Prof. Larry Bitensky wins competitive national award for composition
Critically acclaimed composer and pianist Larry Bitensky, professor of music at Centre College, has once again received national recognition for his outstanding work in the performing arts. Bitensky has been named the 2014 winner of The American Prize in Composition in the professional band/wind ensemble division for his piece entitled Fearsome Critters.
The American Prize was founded in 2009 to recognize and reward the best performing artists, ensembles and composers in the nation. The awards are highly competitive and winners are chosen from applicants across the U.S.
“The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band, which performed at the Norton Center for the Arts earlier this month, commissioned Bitensky to compose Fearsome Critters. The band premiered the composition at the Texas Bandmasters Association Convention in 2012 and performed a selection of movements from the work at its recent concert at Centre on September 4.
Bitensky’s inspiration for the piece comes from American lumberjack folklore. Lumberjacks at the turn of the 20th century would tell stories about hundreds of different “fearsome critters,” mythical beasts that were said to inhabit the frontier wilderness. Bitensky says his imagination was drawn to certain critters, such as the whirling wimpus, a carnivorous monster that spins like a top, and the squonk (pictured right), an ugly, lachrymose creature covered in warts. Each of Fearsome Critters’ nine movements evokes the distinct character of one of these beasts.
“I found creatures that spoke to me,” he explains. “I also thought it was important that the theme of the piece had an American connection, since the U.S. Marine Band would be performing it.”
Bitensky says he was honored to be chosen for The American Prize.
“I was thrilled to receive it,” he says. “The piece is already gaining more exposure because of this award.”
In addition to the Marine Band, college, high school and community bands around the country have performed the piece. However, Bitensky says he was most proud to have his work performed here in Danville.
“I haven’t had my music exposed much here, so to have the Marine Band play my work in a packed Newlin Hall was a real milestone in my career,” he says.
Bitensky joined Centre’s faculty in 1998, specializing in composition, music theory, musicianship and world music. In 2012, he was named a Centre Scholar, an honor that recognizes faculty who exemplify excellence in teaching, scholarly work and contributions to the College community. He serves as chair of the music program and was promoted to full professor in the spring of 2014.
Bitensky emphasizes creativity and hands-on learning in his music theory courses, and he loves guiding students through the process of composing their own pieces. He has also been highly involved in Centre’s study abroad programs, leading a semester-long program in London and countless CentreTerm trips to places like Spain, Morocco, Turkey and Bali.
Bitensky first came to national and international attention with a series of compositions inspired by Jewish musical tradition and culture, including the award-winning Mishb’rey Yam, a song cycle based on the Hebrew texts of the great medieval poet Yehudah Halevi. Bitensky’s works have been recognized by numerous foundations and institutions, including the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, the Omaha Symphony, the New England Philharmonic, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, the Columbia Orchestra, the Fromm Foundation, the Kentucky Arts Council and the Music Teachers National Association, among many others. His music has been performed by numerous ensembles and at various festivals around North America, Europe and Asia.
Bitensky received his B.M. degree in piano performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, his M.M. in composition from Ithaca College and his D.M.A. from Cornell University.
Listen to Bitesnky’s award-winning “Fearsome Critters.”
by Caitlan Cole
Squonk illustration credit: Norwegian artist Richard Svensson.