Oberlin Music Scholar Wins Prestigious Competition

Kelsey Cowger, a double-degree junior majoring in musicology and politics, has won the Lake Michigan Scholar Search sponsored by the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Founded in 1919, the Civic Orchestra is the only training orchestra affiliated with a major American orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Cowger is one of only two winners of the competition. To be considered for the award, she submitted – besides the requisite resume and references – a draft of a pre-concert lecture (on Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra) and a videotape of herself delivering it.

As part of her prize, she was asked to deliver a lecture at Symphony Center on May 20, prior to a concert conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. She was also asked to write the program notes for the concert. (At press time, the program had not yet been announced.)

"Winning the competition is particularly advantageous for me," says Cowger. "Unlike the vast majority of musicology kids, I'm not so set on pursuing a career in academia, although that could certainly be in the cards. What I'd really like to do is be the musicologist-in-residence at an orchestra, especially one that, like the London Sinfonietta or the Ensemble Intercontemporain, emphasizes contemporary music as a major component of its repertoire. What I'm doing for the Civic Orchestra is exactly what I'd like to do on a broader scale as a career."

Cowger is from Omaha, Nebraska. Her mother, Leslie Carter '76, is a bassist with the Omaha Symphony.

Cowger studies with Professor of Musicology Sylvan Suskin, who says that just by entering the competition, Cowger proved "she has gumption and chutzpah."

His reaction upon hearing that she'd won?

"Obviously, I was absolutely thrilled for her. Anything like this can't help but further her career," he says. "I think she's really going to make it. She writes beautifully."

Cowger believes musicology is a relatively young discipline, especially as it's practiced now. "Relatively few people work on contemporary subjects, so there's a lot of freedom to tread new ground," she says. "Most contemporary music is treated in a less than serious fashion. It certainly isn't privileged in the same way as the musical canon. I think this is really a shame. A lot of fascinating and beautiful stuff has been composed in the last 30 years that is virtually unknown. The study of contemporary music is one of the most important roles a musicologist can play – if nothing else, to engage people on a number of levels about music they find foreign or frightening or particularly challenging."

As if being double-degree isn't rigorous enough, Cowger is also enrolled in the honors program; musicology Associate Professor Claudia Macdonald is her thesis advisor. The working title for Cowger's thesis is "Elements of Non-Narrative Drama in Avant-Garde Chamber Music." Cowger spent winter term in London and Belgium, where she did research on Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle.
-Marci Janas '91

Singer Receives Third Prize at Mario Lanza Competition
In a successful return to his hometown, senior Kevin Moreno took third prize in the junior division of the Mario Lanza National Vocal Competition held November 2000 in Philadelphia. Moreno was the only undergraduate to place in the division, which includes singers ages 20 to 24.

Moreno had joined 120 international competitors in October at the semi-final round held at the Settlement Music School.

"I had never done a competition of this caliber," says Moreno, who studies with Associate Professor of Singing Marlene Rosen. "To hear voices of professional quality and realize I was competing with them was really amazing. Just to make it to the finals was such an honor."

As a finalist, Moreno was invited to sing at the Mario Lanza Opera Ball, which served as the competition's final round. Required to sing two contrasting works, Moreno chose "Largo Al Factotum" from Rossini's Barber of Seville and "Let Beauty Awake" from Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel. The panel of judges included retired and established opera performers as well as teachers.

Moreno has performed in many Oberlin Opera Theater productions, including the roles of El Dancairo in Bizet's Carmen, the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Pavayoykiasi in Henry Mollicone's Coyote Tales, and most recently, Don Magnifico in the March production of Rossini's La Cenerentola.
-Charity Lofthouse '99

Opera Scenes by Oberlin Alumna Picked for AMS Conference
"Chamber opera that gives a big impression." That's how music director Michael Sponseller '00 describes Scorn, a program highlighting the phenomenon of "the woman scorned" in baroque opera. Conceived and directed by Lydia Steier '00, the work features scenes by Handel, Charpentier, Purcell, Rameau, and Royer. It was chosen for performance in Toronto at the November 2000 annual conference of the American Musicological Society (AMS).

Scorn premiered in Oberlin in December 1999 as a project for Steier's independent major in opera directing. Steier is pursuing the master of fine arts degree in directing at Carnegie Mellon University.

Sponseller played harpsichord and coached the nine singers and three instrumentalists – two baroque violinists and a baroque cellist.

Steier believes the project's primary attraction was her approach to the scenes. "We treated baroque opera in a way it is not usually treated," she says. "We've had a chance to do away with modern conventions and have the singers feel such genuine emotion on the stage. We showed people a new way of looking at an old art form."
-Charity Lofthouse '99

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