5 Questions to Stefan Freund (Mizzou International Composers Festival)

The Mizzou International Composers Festival (MICF), lead by artistic director Stefan Freund (Alarm Will Sound co-founder and cellist), is a festival at the University of Missouri School of Music that brings together a vast array of programs aimed at elevating the school as a prime incubator for new music and composition. On July 24-27, 2017, the eighth annual festival will feature a variety of multi-media compositions composed by AWS members and MICF alumni, as well as world premieres of eight new compositions by this year’s resident composers over the course of four days at the Mizzou campus. Freund has been the artistic director of MICF since its inception, and we asked him five questions the program, its evolution, and its future.

What sets the Missouri new music “scene” apart from others?

As you’ll find in other states, Missouri has cities like St. Louis and Kansas City that have their own new music scenes, as well as new music programs at universities throughout the state. However, what makes what’s happening in Missouri special is the Mizzou New Music Initiative, which offers opportunities to composers at every level, from elementary school students to established professionals. 

For beginning composers, our Creating Original Music Project (COMP) Festival offers awards and performance opportunities for music in different categories (jazz, popular, and fine art) by competition winners from elementary, middle, and high schools. At the college level, the NMI provides full scholarships to University of Missouri students who wish to study composition while fully funding graduate assistantships for the Mizzou New Music Ensemble, which functions as a “learning laboratory” for their music. The ensemble performs student works on campus and at exciting venues in St. Louis such as the Contemporary Art Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Science Museum, the Zoo, and Forest Park. The Mizzou New Music Initiative also provides a postdoctoral position at the University of Missouri that serves as an excellent transition from studying to teaching. 

In addition, the NMI sponsors the Missouri Composers Project, which includes high school and open categories. Our last MOCOP concert featured works from composers ages 14 to 85 performed by the Columbia Civic Orchestra and the Columbia Chamber Choir.

Our students at Mizzou also have had the opportunity to write for St. Louis Symphony members through commissions from the Sheldon Concert Hall, and we’re working on something else with the Symphony that we hope to announce very soon. Former MICF resident composers and myself also have received performances by the SLSO and other professional orchestras in Missouri. And of course, Alarm Will Sound performs Missouri-made music through its ongoing performances in St. Louis and annual residency at the Mizzou International Composers Festival.

Stefan Freund

Stefan Freund

How have you seen the Mizzou International Composers Festival–and the students, for that matter–evolve and grow during your time as Artistic Director?

One goal of the Festival is to provide high-quality recordings of Alarm Will Sound’s performances of the resident composers’ works, so that they can use them in their portfolios to apply for academic positions and grants. We’ve seen a number of our former resident composers go on to win major honors such as Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships and awards from ASCAP and BMI. They’ve also gained teaching positions at important institutions like the Longy School, Bowling Green State University, the University of California, Riverside, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Xinghai Conservatory, Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and the National University of Singapore.

We’ve formed lasting relationships between former resident composers and AWS. For example, 2016 Resident Composer Mary Kouyoumdjian recently won a grant from the MAP fund to develop a concert-length piece for AWS, which began as a seed project at last year’s MICF. In addition, AWS commissioned a film to accompany 2012 Resident Composer Charlie Piper’s piece “Zoetrope.”

Alarm Will Sound has been part of this program since its beginning. In addition to the growth of the students and the program, how has the ensemble grown alongside it?

Participating in the Mizzou International Composers Festival has enabled Alarm Will Sound to grow both artistically and through its community of composers and performers. The Festival gives Alarm Will Sound the opportunity to collaborate with incredible musical minds from a variety of walks of life. The list of guest composers we’ve been able to work with one-on-one is staggering: Augusta Read Thomas, Hans Abrahamsen, Nico Muhly, Anna Clyne, Erin Gee, and many more. The range of composers who attend the Festival as residents is just as incredible. These composers are at an earlier point in their career, but have already shown exemplary ability. We get the opportunity to dive deeply into each composer’s work in the rehearsals and performances and have chances to sit and talk about music during breaks and in the evenings. We find these relationships between composer and performer incredibly valuable, especially since a number of us in the group are composers and performers.

These relationships have spawned a range of repertoire that we take with us when we leave the Festival. For example, our relationship with Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger began with excerpts at the MICF and has developed into staged full performances of the opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Kennedy Center, and in St. Louis. We’ve performed numerous other pieces from Mizzou on concerts in New York, Cleveland, and St. Louis.

Alarm Will Sound

Alarm Will Sound

What’s something–whether it be music, the students, or the college of music itself–that has surprised you most during your time as Artistic Director and Professor of Composition at Mizzou?

I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a patron here in Missouri, Jeanne Sinquefield, who can help me build programs that promote new music around the organizations that I’m involved in: Alarm Will Sound, the Columbia Civic Orchestra, and the University of Missouri. With Jeanne’s assistance, I’m using these organizations to realize her goals of making Missouri a center for the creation and performance of new music. That would not be possible without a sponsor who understands the importance of giving composers performance and recording opportunities for their music. 

What do you hope this year’s (and future years) resident composers will get out of the program?

This year’s resident composers have the opportunity to work with distinguished guest composers Georg Friedrich Haas and Dan Visconti. I look forward to premiering their music with Alarm Will Sound and providing them with a valuable recording of their work that they can parlay into even more opportunities for their careers. The MICF has consistently been successful in achieving its primary goal of helping emerging composers advance their careers and I’m sure we’ll continue to do so in the future.