Lillios receives prestigious Barlow Commission for Music Composition

Composer Dr. Elainie Lillios and the Bent Frequency Duo had wanted to work together since meeting in 2013. In fact, the saxophone and percussion team approached Lillios last year about commissioning a piece for them.

Now that will happen. Lillios has received a 2016 Barlow Endowment Commission for Music Composition to write a work specifically for Bent Frequency.

A BGSU music composition faculty member and interim associate dean of the College of Musical Arts, Lillios has won international awards for her compositions along with numerous commissions and a Fulbright scholar appointment to Greece in 2013-14.

Receiving a Barlow Endowment Commission is especially rewarding, she said, both for its selectivity — the commission is highly competitive, awarded to only 12 composers per year — and for the endowment’s position as one of the leading commissioners of contemporary music in the United States.

“It’s a privilege and an honor to be selected for the award,” Lillios said. “The Barlow Endowment is dedicated to promoting excellence in music composition. When you work in a creative field, having the support of an organization like the Barlow Endowment reinvigorates you and gives you a reason to rededicate yourself to your craft.”

Applicants for the Barlow Commission must identify an ensemble with whom they would like to work, and that group must give its endorsement and agree to perform the eventual piece.

It presented the perfect opportunity for Lillios and Bent Frequency‘s Stuart Gerber, a percussionist, and Jan Berry Baker, a saxophonist. Lillios met them when she was the featured guest at the 2015 Modern Greek Studies Association International Symposium held at at Georgia State University, where the duo teaches.

They found they shared a musical aesthetic and philosophy. Lillios is a specialist in electroacoustic music, combining traditional instruments with electronic effects to create an abstract sonic experience. She admired Gerber and Baker’s “exceptional technical and creative abilities,” she said. “Jan and Stuart are committed to commissioning and performing cutting edge new music. They are talented performers dedicated to bringing music to the community.”

The Barlow composition, titled “Hazy Moonlight,” must be completed by September 2017, which will allow time for Lillios to “plan, brainstorm and collaborate” with the two musicians. “I want us to work closely throughout the creative process so that the duo has a deep understanding of and connection to the work before they even play it,” she said.

As inspiration for the Barlow composition, Lillios has turned again to her longtime muse, Massachusetts poet Wally Swist. She will base the 10-minute work for saxophone, multi-percussion and live, interactive electroacoustics on five haikus by Swist that portray the phases of the moon through the seasons.

“Wally Swist is an inspirational artist,” Lillios said of the poet. “His work speaks to me, and I’ve used his compelling haiku and longer form poetry as a basis for my compositions for a number of years. His generosity and willingness to share his work with me has created a special bond between us.”

In her application for the commission, Lillios wrote, “Swist’s vivid scenes create an organic foundation for the work’s structure while simultaneously implying musical gesture, texture and timbre. Linking the instruments with live electronics will create an immersive environment where the performers and electronics become a unified ensemble that weaves through the haiku imagery.”

The Barlow Endowment was established in 1983 by Milton and Gloria Barlow at Brigham Young University.