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A Mini Master Class On Avant-Garde Composer Donald Martino15:31
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American Music Festival held at New England Conservatory in 1975. Lorna Cooke deVaron, conductor of the NEC chorus, Donald Martino, chairman of the composition department and composer of the 'Paradiso Choruses' and Richard Pittman, conductor of the NEC repertory orchestra. (New England Conservatory/Flickr)
American Music Festival held at New England Conservatory in 1975. Lorna Cooke deVaron, conductor of the NEC chorus, Donald Martino, chairman of the composition department and composer of the 'Paradiso Choruses' and Richard Pittman, conductor of the NEC repertory orchestra. (New England Conservatory/Flickr)
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Boston Conservatory's New Music Festival begins Thursday. Featured this year — the works of two celebrated composers of American avant-garde music. George Crumb and Donald Martino.

Martino died suddenly in 2005. He composed new music right until the last day of his life. Martino was the beloved head of the composition department at New England Conservatory from 1969 to 1981, and in 1974 he won the Pulitzer Prize. The New York Times called his work "alluring" and "full of rhapsodic freedom, Romantic expressivity, and lucid textures," all qualities Eric Hewitt knows well.

Hewitt is artistic director of the New Music Festival and in 1998, he was a student at New England Conservatory when he encountered Martino and his vision for 12-tone music.

"I remember the experience very distinctly," says Hewitt. "As I finished the concerto, which is 22 or 23 minutes long in three unbroken movements, and is quite a tour de force physically and emotionally for us as instrumentalists. The work ended, and I looked at Don and so did everybody else in our saxophone master class and I remember he looked up and said, 'Great, let’s get you a date.' I found that rather hysterical because Don's music is incredibly detail oriented. Don would often have three or four aesthetic markings on single notes...This went on for the 18 pages of my solo part and for the 22 minutes of the concerto."

The avant-garde are, by definition, artists ahead of their time. Have the rest of us — not so versed in Martino's chromaticisms and atonal harmonic language — caught up?

Guest

Eric Hewitt, artistic director of Boston Conservatory's New Music Festival. He's also professor of saxophones, orchestral studies and chamber music. He tweets @EricAlexHewitt.

More

The Boston Globe: Donald Martino, 74, Pulitzer-Winning Composer, Teacher At Local Colleges

  • "Mr. Martino was a prominent presence in Boston's musical life since he began teaching at New England Conservatory in 1969. In 1980, he took a post at Brandeis University, and from 1983 until his retirement from teaching in 1993 he taught at Harvard University."

The New York Times: Unraveling The Knots Of The 12 Tones

  • "Mention 12-tone music to younger people and fledgling concertgoers, and for the most part they draw a blank. They don’t know 12-tone from 'Ocean’s 12.' They just know what contemporary music they like and don’t like."

This segment aired on February 4, 2016.

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