Joseph V. Williams II, classical guitarist and composer, is the 2013-2014 Composer in Residence for the Austin Classical Guitar Society. Williams says his musical compositions reflect the memories and experiences he has treasured over the years.

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

For Joseph V. Williams II — a classical guitarist, composer and UT alumnus — music has always been “an expression of the human experience.”

As the 2013-2014 Composer in Residence at the Austin Classical Guitar Society, Williams is involved in everything the society does, from creating learning modules for students to writing new musical pieces for ensembles and groups. 

The society’s educational outreach extends to more than just schools in Austin where student guitarists are encouraged to take guitar classes. As part of this education program, Williams also plays his own compositions in outreach concerts and collaborates on compositions with other musicians.

Williams’ first big collaboration as a composer is with Randy Avers and Benoit Albert of Les Freres Meduses. The origins of this piece, titled “Memoria,” can be traced back to Williams’ Hungarian ancestry. His great-grandparents were Hungarian immigrants, and Williams always felt he had a connection to Hungary. 

“When we think of our past and of our ancestors, what we have from them are passed down,” Williams said. “We have memories that are shared. There’s only so much you can get from that direct experience.”  

Memoria — the Hungarian word for memory — is how Williams attempts to connect with his ancestry.

“I asked my mother about my ancestry, and there really wasn’t much she could tell me,” Williams said. “She could remember a handful of stories. If I think about my connection to Hungary, then it’s a tiny thread. That is the basis for this piece.”

“Memoria” is a two-movement piece, including a prelude and a fantasy. The prelude is a nostalgic record of Williams’ own experiences and memories growing up. The fantasy represents the non-nostalgic aggressive search and desire for a lost memory or a memory he does not have.

Williams has also collaborated with the society’s executive director, Matthew Hinsley. Hinsley said Williams’ compositions are best described as authentic.

“I was quickly impressed with both his playing and his unique and exciting compositional voice,” Hinsley said.

Hinsley’s first major collaboration with Williams was in October 2011 when Williams wrote a piece titled “Austin Pictures,” which he said provides a snapshot of his experiences in Austin.

“Austin Pictures” was a five-movement piece, including Hill Country, Floating on Lady Bird Lake, Dance of the Grackles, Violet Crown with Cicadas and Capitol City Construction.

Williams wrote this piece for 115 student guitarists — from Brownsville, Austin, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque — who collaborated with UT’s Miro Quartet. 

“The music is so beautiful because it takes literal experiences and expands on a more subconscious experience,” Williams said. “How you feel when you see the light shine off of Lady Bird Lake.”

As a young boy, Williams’ first experience with music was at his brother’s house when he saw a piano.

“I remember just pressing the keys and listening to the amazing sound it produced,” Willliams said. “It was a really special moment in my life.”

From then on, music became a “beautiful world” he wanted to know everything about. 

“When I picked up my first classical guitar, it seemed so natural in my hands, to my ears,” Williams said. “The piano and the classical guitar have things in common. You can play multiple lines of music at the same time, a bass, a melody and an accompaniment.” 

Adam Holzman, one of Williams’ professor at UT’s Butler School of Music, first met Williams at the Boston GuitarFest international guitar competition in 2006, where Williams tied for first place. The thing that struck Holzman about Williams was his creativity and enthusiasm.

“His compositions are first-grade,” Holzman said. “His growth as a composer and performer has been wonderful to watch. Joe has turned out to be a wonderful teacher.”

For Williams, classical music is his way of understanding more about himself and the world at large. 

“Listening to music is a life long development and appreciation,” Williams said.

Eager young composers at UT are given the chance to have their music heard through the Collective Labors of the UT Composition Hub, or CLUTCH. CLUTCH is a student organization that presents concert series of new music composed exclusively by undergraduate and graduate student composers. Formed in 2009 to replace the Butler School of Music’s student music concert series Wet Ink, CLUTCH is now in its third year of operation.

“The music culture here is just so alive,” Brandon Scott Rumsey, a first-year master’s student in composition and CLUTCH spokesperson, said. “Everybody’s doing something and everybody’s very supportive.”

The collective’s first concert of the year on Oct. 8 presented an eclectic mix of musical styles and instrumentations side by side that ranged from Incan folk songs to a solo played on the strings inside a piano. The concerts present both undergraduate and graduate student pieces that not only span musical genres but offer a glimpse of students at different stages within the composition and music studios. 

Jenna Wright, a second-year undergrad studying percussion performance and music composition and junior treasurer for the collective, premiered a piece through CLUTCH for the first time Oct. 8. 

“It’s the coolest feeling in the world as a composer to hear one of your pieces take life,” Wright said. “It’s also really interesting hearing what the other composers are putting together, because everyone comes from different backgrounds. They have different styles.” 

CLUTCH focuses on fostering relationships between students and premiering their work to audiences. 

“We are proud to maintain a sense of camaraderie, mutual support and shared purpose amongst the composition students here,” professor and faculty overseer for CLUTCH Yevgeniy Sharlat said. “This is not always the case in other composition programs around the country. If CLUTCH were administered entirely by the faculty, the series would become yet another academic requirement one fulfills by working like a hermit, in isolation from one’s peers.”

The collective is distinct because it is not required for all of UT’s composition students. Students join voluntarily and work together to produce concerts held twice a semester. Students can submit pieces to be chosen for the concert series. When a piece of music is chosen, the student composer is responsible for assembling a group of performers, organizing rehearsals and doing publicity for the premiere. 

While the students feel the responsibility of individually readying their pieces for performance and collectively organizing the entire concert, the environment created by CLUTCH is positive and encouraging. Students are given a concert series entirely devoted to their work rather than having to struggle against one another for a handful of chances to have their works premiered at the music school’s concerts throughout the year.

For students like Rumsey, CLUTCH is providing these young composers with the skills they need to be successful beyond college and into their careers.

“What’s great about this collective here is that it’s not a bunch of composers competing against each other,” Rumsey said. “We’re all trying to get our music performed for each other, and we’re promoting our music as a whole.”

Finance senior and concertmaster Darwin Weng plays the violin under the direction of conductor Tim Laughlin during the University Orchestra's final performance of the year Tuesday evening in Bates Recital Hall.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

With the works of famed composers filling the air, listeners on campus were taken on a musical journey that led them through Rome and London.

The University Orchestra held its final concert of the school year yesterday, performing pieces from Italian composer Ottorino Respighi and English composer Sir Edward Elgar. The concert included two works from each composer, with Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” and “Pines of Rome” as well as Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 2” and “Serenade for Strings.”

The show began with Elgar’s crowd-pleasing compositions, said Alejandro Gutiérrez, co-conductor and music director of the University Orchestra.

“The enchanting ‘Serenade for Strings’ and the pridefulness of the march by Elgar complement a great night,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez said he was particularly pleased to perform both of Respighi’s pieces because it is a rare occurrence to hear two of the composer’s pieces back-to-back.

“It is not common to program two of Respighi’s symphonic poems together,” Gutiérrez said. “Tonight [was] a great opportunity for students and faculty to appreciate two of the most famous pieces of Respighi.”

Although the majority of students in University Orchestra are not music majors, Gutiérrez said the group fosters a strong, competitive environment for music majors as well. He said the number of skilled performers who have joined University Orchestra is allowing the group to perform such high caliber works.

“The great musicianship and attitude of these students have motivated a good number of music majors to join the orchestra,” Gutiérrez said. “It allows the conductors of the orchestra to program music of very high artistic content and difficulty.”