By Whitney Hale
A new composition by University of Kentucky sophomore Ben Norton has been selected for the Lexington Philharmonic's New Music Experiment, a new initiative to foster musical creativity and innovation. As part of the experiment, Norton's piece will be part of a workshop and later presented to the public in a performance scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall. Tickets to the performance of Norton's Woodwind Quintet No. 9 and other selections from the New Music Experiment is $5 and can be purchased at the door.
"I am very excited and incredibly honored to be given this opportunity," says Norton. "I was simply happy that others wanted to go out of their way to perform one of my works. This is why I compose music."
The New Music Experiment is a multi-day workshop that is part of the Lexington Philharmonic's Composer-In-Residence Program. Participants have the opportunity to work with composers, conductors and musicians while bringing new art to life. Norton competed against composers from a range of levels from high school to the pre-professional ranks. Winners were selected through an application and audition process. The workshop, which runs Feb. 12-15, will culminate in a performance of new works on Feb. 17 prior to the LexPhil Classics Concert.
Composed in 2009, Woodwind Quintet No. 9 is the ninth in a series of woodwind quartets for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Norton. This particular quartet, like a few others in the series, is technically a quintet, as it has piano accompaniment.
While stylistically, the piece contains a few traits that pervade most of the young Norton's compositions, namely, alternating and irregular meter, extended harmony and rapidly shifting orchestration, it does stand out from much of the composer's work.
"It's an ebullient, even comedic, very major-sounding work," Norton says.
Music has been a big part of Norton's life from an early age. He performed in the jazz, concert and marching bands, as well as the percussion ensemble at Oldham County High School. The artist started composing at a young age as well.
"I have been composing and performing music, of all styles and genres, for approximately seven years now," he says.
Norton, who came to UK on a Singletary Scholarship, is pursuing music, film and Spanish majors and a minor in mathematics. The sophomore, who has already earned enough credits to be a senior, began graduate studies toward a master's degree in composition as part of the University Scholars Program. At the School of Music in the UK College of Fine Arts, Norton is currently studying composition with Joseph Baber, professor of composition, and composition and piano with Raleigh Dailey, assistant professor of jazz studies. He also studies bass with UK alumnus and Morehead State University faculty member Danny Cecil.
A multi-instrumentalist, Norton has played guitar, piano, bass and vibes in UK's Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Lab Band and Jazz Combos; the janggu in the UK Korean Percussion Ensemble; and the piano and radio in a new contemporary music ensemble.
Outside of the rehearsal room, Norton also enjoys pursuing his talents as a filmmaker with his twin Zachary Norton. He is currently working with his brother on a documentary concerning the ever-burgeoning price of tuition in the country and is studying under Tom Marksbury, senior lecturer in the UK Division of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Media. Norton is also an active member of the UK Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action team, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, UK Greenthumb, American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Sierra Club and Seedleaf, as well as contributing columnist to the Kentucky Kernel.
Upon completion of his undergraduate and graduate studies at UK, Norton plans to pursue further graduate studies and continue his work as a composer, musician and filmmaker.
Founded in 1961 as the Central Kentucky Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lexington Philharmonic began as a group of 65 volunteer musicians composed primarily of music faculty from UK, Morehead State University, Eastern Kentucky University and Fayette County Public Schools, as well as graduates of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra. Fifty years later, the orchestra presents more than 150 concerts and educational programs annually designed to reach a variety of musical tastes and a vast range of ages.