Ithaca College Quarterly 2005/1
The East Hill Connection


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The X Factor

Intercampus new-music ensemble makes a big noise.

In the late 1990s IC's School of Music and Cornell's Department of Music both welcomed an influx of young faculty. The fresh faces discovered they had a lot in common. "We found ourselves working together so often," says CU composition professor Steven Stucky, CU D.M.A. '78, "that we decided to use it as a more formal bridge between the two institutions."

That bridge became Ensemble X, the new-music group Stucky helped found in 1997 with a nucleus of 10 other CU and IC faculty. Since then the ensemble has doubled in size, and Stucky now shares the baton with co-artistic director Xak Bjerken, who teaches piano at Cornell. The current lineup includes 5 players from Cornell and 15 players from IC. According to Stucky, they are the cream of the local talent pool. "Basically, the best players on each instrument in town -- those are the people in Ensemble X," he says.

The ensemble's focus is music from the last 100 years -- works of modern composers such as John Adams and Christopher Rouse, CU D.M.A '77, as well as earlier 20th-century works from Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Ensemble X also frequently performs pieces by Stucky, who won the Pulitzer Prize for composition in 2005.

Ensemble X bassoonist and IC professor Lee Goodhew finds joy in the collaborative process and the new-music focus. "I love the marriage of the Cornell people and the IC people," she says. "I love how the ensemble gets to work collaboratively with fabulous composers, both local and nonlocal. Steve Stucky has wonderful connections and great insight."

The group is a true ensemble, she points out. "I enjoy the whole thing, from repertoire choice to rehearsal to performance. We all have input into repertoire." This autumn, she says, "I'll be playing a new piece for only the second time it's ever been performed." She also appreciates the new-music audience: "It's nice to interact with a different public" than those who regularly attend concerts of more traditional and established works.

Typically, the ensemble performs three concerts a year, dividing its time between Cornell's Barnes Hall and IC's Hockett Family Recital Hall. The first concert of the new school year will be on November 11 at IC.

-- David Dudley and Maura Stephens

Photo by Kathy Morris

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