Music sans Film

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From the left: President Roger Brown, composer Howard Shore, and Kari Juusela
Liz Friar

The music presented at the Berklee Performance Center for the recent Berklee Alumni Composer Consortium concert didn’t quite fit under either the jazz or classical umbrella. It was billed as a night of “contemporary art music.” On the bill were compositions by Berklee alumni Frank E. Warren ’76, violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies ’80, and cellist Kari Juusela ’77 (dean of the Professional Writing and Music Technology Division). But the evening was also a tribute to Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore ’69 (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) who has become the go-to composer for directors such as Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, and David Cronenberg.

Three of Shore’s pieces were featured: A Palace Upon the Ruins, a song cycle for mezzo-soprano (sung by Krista River), piano, harp, cello, flute, and percussion, with text by Shore’s wife Elizabeth Cotnoir; movements one, four, and six from Six Pieces, a work for chamber orchestra; and “Orbit,” an improvisational piece for big band jazz ensemble performed by the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra.

The event was an offshoot of regular presentations by the Berklee Alumni Composer Consortium, formed a decade ago by Warren, with the idea of exposing audiences to new music for the concert stage. Juusela—a primary force in creating this show and who also played cello on his partially improvised duet “PBBP Blues” with pianist and harmony professor Joe Mulholland—had been thinking about bringing the consortium concerts up to another level by involving some big name alumni who write concert music.

“Howard was interested,” Juusela recalls. “He’s had tremendous success as a film composer, but he’s also written an opera [The Fly] and has always been composing music for the love of writing music . . . so he agreed to join us.”

Shore—whose background includes serving as the first music director on Saturday Night Live, has been composing since he was 10. Warren initially contacted him about the event.

“Frank called and suggested it, and I’m happy to support projects at Berklee, and to work with the alumni, so I said yes,” Shore says. “We started putting together some ideas and batting things back and forth until we came up with the program.” All pieces programmed were receiving their Boston premieres.

“I would say this music, in particular, is quite different from my film scores,” he adds. “I don’t think you’ll find relationships to the music I wrote for film. These are pieces that are kind of using a different brush, if you will. They’re detailed in a way that makes them different than what I work on with film music.”

Ed Symkus is a freelance writer in Boston.