Contemporary classical music festival embraces the future of the form

Five College New Music Festival, Bezanson Recital Hall, UMass Fine Arts Center, September 6–8; Free Admission
It’s a musical form that’s called many things: contemporary classical, musical modernism, new music. Tom Service of The Guardian calls it “music that is very much at the heart of our modern world.” It’s a musical form that’s thriving in the campuses and small cities of western Massachusetts, where it will be celebrated at the Five College New Music Festival at the University of Massachusetts’ Bezanson Recital Hall in Amherst, September 6 through 8. The festival is free and open to the public.

New music emerged in the first half of the 20th century as an adventurous extension of classical, jazz and other forms and is considered by many vital to the future of classical music. Anthony Tommasini, the classical music critic for the New York Times, wrote in 2011: “The inclusion of new music has always been important, not just for its own sake — that is, for the future of the art form — but as a way to keep older works vibrant by juxtaposing them with the new.”

Vibrant could be used to describe the new music scene in western Massachusetts. Of the two dozen composers whose work will be presented in the three-day festival, half live in the area and have an association with the Five College campuses. “There is probably more happening within the new music format in this area than in just about any other college area,” says Sal Macchia, a UMass music professor and composer.

This creative activity inspired the creation of the first festival in 2009 by Macchia, UMass music professor and violinist Elizabeth Chang and Amherst College professor and composer Eric Sawyer. They followed it with a festival in 2011, and Macchia and Chang have collaborated to organize this year’s events, which will include five concerts over three days played by Five College students, faculty members and friends of the campuses.

The September 6 Five College Composers Concert will feature the work of Kate Soper of Smith College, David Sanford of Mount Holyoke College, Daniel Warner of Hampshire, Macchia and Sawyer.

September 7 includes three concerts, with the first featuring newly commissioned works for the Violin Duo Project and the Piano Four-Hand Project, plus the winner of the Five College Composition Competition, Juhi Bansal. Following it will be a concert of electro-acoustic music, and that evening the Heritage Concert will have many Five College connections. Featured composers will be UMass professor Bruce Maccombie, UMass emeritus professor Robert Stern, Amherst alumnus Scott Wheeler and Amherst emeritus professor Lewis Spratlan. In addition, the work of Morton Feldman and Franco Donatoni will be played.

The festival will conclude on September 8 with the Horizons Concert.

Each evening's concert will be preceded by a talk by Five College faculty members. Schedule details and other information can be found at

The Five College New Music Festival is supported by Five Colleges, Inc., the UMass Amherst Arts Council, the UMass Amherst Department of Music and Dance, and the music departments of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges.