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Festival of New American Music returns live with acclaimed artists, numerous student and alumni ties

Earplay will entertain concertgoers with music written over the last five years, including pieces commissioned from local composers, such as Josiah Catalan, a lecturer in the Sacramento State Music department. (Courtesy School of Music)

For the past two years, Sacramento State’s Festival of New American Music (FeNAM) continued to bring some of the country’s foremost composers and performers to Sacramento, though, because of the pandemic, virtually.

“We did our very best,” said Scott Perkins, an associate professor of Music who, along with Professor of Music Tim Stanley, organizes the multiday event. “But nothing compares to the real, live concert experience.”

FeNAM, now in its 45th year, returns fully live on campus Nov. 6-10. The event is the longest-running free festival featuring contemporary music composed and performed by American citizens or residents.

In addition to guest musicians, the festival includes performances from Sacramento State’s student music groups. It also provides students opportunities to learn directly from participating artists through presentations and master classes.

Perkins said each concert has ties to Sac State, either through performers who are students, faculty or alumni, or through guest ensembles performing the work of student, faculty, or alumni composers.

“Any time you go to one of our concerts (at) this festival, you’re going to find a connection to what’s going on at our school and what our graduates are doing,” he said.

The 2021 FeNAM put the spotlight on Black, transgender, and nonbinary artists, and this year’s lineup reflects Perkins and Stanley’s push to promote more inclusion in the historically white male-driven field of classical music. The festival’s featured composer, Libby Larson, is a woman, and other participating artists are members of underrepresented minorities.

“For us to diligently try to right the ship of modern classical music, or just classical music in general, which has not had a tremendously great track record with representation and inclusion, we definitely swung the pendulum as far as we could the other direction, and now the pendulum is sort of swung back towards a middle ground,” Stanley said.

“That is what we'd like to see as the model for constant and consistent and easily achievable representation.”

The festival will open Sunday, Nov. 6, with a gala concert featuring performances by the California-based chamber ensemble Earplay, a student ensemble from the University of the Pacific, and tenor Curtis Bannister and Sac State pianist John Cozza. Bannister and Cozza will return the next evening for a full-length recital.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, the festival will present a unique duet, pairing percussionist Mckenzie Langefeld and bassoonist and Sacramento State alumnus Dorian Antipa. The “Local Voices” concert on Wednesday, Nov. 9, will highlight composers and performers from the Sacramento area, and Earplay will perform work commissioned by local composers including Josiah Catalan, a Sac State Music lecturer.

The festival will close Nov. 10 with a celebration of the work of featured composer Larsen, a Grammy Award winner and one of the country’s most prolific composers. Larsen will coach the performers, which will include the Sacramento State Choirs and Symphony Orchestra, and give the festival’s keynote address.

Perkins, who met Larsen while at a previous institution, characterized the artist as energetic and dynamic, a person who enjoys connecting with young musicians.

“We had her as a guest composer for a week, and she engaged so much with students, and everybody left there inspired, myself included,” Perkins said. “We thought that it would be great to feature such an icon who is not only an outstanding musician and a composer, but who’s also someone who can really bring a lot to the student experience.”

For more information on FeNAM, including the full lineup of concerts and events, visit the festival website.

Music artist Libby Larsen coaches other musicians using hand gestures.
Musician Libby Larsen, a Grammy Award winner who has written over 500 works, will be the festival's keynote speaker, and will coach the performers, including the Sacramento State Choirs and Symphony Orchestra, and soprano Carrie Hennessey, in rehearsals leading up to the event. (Courtesy School of Music)


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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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