ASU students bring the fire with a chamber orchestra performance of new music

Students Cullan Lucas and Stephen Mitton compose and conduct a new piece for the ASU Chamber Orchestra

Two ASU students are coming together to lead a chamber orchestra in a concert filled with wild and fiery music on Nov. 16. 

As a part of his doctoral recital requirement, Cullan Lucas will be conducting the orchestra through a composition written by master’s student Stephen Mitton.

Lucas, a third-year doctoral student in orchestra and opera conducting, said he has been interested in new orchestral music for over a year now and could not miss his chance to work with a living composer.

“Last February, I started thinking about what kind of music I wanted to have featured on my recital,” Lucas said. “I had been really interested in living composers and new works — things that had been written in the last ten years or so — for about the last year or year and a half. So I thought that since this concert is supposed to be a culmination of my experiences up to this point, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with a composer at ASU to create something new specifically for this group.”

Lucas said he talked with Stephen Mitton, a second-year masters candidate for music composition, and they came up with the idea to put on a performance with the ASU Chamber Orchestra.

“It just so happened that Stephen Mitton and I ran into each other and we started talking about some of his projects and things that he had been writing and where he was in his degree,” he said. “Everything lined up with where I was at the exact same time. After a couple of meetings of talking back and forth, we finally came up with this idea to write a chamber symphony for the ASU Chamber Orchestra.”

Mitton said he started composing music while studying cello during his undergraduate degree.

“I started composing music during my freshman year of my undergrad,” Mitton said. “I had done a little bit of composition before then, but I started to get serious about it around 2009. That was when I actually started writing full pieces. I actually didn’t do my undergrad in composition. I did my undergrad in cello performance, so I was in the practice room a lot. As a result, I ended up coming up with a lot of cello pieces, and that’s how I got started.”

Mitton said that he began working on his composition in Feb. of this year and finished in Aug. He said the first movement of the piece, which is six minutes long, took him a month and a half to compose, due to it being the most intricate part of the composition. The second movement did not require as much time, it took Mitton a month to write it. The third and final movement only took Mitton three weeks.

The inspiration for the piece came from the work of Benjamin Britten. Mitton said he tried to take Britten’s style and make it his own.

“I have been in a string quartet at ASU, with some friends of mine who I did my undergrad with at Utah State,” he said. “We were working on the first string quartet by Benjamin Britten, who is one of my favorite composers. I just really liked his harmonic language. We had worked on it for several months, and I just really grew to love that piece. I thought it might be fun, since I have this commission coming up, to see if I could model that piece and take some of my favorite elements from it and reshape them into my own language.”

Jeffery Meyer, director of orchestras at ASU, said the orchestra had only a short time to prepare for this concert, but the quick preparation for the performance gave students an idea of what to expect with professional orchestras.

“For this concert, the orchestra had four rehearsals and that’s it,” Meyer said. “They began rehearsing just last week.”

Meyer said the reason he gave Lucas permission to use Mitton’s piece as a part of his graduate recital was because he wanted the orchestra to be able to play new music and music from living composers.

“Classical music in general has sort of a museum reputation,” he said. “The classical music environment, in the United States especially, is really vibrant with living composers and young composers. As part of the mission of the ASU Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, I include new music quite often. When Cullan came to me and said he wanted to ask his friend Stephen Mitton to write a piece for his graduate recital, that was exactly in line with things I would like this orchestra to be able to do, so I said that would be great.”

Meyer also said that learning Mitton’s piece presented some challenges to the orchestra because there is no recording to listen to —but it was an exciting experience for the students.

Along with Mitton’s composition, the orchestra will be playing pieces by Haydn and Beethoven.

The concert will be held in Katzin Concert Hall on the Tempe campus on Wednesday Nov. 16 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. More information is available on the ASU events page and the ASU School of Music website.


Reach the reporter at kzgaskin@asu.edu or follow @kiya_gaskin on Twitter.

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