March 15, at 8 p.m. in Markel Auditorium, come hear the last installment of Hillsdale College’s Professional Artists Series of the school year.
The concert not only features professional violinist Jasper Wood but also the original compositions of Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Fuerst.
Fuerst, who has worked at Hillsdale since the fall of 2008, wrote four pieces of music for Wood and his duet partner, pianist David Riley.
Fuerst’s most recent composition, his third sonata, premiered two weeks ago in Lexington, Va.
“It’s a great, fantastic piece,” said Wood, professor of violin and chamber music at University of British Colombia in Vancouver, Canada. “It’s really challenging technically but makes sense with the piano. It’s exciting and has a beautiful second movement.”
Riley became sick after the premiere and consequently will not perform March 15. Fuerst and Brad Blackham, artist and teacher of music at Hillsdale College, will play with Wood.
Riley, professor of piano and chamber music at the University of Oregon, has played with Wood for the past 19 years.
“Dave [Riley] knew Matt [Fuerst] and was telling me about his compositions,” Wood said. “I listened to a couple pieces of his and loved what I heard.”
Wood said it is a multi-step learning process when he gets a new piece of music. After learning his part separately, he fits the violin and piano parts together with Riley.
The two musicians stay in almost constant contact with Fuerst as they practice. Wood said he points out hard or awkward parts to Fuerst. Fuerst either explains why he wrote that section the way he did, or he works with Wood and Riley to make the passage more comfortable.
“It’s neat to have a live composer to explain things to you,” Wood said. “Even with pieces I’ve played a lot before, I’ll call him [Fuerst] up to ask about a marking or tell him how rehearsals are going. It’s a constant back-and-forth.”
Fitting the piece together is exciting — like trying to piece together a puzzle, Wood said.
The two musicians do not usually practice with Fuerst until right before the premiere; however, Wood and Riley do practice together consistently.
After commissioning the first sonata, which showed for the first time in 2001, Wood said he and Riley had a blast and wanted more.
They commissioned and premiered the second sonata in 2003. Fuerst then wrote “Diabolical Dances” in 2006 after Wood and Riley specifically commissioned a show piece.
“Diabolical Dances” showed in Hillsdale a couple years before Fuerst became a professor.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up here,” he said.
Fuerst said the first sonata is a one movement, heavy work, while the second sonata is a multiple-movement, lighter piece.
“I wanted it to be as different as possible from the first piece,” Fuerst said.
He said he enjoys working with Wood and Riley because they give him freedom to compose.
Fuerst met Riley at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, when he arrived as an undergraduate student.
Riley was working on his doctoral degree at the time. The two moved to New York City after graduation and have maintained a friendship ever since.
“With Jasper [Wood] and Dave [Riley] things are very flexible,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with them because they do usually tell me to give them whatever I want.”
Fuerst started composing music at age 8 or 9, he said.
“My whole life has been a single-minded pursuit to be the best composer I can be and to perfect my craft,” Fuerst said. “With the exception of a couple years when I wanted to play baseball. It’s not that different from writing an essay. The first question I always ask is, ‘why am I writing this piece?’ Every piece needs to have a structure and outline.”
Fuerst said once he has the outline, he fills it in. He said the piece never seems quite finished.
“I always tinker,” he said, “but at some point you just have to let it go and move onto the next project.”
After he sends the piece off, his work is not over.
“If something doesn’t work, I fix it,” he said.
For example, Fuerst said he has bigger hands than Riley so he needed to adjust some of the stretches in the piano part of the third sonata.
“The third sonata in particular I keep fixing details, especially after one or two performances. I think it’s because I’m proud of that piece — it’s the best piece I’ve written.”
Fuerst has also written two compositions for the New York City Ballet and one for the Lubbock Orchestra in Texas, among others, he said.
The most important things to remember when composing, Fuerst said: control the music and maintain a logical form.