Faculty Music Composition Set for World Premiere
With baton in hand, Murray Gross is a familiar figure conducting the Alma Symphony Orchestra in Sunday afternoon concerts at Alma College.
But Gross is more than a conductor. He also is a composer whose works have been recorded on CDs, broadcast over National Public Radio, and performed by major ensembles and orchestras across the country.
On March 17, the Michigan State University Wind Symphony premieres one of Gross’ most recent works, “Too Close to the Sun,” at the Wharton Center in East Lansing — a substantial honor for a contemporary composer such as Gross.
Murray Gross conducts a rehearsal in the Remick Heritage Center.
“My role as a conductor at Alma is perhaps the most visible thing I do, and teaching classes involves most of my time,” he says. “But my creative work is very important to me. It’s always challenging to carve out the time to compose, but it’s my first love. I enjoy the process.”
“Too Close To the Sun” is a major work based on the Icarus myth. In Greek mythology, Daedalus and his son Icarus fashion wings of wax and feathers to escape from exile in Crete. Icarus ignores the warnings of his father not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax causes him to fall to his death.
“The ill-fated flight of Icarus has inspired composers, poets, artists and dancers over the centuries,” says Gross. “Retelling this story to my son, I became drawn into the myth and had an idea for a musical work. Although the piece is not specifically programmatic, it contains allusions to specific ideas in the myth, such as flying and falling. It is a very colorful, exciting piece that makes use of all the resources of a symphonic wind ensemble.”
Gross has composed more than 40 original works, including “Urban Myth,” which was recorded on CD by the North Texas Wind Symphony, and “The Wild, Wild West,” which was performed by the H2 Sax Quartet at several venues, including Northwestern University. The New York New Music Ensemble, the Nobilis Trio, the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and other professional and collegiate ensembles also have performed his compositions.
In addition, one of Gross’ orchestral works has been selected for the Vox Novus Orchestra 60x60 project. Vox Novus, a New York City-based organization that promotes contemporary composers, will premiere a concert that features a different composer every minute — 60 one-minute compositions in a one-hour performance synchronized with an analog clock.
Gross typically composes at home, sometimes using notation computer software but also frequently sitting at the piano and letting the creative process flow. He writes music for chamber orchestras, choirs and bands.
“I’m sometimes inspired by ideas outside of music, such as a poem, artwork or nature — you never know where you might get an idea for a piece,” he says. “Other times, the ideas are purely musical. Not every piece needs a story. Just the sound of the music can convey different feelings and meanings to different listeners.”
Teaching ties his conducting and composing interests together, says Gross. As a member of the Alma College music faculty, Gross gives private music composition lessons while also teaching classes on film and world music.
“When I teach world music, I look at the fantastic variety of music from around the world and how it influences Westerners and contemporary composers,” he says. “With film music, we look at the role music plays in film and how composers use music to support the drama of the film or add something to the film.”
Gross and the Alma Symphony Orchestra are preparing for their April 9 and 10 Masterworks Concerts with the Alma College Choirs.
Posted: Tue, March 1st, 2011 at 8:36AM