Associate Professor of Music Mathew Fuerst frequently has his compositions performed in both American and European venues Mathew Fuerst | Courtesy
Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Music Mathew Fuerst fre­quently has his com­po­si­tions per­formed in both American and European venues Mathew Fuerst | Courtesy

Hillsdale’s own Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Music Mathew Fuerst may be best-known on campus for assisting with student com­po­si­tions, but he is also an acclaimed com­poser in his own right.

His works are reg­u­larly fea­tured in per­for­mances throughout the United States and even Europe. Most recently, the Amernet String Quartet per­formed two of Fuerst’s com­po­si­tions — “String Quartet No. 1” and “String Quartet No. 2” — at a Sept. 24 concert at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City’s Kaufman Music Center.

“I thought they did an excellent job,” Fuerst said. “I enjoyed working with them and look forward to working with them some more.”

Although “String Quartet No. 2” pre­miered at Hillsdale College in 2013, this per­for­mance served as its New York pre­miere, and was lauded by the New York Clas­sical Review as standing out “for its focus, direct com­mu­ni­cation, and force.” According to Fuerst, the inspi­ration for the piece was a fas­ci­nation with the Big Bang and Mul­ti­verse the­ories.

“String Quartet No. 1” was orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned by the New York City Ballet’s Chore­o­graphic Institute and pre­miered in 2011. According to Fuerst, it was at a New York City Ballet per­for­mance of this work that he had one of the most mem­o­rable moments of his com­po­sition career. At the end of the per­for­mance, he got to stand and take a bow on stage at the Miller Theatre — the same stage on which many incredible artists, such as Stravinsky, Bal­an­chine, and Copland, had stood.

“I just thought, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’” Fuerst said.

Fuerst began com­posing around the age of 8 or 9. He remembers being “blown away” by hearing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and then using his allowance money to buy a record of some of Beethoven’s music.

“I decided from then on that I wanted to do to other people what that music was doing to me,” he said.

Fuerst studied music at the Inter­lochen Arts Camp, attended a high school that spe­cialized in the arts, attained his bachelor’s degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, as a piano and com­po­sition major, and then attained his master’s degree and doc­torate at The Juil­liard School.

Fuerst has com­posed mostly for violin and piano, but also for orchestra, wind quartet, solo piano, voice, and “basi­cally for whoever asks.” He has written pieces for two Hillsdale College faculty members in par­ticular: Director of Key­board Studies Brad Blackham and instructor in per­cussion Stacey Jones-Gar­rison.

“His music is not easy,” Blackham said, “but it’s very sat­is­fying once you learn it.”

Blackham describes Fuerst’s music as rhyth­mi­cally-driven and having a “real infec­tious energy.” Fuerst com­posed a song cycle called “Struwwelpeter” for Blackham and Adjunct Instructor Kristi Matson. The work is based on poems by Heinrich Hoffman, which are similar to the Grimm fairy tales, according to Blackham. Blackham describes Fuerst’s style as “tra­di­tional, but not stodgy.” He appre­ciates Fuerst’s refusal to join a recent trend toward a pop-crossover style in clas­sical music.

Fuerst had never written for per­cussion until Jones-Gar­rison asked him to compose a piece for per­cussion and piano, and he pre­sented her and Blackham with “Broken Cycles.” Jones-Gar­rison describes his music as “unex­pected,” “forward-thinking,” and “fierce.”

“He never writes what you expect, and I think that’s a very good, refreshing thing,” she said.