Composer Howard Quilling felt it was so important to champion new music (and new composers) that he lobbied for, and got, the Bakersfield Symphony to sponsor a music series dedicated to new music.
Called New Directions, the series, which Quilling directed, gave a voice to new composers and their music for about 20 years.
Bakersfield composer James Sproul is an example of why that sponsoring of new music is still so important.
Sproul’s music will comprise the entire second half of the latest installment of the Bakersfield Recital Series concert this Saturday at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. The still-new series, which I first wrote about almost exactly a year ago, was created by musicians and spouses Steve Diaz and Katherine Maureen (Kiouses) to give musicians unaffiliated with a school program or an established ensemble the opportunity to keep performing. Sproul said the series is giving him the same opportunity.
“Outside of my master’s recital, this is the most music of mine I’ve had in a concert,” Sproul said. “I’m indebted to (Steve).”
The home-grown composer said his interest in composing began as a student at Bakersfield College while studying composition with professor John Gerhold. Sproul completed his undergraduate work at Cal State, studying composition with Doug Davis and trumpet with Charles Brady. He earned a Master of Music in composition from Oklahoma City University, and then returned to Bakersfield, where he is a music educator for the Panama-Buena Vista School District.
As a composer, Sproul has received commissions from the San Francisco Chamber Music Society, the Cal State Bakersfield Wind Ensemble and Guitar Ensemble, plus vocalists Danya Katok, Maureen and saxophonist Cody Greenwell.
The first half of Saturday’s program will be like the other concerts in the series — a variety of performers presenting a challenging, eclectic mix of solo and chamber music pieces representing any and all eras and styles. The second half belongs to Sproul including a premiere of a cycle of four Spanish-language art songs for mezzo-soprano, piano and oboe; a guitar duet; a cycle of five pieces for piano, inspired by paintings, images of which will be projected during the performance; and a piece for alto saxophone and piano.
It’s a sampler of Sproul’s work that will give listeners a chance to hear the scope of the composer’s interests, which is far-reaching. You will hear 12-tone, aleatory, free-form and Neo-Romantic elements in his work.
Sproul said it’s the subject matter that tells him what compositional style to use.
“There’s no set anything at the beginning,” Sproul said. “I just think about what does it need to be, what is the message and what is the medium to best get that idea across.”
Bakersfield is home to quite an accomplished company of composers. I would consider Quilling to have been the “dean” of new music composers here, as well as a champion of new music — New Directions was important enough across the United States that many composers traveled to Bakersfield to hear their music performed at those concerts. Composers and teachers such as Davis, Gerhold, Ron Kean, Jim Scully, Kris Tiner and many more have been carrying that torch for many years.
“There’s a little community (of composers), and I think since New Directions left there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for new music,” Sproul said. “People have been writing it, but people haven’t been hearing it.”
While that’s not true in an individual sense — composers are performing their own music in their own performances — it is true that there hasn’t been a continuing program dedicated to new music since the Bakersfield Symphony was forced to cut the New Directions series.
Now we wait to see if the Bakersfield Recital Series can fill the vacuum.