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Composers are gathering to share notes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chris Shultis is going out with a bang. The 2012 John Donald Robb Composers’ Symposium is the 12th and last time that Shultis will serve as its artistic director.

“This is the biggest one, 55 composers,” said Shultis, who is a retired distinguished professor and Regents professor of music at the University of New Mexico.

“These 55 are all composers who either live here or who have lived in New Mexico for a year or more or have some connection to the state.”

The symposium presents new music concerts, lectures, panel discussions, meet-the-composers events. The symposium, which opened Thursday in Santa Fe, continues through March 31. Most of the events are at UNM, and those are free.

The lineup of composers, all of whom are expected to attend the symposium, include John Kennedy, the artistic director of Santa Fe New Music, Michael Mauldin, Daniel Sault, Julietta Rabens-Moore and Daniel Ward of Albuquerque, and Julio Estrada of Mexico.

Estrada, who lives in Cuernavaca, taught composition at UNM in 1987, but he said what was more important to him during that time was studying Native American music at San Juan Pueblo. Estrada said his composition, which an ensemble of string and wind players will perform at the symposium, has not been created.

“It’s not pre-composed. There’s no guide, no score. So it’s somewhere between a composition and an improvisation,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s a process in which the creativity is implied. It’s created in the moment after consulting with the musicians.”

Estrada said the ensemble will have at least three rehearsals prior to its 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, concert in UNM’s Keller Hall.

Among the ensembles in residence at the festival are the Del Sol String Quartet, the Iridium Saxophone Quartet and Postcommodity.

The Del Sol will be playing Ward’s piece “These Walls” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, in Keller Hall.

“The Del Sol commissioned it. It’s an encore piece,” said Ward, who is a guitarist-teacher and recording engineer.

The composition’s origins date from when Ward was studying with Scott Wilkinson and William Wood at UNM. Wood is the symposium founder.

“The very beginning of it is from an unfinished piece from college. In 1989 I left it unfinished. It was written for double reed ensemble. … I changed it from the second measure (forward),” he said.

“The ‘walls’ hold a kind of story. I have been to castles, cathedrals and chapels in Europe. And there’s a lot of energy in those walls.”

On a concert program at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, a saxophone duo will give the premiere of UNM freshman Daniel Sault’s “Scissors,” which won the 2012 Scott Wilkinson Composition Contest. Sault, a Sandia High graduate, described the five-minute work as tonal but minimalist.

The symposium has been presenting events in partnership with the Outpost Performance Space’s Creative Soundspace Festival for the last six years.

The Outpost’s Tom Guralnick thinks of the partnership as a symbiotic relationship. This year, the festival, in conjunction with the symposium, will present four concerts and a workshop between Sunday, March 25, and March 31.

Two of those concerts are being held on the same night, Thursday, March 29. The Trio M: Myra Melford, Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Outpost. Then a free shuttle will take patrons from the Outpost to the North Fourth Art Center if they wish to attend the 9 p.m. concert of the Del Sol playing “Night” by Santa Fe’s Chris Jonas. The shuttle will bring patrons back to the Outpost.

There also is a symposium concert at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 25, presented by Sunday Chatter at the Kosmos.

Shultis has been involved with the symposium since 1980. He thinks of his work with it as having been an opportunity, not an accomplishment.

“It’s meant a lot to me as an artist. This symposium has been a big part of my life ever since I was 22 years old, and now I’m in my mid-50s,” he said.

A composer and percussionist, Shultis is to attend the premiere of his work “Circlings” in a 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 26, concert in Keller Hall.

Now in its 41st year, the symposium is named for Robb, the late dean of the UNM College of Fine Arts who was a composer and an ethnomusicologist.

Over many years, Robb made field recordings of nearly 3,000 Hispanic folk songs of New Mexico. Those recordings form the nucleus of the Robb Archive of Southwestern Music at UNM Libraries’ Center for Southwest Research.

For details of the Composers’ Symposium schedule, visit