When the American String Quartet came to Centre in February, the internationally acclaimed group knew they would be participating in a number of campus events in addition to their main-stage performance. They did not realize that sight-reading an eight-minute student piece might wind up on their agenda.
“I attended an ASQ session with my music theory class and they asked me if I had a string quartet,” recalls Larry Bitensky, Matton Professor of Music and an award-winning composer. When he mentioned that one of his students had recently composed a string quartet, “they very quickly and generously offered to give it a reading” later that afternoon.
Bitensky describes the piece, String Quartet No. 2 by Sebastian Duncan ’19, as “quite impressive, especially for an undergraduate . . . complex structurally and texturally, yet . . . replete with rich melodic lines and soaring harmonies.
“A reading by a group of this caliber is virtually performance ready,” he adds.
It was the first time that Duncan had heard his string quartet performed by musicians instead of by a computer program. Although he plays piano and sings, he does not actually play any string instruments.
He enjoys music theory and sees composition as a practical application of the theory he has learned. Last summer a piece he composed received honorable mention at the Indie Gathering International Film Festival held annually in Cleveland.
An aspiring composer and songwriter from Chattanooga, he originally wrote the string quartet—his first extended piece of chamber music—for a class last fall.
The American String Quartet “offered many good criticisms and suggestions,” notes Bitensky, and Duncan’s subsequent revisions based on them have made the piece “a stronger work.”
“It is highly unusual for an undergraduate composer to have an opportunity like this,” Bitensky says. “I am very grateful that the ASQ was willing to read this work and that Steve Hoffman put together this wonderful ‘outside the concert’ workshop.”
by Diane Johnson
This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Centrepiece.