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[Audio] MSU Symphonic Wind Ensemble 2nd to Perform 'La Commedia' in President's Concert

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Murray State University's Symphonic Wind Ensemble is the second to perform new work, "Symphony no. 2 - La Commedia" by Boston composer Brett Abigaña, based on Dante's Divine Comedy. The concert is tomorrow night (Nov. 5) at 7:30 p.m. in Lovett Auditorium. On Sounds Good, Austin Carter speaks with Abigaña and Director of Bands Dennis Johnson about how the work is crafted so as to avoid the stereotypes of Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, while pushing the boundaries for a contemporary audience. 

Composer Brett Abigaña says the Divine Comedy had a huge effect on him growing up and this was a piece he'd always wanted to write. Over the summer, he had the opportunity to debut his work in San José, California. To write it, he went back to the source material and read it with a different view towards symbolism and deeper meaning, wanting to avoid the clichés often associated with the work (hellfire and brimstone, choruses of angels, etc.) Instead, he says the focus was on Dante's vision, who wanted the reader to really feel like they were in the places described.

Since Dante's work has been interpreted by many famous composers: Verdi, Mozart, Liszt, Tchaikovsky; Abigaña says it was difficult to escape their pull. He sought to bring the work out of the 19th century lens of the macabre and make it meaningful and relevant to today's audience. In this work, he says you'll hear extended techniques that sound difficult to place like moans from the trombone and special sounds in the third movement for Paradise.

Dennis Johnson saw the premiere in July and wanted to bring it back to Murray State University. It's been a special opportunity to be the 2nd group to perform the work and to have the composer working with the students. The work is different than 80% of the music they play, he says, and the educational factor of experimenting and moving forward as ensemble musicians in work produced in this century and getting involved in the inner workings of a piece is a marvelous experience.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
Austin Carter is a Murray State grad and has been involved with WKMS since he was in high school. Over the years he has been a producer for WKMS and has hosted several music shows, but now calls Morning Edition his home each weekday morning.
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