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Classical 101

Chamber Brews Premieres New Work Inspired by 2020

color photo of Devin Copfer, Sam Johnson and Rachael Keplin of Chamber Brews playing in video recording session
Jennifer Hambrick
WOSU Public Media
Chamber Brews (L to R): Devin Copfer, Sam Johnson and Rachael Keplin

“It was here, it was gone and it wouldn’t go away.”

That’s how Columbus composer Sharon Udoh describes her experience of the year 2020.

“2020 felt like a year and also like three minutes and also like three decades. It also felt like three nanoseconds,” she said.

color photo of Sharon Udoh surrounded by flowering bush
Credit Kate Sweeney / Courtesy of Sharon Udoh
Courtesy of Sharon Udoh
Composer Sharon Udoh

How the tumult and turbulence of 2020 undermined Udoh’s own experience of the year’s passing was partial inspiration for Udoh’s new string trio Dig. The piece is full of rhythms that play with time in ways as surprising as they are delightful.

“I used time in certain ways in the piece,” said Udoh.

Commissioned by the Johnstone Fund for New Music, Dig will be premiered by the Columbus-based string ensemble Chamber Brews in an online concert Sunday, Feb. 28 at 3 p.m., streamed on the Johnstone Fund for New Music’s Facebook and YouTube pages. 

Known equally well as a composer and as a performer with the band Counterfeit Madison, Udoh wrote Dig in December 2020. While the pandemic might have been the immediate context for Dig, Udoh says she was exploring many things in writing the piece – her experience as a Black American, what she describes as her own “complicated relationship with religion” and her special love of classical music, among the many genres in which she works.

Dig is the product of Udoh’s own process of self-reflection. And Udoh says the piece invites others – each of us individually, and for all of us as a society – to self-reflection and greater self-awareness.

“I’m really beginning to understand that in order for us as individuals and as a society to really come to terms with who we are, we’ve got to dig,” said Udoh. “Wherever anyone is with their journey of figuring out who they are in this world and what they carry and what they bring to the table and what experiences they’ve had and what hurt they’ve had to process and what joys and what experiences, whatever they are – we’ve just got to go deeper.”

In composing Dig Udoh says she dug down to her musical roots, which go deep and extend across a wide range of genres. She grew up hearing and performing Black church music and says phrasing characteristic of gospel music made its way into Dig. When her dad played a recording of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony for her when she was 12, Udoh says she became “really classical.”

And she still has a soft spot for string instruments.

“I don’t know when I heard a cello for the first time, but I just fell in love with it and kept composing for it,” Udoh said. “I’ve played in musicals and in church mostly and rock bands and for choruses and I keep coming back to the strings.”

Udoh’s eclectic musical background sparkles in this video of Chamber Brews’ recent recording session for their upcoming virtual concert.

Although the purpose behind Dig – to encourage self-reflection – may be weighty, Udoh says she wants the piece itself to speak to the heart, not to the head.

“A lot of new music is really intelligent. I wanted (Dig) to be unintelligent. Just very accessible,” said Udoh. “I’m really excited about the joy and the deepness and the sorrow and the pain and the ecstasy and the celebration. It’s an emotional journey. But that’s what this life is, isn’t it?”

The Feb. 28 online concert will also feature the world premiere of Columbus composer Christopher Weait’s The First Social Dance with the Columbus Modern Dance Company, choreographed by Dian Jin. Also on the program, the video premiere of New York-based composer Carman Moore’s BLUE…RED…GREEN.

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Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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