Dynamic. Diverse. Complex. Passionate. Subtle.
These are all words that describe the music of Joan Tower, one of America's premier contemporary composers, who will conduct a number of her works in a free concert at Colorado College's Packard Hall on Thursday, Nov. 4.
Part of the college's 5-year-old Distinguished Composers-in-Residence Series, this concert is a must-see for anyone interested in the evocative power of contemporary orchestral and chamber music.
Tower is perhaps best-known for her Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman, a series that started out as a tribute to Aaron Copland but then turned into a compelling salute to "women who take risks and are adventurous."
The Fanfares are indeed adventurous, almost swashbuckling. In the first Fanfare, scored in 1987 with the same instrumentation used by Copland, one can easily picture the women pirates of yore slicing their way aboard hapless, male-dominated imperial cutters in search of bounty.
But the Fanfares also range widely in instrumentation and mood. There are many moments of serene meditation -- often followed by brassy crescendos or musclebound power chords -- as Tower touches on the complete range of human emotion.
In all cases, Tower offers a musically rich, very complex and unpredictable narrative; one is never bored as her music steers away from any attempt to be pretentiously epic in this feminist musical tribute.
But, as the concert on Nov. 4 will demonstrate, the Fanfares are a small part of a diverse experimental palate. The works range widely in instrumentation, from Black Topaz, written for piano and six instruments, to three separate solo pieces for violin and clarinet and flute.
The program also includes Toccanta, a piece for oboe and piano, as well as the 18-minute Stepping Stones, a piece for two pianos to be performed by Susan Grace and Alice Rybak. The other pieces also feature the DaVinci Quartet and an all-star cast of CC faculty musicians.
The sixth composer brought to CC as part of the composers series, Tower is the first woman composer featured. "We wanted to start creating more of a balance, because the number of male and female composers [in the field] is balancing slowly," said CC music Professor Ofer Ben Amots, who directs the series. "It's not what it used to be -- you know, a man's profession.
"Joan Tower is one of the pioneers in this regard, but more than that, she is being brought [here] because she is excellent."
Tower's works will be previewed at Packard Hall on Thursday, Nov. 4, at 11 a.m., as part of the college's Thursday at Eleven series.