Eunmi Ko and her cohorts founded CAMP last August and quickly went into full-throttle mode.
New Music. It’s a thing. That’s why I put it in caps.
But what is it, exactly? For starters, there’s no exactly about it. New Music is a catch-all term that applies to cutting-edge sounds of recent vintage by living composers. It’s nearly always instrumental, is rarely pretty and is often, loosely speaking, avant-garde in nature. Feels and textures are boundless—from soothing solo flute to clamorous percussion ensembles, and pretty much whatever else you can imagine.
New Music is also a lousy term that doesn’t mean squat to the average person. “To me, it’s an insider’s word,” says Eunmi Ko, a pianist, composer and music professor at the University of South Florida who’s spearheading the first annual CAMPGround22 Music Festival. “People who are in our business understand and use ‘New Music.’ But it’s doubtful that very many other people do.”
Ko has a better term. Contemporary Art Music. “It’s more explanatory and less confusing,” she asserts. That’s why she coined her organization the Contemporary Arts Music Project, and came up with a pretty catchy acronym along the way: CAMP. Composers Benjamin D. Whiting and Alex Shanafelt, who Ko met and collaborated with at USF, make up the rest of the fledgling organization.
Ko and her cohorts founded CAMP last August and quickly went into full-throttle mode. CAMPGround22 is, in a word, ambitious. The three-day event, held on consecutive evenings at different Bay area venues, showcases the work of 24 composers and more than 20 musicians, and incorporates the artistry of the Tampa City Ballet and the Central Florida Choreographers Collaboration.
Each of the roughly 90-minute performances will be different, and loosely themed. Thursday, March 24 at the Morean Center for Clay focuses on, Ko tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, “percussion and electronic music.” The following night at St. Andrews Episcopal Church homes in on “piano and piano with ensembles.” One piece, “Children’s Game” by Vera Ivanova, will feature the dance of the Central Florida Choreographers Collaboration. Saturday's edition at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts will be “mostly solos and duets,” and feature the Tampa City Ballet accompanying Stephen Yip’s “White Dew,” for flute and bass flute.
To produce the fest, CAMP cobbled together about $12,000 through crowd-funding, $10 application fees from composers, and donations. Ko says she also reached into her own pocket. The principals put out a call for submissions and received 200 previously composed works. They spent months listening, and after five rounds of judging selected two dozen pieces written by artists from all around the U.S., Canada, Spain, Hong Kong and elsewhere. The CAMP triumvirate chose its Top 3 pieces, which I’ve interspersed throughout this story. Check ‘em out—they’ll provide a primer for the festival and Contemporary Art Music overall.
Ko, a native of South Korea, began studying classical piano from an early age. After completing her undergraduate studies at Seoul National University, she emigrated to the U.S. and earned a masters and doctoral music degrees at the the prestigious Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. In a familiar narrative, she grew weary of the winters in upstate New York and sought out more temperate climes. Ko joined the USF faculty in 2014 as an associate professor of piano, and earned tenure in 2020.
Ko can’t pinpoint a time when she jumped into the New Music fray, but at Eastman she became increasingly interested in living composers. She still performs the classical repertoire, but it's the sense of discovery in Contemporary Art Music that truly stokes her ardor. “One of the aspects I love is finding new sounds within instruments,” she says. “It’s not being bound by strictures. As I play more of this kind of stuff, I find more ways to play the piano—inside the piano and new techniques that extend the possibilities of the instrument.”
Ko does not have a composition in CAMPGround22 (Whiting does), but will perform. She’ll also be extremely busy with organization and logistics.
Ko insists that festival attendees are not signing up for a 90-minute session of dissonance and cacophony. No need to be intimidated. “Some of the composers write music that is actually very pretty,” she says. “People who come and listen may be surprised that some of the music is absolutely quite beautiful.”
That said, folks looking to stretch their ears needn’t worry. You’ll be treated to plenty of challenging and, yes, new-sounding music.
Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...