Contemporary classical composer and UW-Madison School of Music faculty member Laura Elise Schwendinger agreed to share some audio samples of her work in conjunction with the story in Isthmus about her work.
Three of the excerpts are from "High Wire Act," commissioned and premiered three years ago by flutist Christina Jennings and her ensemble BrightMusic.
Inspired by the wire circus figures of the late American sculptor Alexander Calder, Schwendinger's composition for flute, violin, viola, cello and piano renders musical the sense of aerial daring conveyed by Calder's work. His creation "Wire Circus" is "a piece I love," notes the composer, and her affection shows straightaway in the first sample from the composition's first movement.
Schwendinger remembers that her first reaction to seeing the work that inspired this composition was immediate. "For a long time, it had inspired certain textures and colors and melodies and rhythms in my head," she explains. The composer thus had the fundamentals for "High Wire Act" in her mental files when Jennings approached her to commission the work. "The flute is a very agile instrument," observes Schwendinger, an accomplished flutist herself. "It can sit very high in the upper upper register," she notes, lending itself to a composition inspired by aerialist imagery, as in the work's third movement.
"Laura has a unique and compelling voice as a composer," observes Jennings via email. "Her music is always based on solid compositional ideas -- she is one of the smartest people I know, and yet, there is a poetic and organic quality in every piece I've heard. She manages to blend tradition and innovation in the most beautiful and original way." This is present throughout "High Wire Act," which concludes in a short fifth movement.
Jennings adds that the beauty in Schwendinger's music does not come without challenges. "Laura's music is never easy," she notes, "and this piece was no exception."
In 2005, Schwendinger also composed Esprimere, a cello concerto written for the cellist Matt Haimovitz, who premiered it in March 2007 with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra. Known for his adventurousness in seeking out non-traditional performance settings and repertoire, he joins the orchestra in the opening of the concerto's second movement.
On the faculty at Montreal's McGill University since 2004, Haimovitz studied at Juilliard and counts Itzhak Perlman among his mentors, and has built a reputation for the beauty of his tone and acuity of his ear as well as for his style. He subsequently leads the orchestra deep into the core of Esprimere's second movement.
This movement concludes with an exquisite reflection of Schwendinger's capacity to reconcile complex ideas with gorgeous music.