When I was a graduate student at Rutgers (a little over a decade ago), the composition students were fortunate to have the Helix! Ensemble, a contemporary music group in residence at Rutgers, to perform our compositions alongside other new works. I have many fond memories of working with Helix!. Apart from that, other ensembles at the school occasionally (more occasionally than we would have preferred) worked with the graduate students, and we had a department forum with guest speakers.
Of late, RU’s composition program has a lot more going on. New chair Robert Aldridge seems to have brought with him a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, which has trickled down and improved things for composers. Helix! is still there and active as ever, directed by pianist and conductor Paul Hoffmann (the group’s Fall concert is on Sunday at 2 PM). Several other campus ensembles are regularly working with student composers. The students are also active in presenting their own and each others’s music in recital. Distinguished composers Charles Fussell and Gerald Chenoweth remain on the faculty and Christopher Doll is a more recent addition. Aldridge is teaching composers as well as chairing the department; Tarik O’Regan is also teaching at Rutgers this year.
Another welcome addition: inviting guest artists to campus to work with composers. On Saturday, New York-based vocal ensemble Ekmeles performs a program of new pieces by RU composers. Ekmeles is well known for their tremendous facility with extended techniques: I’ve written in the past about their accomplishments singing Gesualdo (in Vicentino’s tuning), Carter, and contemporary microtonal music. I’m looking forward to hearing what the students will learn from Ekmeles – and try out in Saturday evening’s concert (7:30 PM at Schare Hall – Mason Gross School of the Arts).