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Farmington-based Navajo composer to premiere commission

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While his peers were listening to pop and rap music, Juantio Becenti was ordering the scores of Beethoven and Mozart.

The Farmington-based Navajo composer will premiere his commissioned Divertimento No. 5, “Melodrama” at Chatter Sunday on March 22, at the Las Puertas Event Center.

The work blends atonality with melody through independent movements for seven instruments. Becenti’s music has traveled from the mythical red rock country of southern Utah to the concert halls of New York.

Composer Juantio Becenti

He began piano lessons in elementary school in Montezuma Creek, Utah. He devoured classical music, moving between the honor choir and concert bands,.

“I’ve always sensed a power in music,” Becenti said. “I used to have whole cycles of scores by classical composers. I would acquire the CDs and just follow along.”

He’d dreamed of becoming a classical composer since high school.

“In elementary school, I’d have them photocopy manuscript paper.”

At 17, he won a full scholarship to New Hampsire’s Walden School music camp. He was one of 50 students accepted from across the globe.

“The goal was to have a resident ensemble and for each student to compose for the resident ensemble,” he said. “I consider that my first piece; that was in 2000.”

He prefers to compose in images.

“It’s fairly atonal,” Becenti said. “I don’t usually work within keys. It’s a more intuitive way of writing.”

“Melodrama” highlights each instrument within a short movement.

“It’s like little stage pieces; there’s no formal scheme,” he said. “It’s a melodrama without text.”

Chatter also will play music by Claude Debussy, Charles Ives and the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, all chosen in consultation with Becenti to highlight some of his influences and provide stylistic contrast for his work.

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