Playing at the cutting edge of music


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The UI Center for New Music is no stranger to difficulty. From the challenge of performing complicated pieces to the upcoming decision on where its new home will be, the center is facing many obstacles.

The center serves as a place in which musicians from soloists to groups of around 20 can play contemporary pieces. It prides itself on its repertoire.

Graduate student Emily Rolka knows well the struggle of playing the challenging works.

“The most challenging part is that the rhythms that are composed are really tricky,” she said. “Some of the things that I have had to learn I thought were impossible to play.”

As part of the School of Music, the center will be directly affected by the state Board of Regents’ Feb. 4 decision on the new location for Hancher and the new music facility. The UI has proposed building the music facility downtown and constructing Hancher on higher ground near its original site.

David Gompper, the director of the Center for New Music, believes musicians belong downtown, where they can be a more prominent part of the city. However, he said, separating Hancher and the music facility creates complications with trying to move instruments and equipment between the two.

He is a composer himself. Hailing from a family of musicians, he began playing piano at age 7 and won an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters last year. He knows well the scope of the demanding works that the center performs.

“Usually, the musicians need to have a certain experience level before they tackle contemporary works,” he said. “Not that all other pieces, such as Mozart or Beethoven, are simpler; they’re as hard and more difficult. Usually, the technique level for contemporary works requires a higher technique.”

Rolka, who has played the violin since she was 7, said she enjoys her experience at the center.

“It’s been a really great experience to rehearse and perform with other excellent musicians,” she said.

Performing contemporary works pushes her to become a better musician, she said.

“It’s just because I had never done anything so complex before,” she said. “It really has expanded my horizons.”

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