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Fall 2002 l Capital University Journal
New American Music Festival Marks Milestone

FENAM Poster from 1999FENAM Poster from 2000 FENAM Poster from 2002

An old new music festival might seem like an oxymoron, but Sac State’s Festival of New American Music (FENAM) is one of the longest running festivals in the nation dedicated solely to the presentation of contemporary American music.

In November, its 25th anniversary was celebrated on campus and in the community. Once again, it featured the finest of innovative new American music with free concerts, workshops, master classes and more.

Throughout those 25 years the festival’s producers–former and current Sac State music professors Gene Savage, Dan Kennedy, Ernie Hills and Steve Blumberg–have presented a schedule packed with entertainment and educational activities. Visiting artists, scholars and composers of international stature work with Sac State’s faculty and students to provide a program of the country’s best contemporary music to the Sacramento community.

“Since its inception in 1978, countless premiere performances have been heard at the Festival, which has attracted audiences for all ages and musical preferences,” Kennedy says. “The visiting composers, soloists and ensembles featured are internationally recognized as leaders in the field of contemporary American music.”

Over the years, performers have included the Kronos String Quartet, Chanticleer, the New York New Music Ensemble, the New Millennium Ensemble, guitarist David Tanenbaum, vocalist Phyllis Bryn-Julson, and composers Phillip Glass and Lou Harrison.

“We try to incorporate all the colors of the musical spectrum at the Festival,“ says music department chair Ernie Hills. “FENAM provides audiences in the Sacramento Region a fantastic opportunity to hear the wonderful, fresh, exciting music being written today.

“We strive to bring in outstanding artists who specialize in this music and they have always lived up to the challenge by giving us dazzling performances. If you’re willing to try new things, willing to have an open mind and open ears, the Festival is the place for you.“

In the early years Hills remembers audiences needed some convincing that this was important music. Today the festival holds national stature.

Among the trends in new compositions of American music is the inclusion of many of the multicultural aspects of the country. This was demonstrated in this past year with tangos for flute and “Latin Tinge.”

Also this past Festival, one of the presentations featured five composers–including Sac State alum John Villec–who are all members of a national organization of electronic and computer music composers called the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the U.S. (SEAMUS).

“Each one is a card-carrying cutting-edge sonic sculptor,” Blumberg says. “They’re led by a man whose name is an advertisement for his music, Allen Strange, one of the early pioneers of electronic music who has moved straight into the digital age without missing a beat, continuing to push the envelope in fascinating ways. Another uses multi-media works that integrate computer graphic animation with electronic sounds, and sometimes live performers.”

The event was planned in conjunction with Villec, who has become an innovator in this new audio/visual medium. Villec often creates both the soundtrack and the graphics for works that end up on DVD.

Blumberg says another of the anniversary participants, Terry Riley, has been enormously important in the history of American music. “He is one of the innovators of minimalism—some would say he’s the father of minimalism,” Blumberg says. “He was born in Colfax and still lives up in the Gold Country. He is a real California treasure.”

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