Saxophone and Horn duo complete semester-long residency in new music with UH composition students

In Composition, Department News, Faculty News, Music Education by Dalen Wuest

Dr. Jennifer Blackwell (Music Education) and Performer-Composer Brian Kavolius-Matherne (Brian KM) have completed a semester-long residency working with six of UH’s graduate composition students on original compositions for Alto Saxophone and Horn. The residency, which took place in Fall 2021, consisted of reading sessions, individual meetings with composers, and informational sessions on writing for the instruments, culminating in the recording of the six works. Students were given the rare opportunity to collaborate closely with professional performers over several months, resulting in a highly individualized experience for each composer as they wrote their pieces. The works, which are inspired by the flourishing Honolulu street art scene, are each connected to a composer-chosen mural in the city. Each of the performance videos includes a visual of the mural itself so that the listener can experience the connection between the music and art. Each composer has included program notes to accompany their performance video:

Ryan Blauvelt – Deus ex Machina
This work was inspired by the street mural PangeaSeed by Case Maclaim and Smithe. The Mural depicts a skull, half brain and half machine, at the center of an infinity symbol constructed of human hands. The structure of the music composition traces the motion of the mural in four sections. The music first depicts the skull with biting multiphonics (two or more notes sounding simultaneously, usually very dissonant) in the saxophone and wavering tones in the horn. In the next section, the music follows the left side of the infinity symbol. The motion of the loop is evoked by drawn out notes in the horn accompanied by a stream of eighth notes in the saxophone creating a sense of perpetual motion. The music returns to the multiphonics of the skull, now growing in intensity until reaching a climax. From the climax, the perpetual motion idea emerges as the music traces the second half of the infinity sign. 
 
Latin for “God of the machine,” deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is resolved by an unexpected or unlikely occurrence. In this piece, the “Deus ex Machina” occurs at the very end of the infinity symbol loop where the last hand points at the circle between the eyes of the skull. At this moment, the horn and saxophone slide in opposite directions to the same note, seemingly resolving the continuous dissonance present throughout the entire piece.

Andrew Filson – Burst
Inspired by Christina Angela’s mural depicting two women in a mirrored position, Burst attempts to recreate the symmetry in the image by alternating short periods of rhythmic unity with imitation. Just as the mural demonstrates unity of position and color in its center, Burst concludes with a series of identical lines.

James Finamore – Duality
Inspired by Amy Sol’s untitled mural (2019) located in Kakaʻako, Hawaiʻi, this duet reflects the various layers of duality expressed within the work, including light and dark, life and death, positive and negative space, and the physical and spiritual planes of existence. This piece captures a powerful scene of a young girl breathing life into her ʻukulele and the faint cries of deer echoing in the distance.

Jason Tse – Naiads Polycephalus
Naiads Polycephalus is inspired by the mural of the same name created by Lauren YS, depicting two-headed naiads, or water spirits, contained within colorful jars. This piece aims to capture the different perspectives of having these mythical creatures contained and put on display. We start outside of the jars, seeing the creatures in the jars as mysterious and distant on the other side of the glass. The piece slowly transitions into the inside of the jar where we see the beautiful and vibrant pocket worlds that the creatures have created within the jars.

Smee Wong – Mood
Mood for alto saxophone and horn was written for Dr. Jennifer Blackwell and Mr. Brian
Kavolius-Matherne. I was honored to have Jen and Brian participate in the entire creative
process, from start to finish. Together, we brainstormed what medium could bridge art and music and represent the aloha spirit. We decided that street art in Kakaʻako would be an excellent starting point. After I submitted an initial draft of the piece, they offered suggestions on specific phrases that might sound better one octave lower, and Brian also suggested an alternative ending. This kind of collaboration is luxurious for any composer. This piece was inspired by Ms. Kris Goto’s mural entitled Mood. Immediately I was drawn into the mysterious atmosphere and the romantic presence of the closed-eyed girl with two fish winding between her hair. To understand Ms. Goto’s mural better, she kindly wrote me the following statement:

“I did this piece on a small hard paperback in 2013. I revisited the piece in 2019 so that I could give them a larger surface to swim in. Also, I felt like she deserved more attention. Personally, this is one of many pieces I’ve worked on that changes its meaning from time to time. I was originally inspired to make this piece in 2013 to illustrate what it felt like to be distracted from what you need to do in life to get to where you need to be. It was right around the time I decided to become a full-time artist – a scary transition I need to take. In hindsight, I’m grateful that I jumped. When I worked on the mural in 2019, it was telling me to chill out and take a break – swim with the fishes and let the current take you. Very different from back in 2013.”

I wrote two contrasting passages with different tempos and characters representing the two fish. Because of the nature of the mural, the melodies in this piece are primarily diatonic and “sweet” while still attempting to create some tension of dramatic moments. I am gradually studying to become a risk-taker, just like Ms. Kris Goto.

Dalen Wuest – JUMP
Against a yellow field painted on the shutter of a barbeque restaurant in the Kakaʻako neighborhood of Honolulu, two figures in white hang in the air. On the right, her arms are in the air and her legs are folded beneath her. Opposite her is another figure with one leg folded and the other pointing out and away, as though leaping forward. Although the image depicts only one moment in time, the sense of motion is palpable.
JUMP is a reaction to this mural and an exploration of jumping, both as an action, and the thrill of hanging in the air at the apex of an individual jump. The instruments leap in tandem and in sequence, sometimes landing together, sometimes apart, and sometimes not at all.
JUMP was written for Jennifer Blackwell and Brian Kavolius-Matherne during their residency at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa as part of a collection of 6 pieces each reacting to unique pieces of street art around Honolulu.

Performer Biographies
Dr. Jennifer Blackwell is a Canadian music educator, music researcher, and saxophonist, serving as Assistant Professor of Instrumental Music Education at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa. As an active performer and advocate for new music, Dr. Blackwell has commissioned or premiered over 40 new works for saxophone, frequently collaborating with emerging and established composers. She has been selected to perform at numerous North American Saxophone Alliance Conferences, most recently the2018 Biennial Conference held at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Her teachers include Barry Usher, Bobbi Thompson, Ryan Fraser, Marie Johnson (clarinet), John Nichol, Tom Walsh, and Otis Murphy. Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in music education (University of Western Ontario), master’s degrees in music education and saxophone performance (Central Michigan University), and a PhD in Music Education (Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University).


Brian KM has had a rich career as a solo, chamber, and orchestral musician as principal horn for ensembles around the country. He spent four years as the principal horn for the United States Pacific Fleet Band and served as the hornist for the group’s premiere brass quintet, The Harbor Brass.

He performed with various new music ensembles during his collegiate training at Shenandoah Conservatory and The University of Maryland, College Park. He has commissioned multiple new works for solo horn and various chamber groups and has played in the world premiere of many pieces for orchestra and band. Brian KM has enjoyed serving as a resident artist for Universities, guiding composers in their writings for horn and chamber groups. Brian KM’s solo horn and electronics work is the product of a feverish dive into the world of electronic music. Since he started writing, Brian KM has placed his original compositions for the medium into over 60 venues, including schools and Universities in Hawaiʻi, the mainland United States, and Canada, delighting and intriguing hundreds of audience members. He was recently a featured soloist at the 53rd International Horn Society Conference and at FRINGE Oʻahu. For more information, please visit briankm.com.