Music Faculty Show Their Chops

Members of SUNY New Paltz’s music department faculty graced the stage at Studley to kick off the fall semester’s Concert Series.

The Julien J. Studley Theatre was alive with the sounds of varying musical genres and endeavors performed by none other than the SUNY New Paltz Music Department faculty on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Assistant music professor Alex Peh organizes the concert every semester, with the Faculty Showcase being the first of a semester-long concert series. With mostly students in attendance, some performers chose to speak about their pieces before they began. This gave the evening an informal feel while still honoring the music with respect and professionalism.

“It’s good for students to see and hear music that their professors are doing,” Peh said. “They realize that we practice and research too, so it’s nice to see your professor on the hot seat for a while.”

Peh performed Mephisto Waltz on piano, a piece written by Franz Lisz. It is a retelling of the Faust legend by Goethe, in which Faust “sells his soul to the devil in exchange for earthly pleasures,” according to Peh. 

“[The piece is] super hard and super flashy,” Peh said. “But that’s just my piece. Everyone is playing something different and we have a really eclectic mix of performances.”

The night was indeed full of excitement and surprises. A total of 11 performances from 12 performers offered everything from Baroque to contemporary to original pieces.

Saxophonist Lois Wozniak commanded the contemporary “Mahogany Moods” by Jim Stephenson with passion and power. Bass trombonist Matt Wozniak and pianist Ruthanne Schempf added to the piece’s bombastic and frenzied mood.

In contrast, Susan Seligman delivered beautiful and calming renditions of Domenico Gabrielli’s “Ricercar 1” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite no. 1 in G Major Courante. The music lecturer cited Gabrielli as the first to write a “decent” solo cello piece, adding that “he knew the cello had more to say.”

Many of these performances left the crowd captivated. First-year environmental geochemical science major Zee Prisciandaro attended the concert for their Introduction to Music course. 

“I really enjoyed it,” they said. “I really liked the fairytale on viola and the music therapy piece. It had a lot of power to it.”

The two pieces Prisciandaro refers to are especially unique. The former is Ligeti’s “Viola Sonata,” a microtonal piece that the composer wrote in a non-Western scale, making it sound purposefully off key. 

The latter is an original electronic piece by music therapy professor Michael Viega entitled “Rising from the Ashes.” Although he only played quick excerpts from the 12-song cycle, its painful yet hopeful spirit rang loud and clear. He produced these remixes from the life stories of inner-city Philadelphia and Chicago teenagers experiencing trauma, with whom Viega has worked.

“We will often remix the songs they create to gain a different perspective on topics of the songs they write,” he said. “[Rising from the Ashes] are sonic portraits of their lived experiences.”

Another uniquely intense performance came from music chair Vincent Martucci, who improvised on piano while Kelly Ellenwood read Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came…” 

Overall, the faculty delivered an enthusiastic and spirited night of music that not only moved, but educated its audience.