Kylar Gardner, Tommy McPhee, Noemy Esparza-Isaacson and R. Kelvin McCartney Adesso.

The final concert, on Nov. 20, highlights music by members of ASU's music composition and theory faculty: Garth Paine, Fernanda Navarro, Jody Rockmaker and Spencer Arias. In addition, ASU clarinet Professor Robert Spring will play a new piece written for him by local composer Barry Moon, and ASU alum Bonson Lee will play Shelley Washington's tribute to Charles Mingus, “MO'INGUS.”

On Nov. 17 visiting harpists Michelle Gott and Emily Levin will present a workshop on composing for harp and performing contemporary music. In addition, an open rehearsal with Gott and Levin for Bolaños composition will also be available to demonstrate how to integrate live electronics with the two harps.

Several School of Music, Dance and Theatre faculty artists will also perform at the concerts in addition to our student ensembles: the Arizona Contemporary Music Ensemble, ASU Contemporary Percussion Ensemble and the ASU Brass Quintet.

All concerts and seminars are free and open to the public, with a $5 admission for the Ambisonic Dome concerts. 

2023 PRISMS Contemporary Music Festival

Friday, Nov. 17
Michelle Gott and Emily Levin Harp Workshop
3:35 –4:25 p.m., Music W130

Friday, Nov. 17
Mexican Multichannel Music
5 p.m., $5
Ambisonic Dome

Saturday, Nov. 18
Sur Incises and ASU Faculty
8–9:30 p.m., free
Katzin Concert Hall

Sunday, Nov. 19
Call for Scores and Arizona Contemporary Music Ensemble
Noon–1:30 p.m., free
Katzin Concert Hall

Sunday, Nov. 19
Mexican Multichannel Music
3 p.m., $5
Ambisonic Dome

Monday, Nov. 20
ASU Faculty and Guests
8–9:30 p.m., free
Katzin Concert Hall

Monday, Nov. 20
Lecture and Seminar with Julie Zhu
3:35–4:25 p.m.
Music W130

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