Quincy News

Composer stops in Quincy to debut piece, discuss importance of writing music

Composer Stephanie Berg smiles while playing an arrangement for Quincy Notre Dame students during her visit to discuss how she creates music on Wednesday, Apr. 19, 2017. Berg was commissioned by the Quincy Symphony Orchestra to write a new piece of music that will be performed for the first time this weekend. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 21, 2017 9:10 am

QUINCY -- Stephanie Berg says hearing her compositions performed in concert for the first time never gets old.

"It's always cool to hear -- did it really turn out the way I wanted it to?" she said.

The world premiere of Berg's "Ignite," a piece commissioned by the Quincy Symphony Orchestra, will open the group's concert Saturday, April 29.

The St. Louis-based composer hopes the audience will take away "a really good energy" from the piece, and perhaps more important, a broader understanding of music.

"Music is still fresh, still alive, still being created," Berg said. "So many people I come across say I didn't know people still wrote music. I've had people come up and tell me, ‘I didn't know women could be composers.' We're a rare breed, female composers."

Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association General Manager Jane Polett said commissioning new music is a priority for the group and music director Bruce Briney.

"It allows us to have music from current, living composers, and it adds to the body of work for orchestras so we're not only playing things by composers from 100 or 200 years ago," Polett said. "It's an investment by our organization to do that, but we feel like it's worth it."

After playing Berg's well-received "Ravish and Mayhem" several years ago, Briney invited her to write a new piece for the orchestra.

"We love the piece. It's full of energy," Polett said.

Not her first choice

In town this week for a Quincy Symphony Orchestra rehearsal, Berg also stopped at Good Samaritan Home, Curtis Creek Retirement Home, Quincy High School, Quincy Notre Dame High School and Quincy University to talk about how she creates music – which was not her initial career choice.

As a youngster in Kansas City, Mo., Berg first wanted to be a visual artist, shying away from music because her parents were piano teachers. But by high school, the clarinetist wanted to play professionally in an orchestra and was pulled into composition.

"This isn't where I would have seen myself, but this is a place I absolutely love. I wouldn't change it for anything," she said.

Berg, 31, writes by commission, generally focusing on one piece at a time with themes for other pieces "on the back burner" while she still performs and teaches her own students.

"There are no shortcuts. Learn your scales. Do the things your teacher tells you," Berg told QND students. "Talent definitely helps, but hard work is honestly the majority of it. Talent won't give you the same thing that hours and hours and hours in the practice room will."

Having a good ear also helps with composition -- and so does a willingness to experiment with an idea.

"Experiment with different textures, different instrument combinations, that kind of thing," she said. "It's important to have good instincts, too. Many times when I'm writing something, I can't get past this point because I don't know how this piece goes, of course, because it's being made up. But sometimes what will happen is, I'll write a note or a section of notes, keep listening and say, ‘No, that's not how the piece goes,' which is weird because I've never heard the piece before."

More to come

Berg hopes to write many more pieces -- another string quartet; more chamber music, particularly for bass because her husband, Tim Weddle, is a bass player with two orchestras; orchestral works; and more vocal music.

Berg drew on her love of Irish folk music in "Ignite," her latest piece to premiere, featuring a fiery, Celtic-influenced theme, and the contrast of small, solo-style passages with the entire orchestra.

At rehearsal, she offered only minor performance suggestions to QSO.

"I try to write my music in such a way that I am not needed," Berg said. "The less I have to say, the more successful I consider the piece. That means I've given all the information I need to on the page."

And she wants what's on the page to speak not only to the orchestra, but also to its audience.

"I hope they understand music is still being written. It's exciting. It's accessible," Berg said. "New music is a really exciting field, something we want to support, a tradition we want to continue. All music was new at one point. Beethoven was new a long time ago."

‘IGNITE' DEBUT

Stephanie Berg's "Ignite" will debut at the Quincy Symphony Orchestra's "Symphonie Fantastique" concert Saturday, April 29.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. in Quincy Junior High School's Morrison Theater, 100 S. 14th.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for seniors. Youths age 18 and younger will be admitted free.

Tickets are available at Sturhahn Jewelers, both Hy-Vee stores in Quincy and online at qsoa.org. They will also be available at the door.

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