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Music students’ compositions take center stage

Moments after hearing his final composition performed on Friday, fourth-year music technology major Bennett Jenisch’s face beamed with a look of exhilaration. Jenisch had spent a couple hours each day over winter break at his family’s home in Germany perfecting this piece, which he said clearly paid off.

Jenisch was one of six students in a composition seminar course taught last semester by Anthony De Ritis, chair of the Department of Music in the College of Arts, Media and Design. Students were charged with writing a piece of music from concept to completion that would ultimately be performed by a live orchestra.

Last week, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project—the renowned professional orchestra dedicated exclusively to performing and recording music of the 20th and 21st centuries—took the stage at the Fenway Center to perform the students’ work.

After spending the majority of the fall semester writing their compositions, students met on Dec. 11 with BMOP members and Gil Rose, its founder and artistic director and a visiting artist at Northeastern. Students participated in workshops with orchestra members and received professional feedback on their work.

“I worked really hard last semester to get my composition to a draft form before that first run-through, and since then I’ve been implementing their feedback and making improvements,” Jenisch said. “All the things I fixed they just played perfectly now, and it’s a great feeling.”

Friday’s orchestra performances were also recorded by students from Greenline Records, a Northeastern student-run record label affiliated with the Department of Music.

De Ritis said the seminar served as an incredible experiential learning opportunity for students, as well as a chance to strengthen the university’s partnership with BMOP, a five-time Grammy nominated ensemble.

“This will not only lead to great recordings for the students’ portfolios, but it’s also a life-changing experience for them,” De Ritis said. “It’s very eye-opening, and it grounds them in terms of where they are in their lives and in this field.”

Callum Plews, a fourth-year music technology major, noted that the December rehearsal was a critical opportunity to learn from professional musicians and to determine the changes he needed to make, such as formatting corrections and adjustments to make his composition fully playable for an orchestra.

Adam Straus, a third-year music technology major from Nyack, N.Y., said he challenged himself by writing a composition combining electronics with the harp, an instrument for which he had never written.

“The harp is a really cool and unique instrument, and it was great to learn what it can and can’t do, in terms of what is actually playable,” Straus said. “This was just an incredible opportunity.”

De Ritis concurred.

“For the students, this is all about taking theory to practice,” he said. “We’re always looking for experiential opportunities in the music department.”