Sunday, April 09, 2006

Roger Hannay: a life in music

We never really knew our neighbor Roger Hannay, who died in January. It was our loss, but some compensation was to be had this afternoon. Former students, colleagues, and UNC music students came together in Hill Hall for a memorial concert of compositions of his spanning a rich and productive lifetime. Selections ranged from a period recording of a 1947 composition for Schoharie High School, Schoharie, New York, to a quintet arrangement of a full orchestra composition he finished just before he went into the hospital in December for heart surgery. His daughter Dawn, a violist who has been with the New York Philharmonic since 1979, performed in that last piece, as well as performing a solo her father wrote for her in 1976.

Hannay was an avant-garde composer, an early experimenter in electronic music. His colleague Michael Kallstrom talked a bit about what it was like in the 1960s and '70s, to be working at the very forefront of music and believing that it mattered--to have audiences that cared. Thanks to the miracle of electronics--not just the crude kind that captured the march of 1947--we were treated to a duet of a live clarinetist against a 1975 recording, as well as a 1980 performance of Hannay himself on piano against a prerecorded electronic tape.

Dawn Hannay said it gives her chills to think about the title her dad gave his last composition, "Farewell, be well." What a comfort it must be to her to know that his music lives on--as it must have been to him to know that she and others would keep it alive.

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