Bicycling across Iceland. Creating a hybrid of American R&B with traditional Indian music. Retelling ancient myths from the perspective of their female characters.
That's what composers did with $25,000 McKnight Foundation fellowships they received through the American Composers Forum in 2021.
To cap this year's Great Northern Festival, each of those four composers will present 20 minutes of their work Sunday night within the intimate confines of Icehouse in Minneapolis. It's a fine opportunity to hear some of the most innovative and interesting music being created by Minnesota composers.
If you've watched TV's "The Voice," you may remember DuBose from the show back in 2013. Since then, she's recorded a solo album ("Be You"), had something of a hit with the song "Intoxicated," and has been an instructor with the Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project.
"I've been blessed to be able to balance my artist career while tending to my responsibilities as a mother, a student, an employee, and ultimately an entrepreneur," DuBose said. "At Icehouse, I'll be presenting a few songs that really mark where I've been, where I am, and where I am headed with regard to my artistry.
"I pour my soul into my music, drawing on experiences and the resulting emotions that go on to touch and relate to people around the world. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share some of these songs live, with Ryan Bynum on keys."
Originally from New Delhi, India, Ganguly is a singer-songwriter of a different sort than DuBose, although they both employ elements of R&B. In Ganguly's case, the songs are often rooted in South Asian genres.
"Much of my compositional and vocal work is at the intersections of where poem meets song," Ganguly said. "Poetry that moves not only me, but that has inspired other people in all sorts of ways. I take someone's narrative, and then layer it with my interpretation of it as a composer, and then as vocalist, and expand it further and beyond.
"At Icehouse, I'll be premiering two new compositions. I'm working with a poem in Hindustani that my friend Nadim Asrar wrote many years ago. I've brought it into a more R&B sort of an articulation. I also recently wrote a song, 'Moons of Jupiter,' that I'm excited to share. The drone is a constant accompaniment to my compositions and performances, so audiences can expect to be anchored to it through the length of the show."
Best known as a jazz pianist, Maurer has been on a peripatetic quest in recent years to connect with people of many cultures and create music based upon his experiences. He's ridden his bicycle through parts of Iceland, Vietnam, Newfoundland, Argentina and Chile.
"I'm working on a GPS-located soundwalk and theater project conceived a couple years ago after cycling across the highland interior of Iceland, and across sub-Antarctic Chile in 2020," Maurer said. "The project is called 'Unfrozen,' and I'm joined in its creation by librettist Anne Bertram. We conducted interviews with living polar explorers Will Steger, Paul Schurke and others who have approached the poles. The material is being used to create an accessible theater work that sparks discussion about climate change.
"So I'm in the central Minnesota woods and lakes around St. John's University, on my fat bike daily, loaded with recording gear, capturing field recordings of winter and the ambient environment here to serve as a faux semblance of polar environments. Like the climate and all this ice up here, I want the music or soundscape to reflect that which is slowly pulling apart, in order to underscore the necessity of humans coming together."
Among these four, Prescott has taken the most conventional route to a career in composition, having graduated from the Manhattan School of Music. But you wouldn't describe her music as conventional.
Over the past year, she's composed an operatic adaptation of Homer's "The Odyssey" written from the perspective of its women, another opera about a malevolent Thai spirit carrying a curse, and a song cycle inspired by tarot cards.
"For Icehouse, I'll be performing solo piano improvisations, marking the 10th anniversary year of my first explorations into composition, when I spent one year making simple recordings of a piano improvisation every day on my iPhone and posting each online. Through those, I taught myself how to improvise and compose, and developed a foundation of self-trust and an ability to explore vulnerably and freely."
An Evening with McKnight Composer Fellows
When: 7 p.m. Sun.
Where: Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $5-$10, thegreatnorthernfestival.com
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. firstname.lastname@example.org