Percussion Student Receives Grand Prize in International Competition

Matthew Stiens, senior percussion performance major
Kristi Galloway
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science

Matthew Stiens, a senior percussion performance major in the School of Music, received the 2014 TorQ Percussion Seminar Composition Competition grand prize for his composition, an exciting piece called “Eristic.” TorQ is a highly regarded Canadian quartet, known for their engaging performances. They will play “Eristic” at the TorQ Percussion Seminar Finale Concert July 27.

Stiens has already seen much success as a solo percussionist, and now he is also an award-winning composer. Last fall, he was commissioned by the School of Music to write a piece and perform it with three other students for So Percussion, another respected percussion quartet. Julia Gaines, associate professor of percussion and director of the School of Music, says, “I loved the piece from the start. Matt was very receptive to feedback throughout the writing process.”

The creation of “Eristic” was a long learning process for Stiens, with plenty of writing and rewriting. Stiens attended the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in November where he heard an inspiring piece called “Peaux” by Iannis Xenakis that only featured drums. It was powerful, and Stiens immediately knew he wanted to create something similar. “Eristic” was also motivated by Stiens’ frustration with people who argue for the sake of being right, instead of for the purpose of coming to a collective truth. Stiens aimed to musically and visually portray this phenomenon for the audience. “The players are set up around a single set of drums, like they are sitting down at a table ready to discuss a topic,” says Stiens. “The opening theme recurs after various episodes of musical discussion between the players, barely changed, and more insistent each time. The debate is fruitless, and the piece ends the way it began.”

While an eristic conversation might be fruitless, Stiens’ efforts have not been. As recipient of the grand prize, Stiens received a cash award and the privilege of having his piece performed by a world-class percussion quartet. This accomplishment will also help Stiens achieve some of his future ambitions. After graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school and pursue a solo performance career. He also plans to continue composing, “I thought this would just be an extra project, but I learned that I really love writing music and other people seem to enjoy what I write,” says Stiens. “The solo and composing careers go hand-in-hand, so I want to pursue both.”

W. Thomas McKenney, professor of composition and music theory, has enjoyed watching Stiens develop throughout his time at MU. McKenney taught the music theory course Stiens took as a freshman, and he worked with Stiens one-on-one last year while he wrote “Eristic” during a composition course. “I’m very happy for Matt; he is a gifted performer and composer. He wrote a wonderful piece, and this is just the beginning. I’m confident he will receive more prizes and recognition in the future,” says McKenney.

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