Composers Festival spotlight: Amy Beth Kirsten

Amy Beth Kirsten occupies a unique place in Mizzou International Composers Festival history, returning in 2019 as a distinguished guest composer after having been one of the eight resident composers at the very first MICF (then called the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival) in 2010.

Kirsten is the only composer to take part in the festival in both capacities, and to celebrate her return, the 2019 MICF will feature the world premiere of excerpts from a major new composition of hers.

Selected parts of “Jacob in Chains,” an evening-length, music-driven theatrical work commissioned by Alarm Will Sound and the Mizzou New Music Initiative, will be performed for the first time anywhere as part of AWS’ concert on Thursday, July 25 at the Missouri Theatre. In addition, the Mizzou New Music Ensemble will perform Kirsten’s “World Under Glass No. 2” at the “Mizzou New Music” concert on Friday, July 26 at the Missouri Theatre.

Recognized with artist fellowships from the John S. Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, Amy Beth Kirsten grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City and Chicago; was educated at Roosevelt University (MM) and the Peabody Institute (DMA); and now lives in New Haven, CT.

A member of the composition faculty at Longy School of Music of Bard College since 2017, she also teaches music composition privately and, for the past eight years, at the HighSCORE summer festival in Pavia, Italy. Kirsten previously served on the faculty of the Peabody Institute from 2015 to 2017, and she has been a guest lecturer at institutions including the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (U.K.), Yale University, Princeton University, Curtis Institute, Cornell University, and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

The expansive nature of “Jacob in Chains” is in keeping with Kirsten’s aesthetic, which is “characterized by an abiding interest in exploring theatrical elements of creation, performance, and presentation…Her body of work fuses music, language, voice, and theatre and often considers musicians’ instruments, bodies, and voices as equal vehicles of expression.”

Kirsten’s major works in recent years include “Savior,” a collaboration between her own ensemble, HOWL, and musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, that was premiered in 2018 for the 20th anniversary of the CSO’s MusicNOW series; “QUIXOTE,” a 90-minute theatrical work inspired by Cervantes’ epic novel, created with director/designer Mark DeChiazza and HOWL and staged in 2017 at Montclair State University in New Jersey; and “Colombine’s Paradise Theatre,” an evening-length work commissioned and produced by the multi-Grammy-winning eighth blackbird that opened the 2014-15 seasons of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and New York’s Miller Theatre, selling out both venues.

She also has written and composed fully-staged theatrical works and traditional concert works for HOWL, the New World Symphony, Peak Performances, American Composers Orchestra, and many others. Most recently, over the past year she has composed solo and chamber works for Mike Compitello (percussion), the Dutch singer/composer Bec Plexus (voice and percussion), New Thread Quartet (saxophones), and Don Berman (piano).

For more about Amy Beth Kirsten, read the Chicago Tribune‘s story from 2018 about the premiere of “Savior”, and the interview with her published around that same time on the CSO’s “Songs and Stories” website. You can hear some samples of her music in the embedded players below.

“World Under Glass No. 2,” performed by Equilibrium, featuring Nicole Parks (violin), Mike Avitabile (flute), Stephen Marotto (cello), and Mike Williams (percussion), conducted by Matt Sharrock

“Pirouette On A Moon Sliver,” recorded October 31, 2017, performed by Emma Resmini

“the crowd examines QUIXOTE to find a cause of his madness,” recorded in March 2017 at Montclair State University,  performed by HOWL, featuring Jonny Allen, Victor Caccese, Ian Rosenbaum and Terry Sweeney ( percussion), with Lindsay Kesselman (soprano), Hai-Ting Chinn (mezzo-soprano) and Kirsten Sollek (contralto)

“Drink Me,” performed by Alarm Will Sound on July 18, 2010 at the Missouri Theatre