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NEC, Northeastern Present Harry Partch Festival

Composer who wrote for his own chromelodeon, cloud chamber bowls, adapted viola is reassessed in this festival

NEC, Northeastern University Present Harry Partch Symposium and Festival, September 19—21

Events Include Concerts, Seminars, Instrument Workshop

Partch’s Collection of Idiosyncractic Instruments on Display and in Demonstrations

New England Conservatory and Northeastern University are teaming up to present a major reexamination of the music of Harry Partch and his influence on musical composition, September 19—21. Highlights of the festival, The Harry Partch Legacy: Microtonal Constructions and Intercultural Dialogues will be the exhibition of Partch’s own unique handcrafted instruments, for which he wrote many of his works, presentations by music scholars, interactive workshops, films, and demonstrations by performers expert in playing the instruments. These and several musical performances will take place at both NEC and Northeastern. Composer, musicologist, author, and Bard College faculty Kyle Gann will give the keynote speech, Partch On the Road: The Kerouac of music, September 19 at 9:15 am in NEC’s Jordan Hall.

Partch (1901—1974) is best known as a radically individualistic musical experimentalist, an emblematic “American maverick.” Seeking to create a music close to human speech, he found himself “seduced into carpentry” to create an orchestra of unique instruments and a substantial corpus of instrumental, vocal and dramatic works. His 25-year career cut across composition, music theory, instrument building, and western musical genres.

Although widely known, he is at the same time one of the least performed 20th century composers—mainly due to those one-of-a-kind instruments. Sporting such picturesque names as bloboys, cloud chamber bowls, chromelodeon, eucal blossom, marimba eroica and zymo-xyl, these “contraptions” (a term Partch himself used) are difficult to transport, and they require performers with specialized knowledge of how the composer intended them to be used. For this symposium and festival, many of the instruments will travel from New Jersey to NEC's Jordan Hall, with the help of their custodian, Dean Drummond. Visitors will be able to examine them and hear them used in concert. Scholars will gather to explore the continuing impact of Partch’s work.

The symposium and festival are funded in part by a grant from The Harry Partch Foundation.

All events are free and open to the public.

Schedule of Events

September 19, 2012
9:00:AM, NEC’s Jordan Hall
The Harry Partch Legacy
Symposium on maverick American composer opens with Kyle Gann's keynote address and Philip Blackburn's media presentation.

September 19, 2012
2:00:PM NEC’s Jordan Hall
Harry Partch Instrument Workshop
Interactive workshop with Partch-built instruments

September 19, 2012
3:30:PM  NEC’s Keller room
The Harry Partch Legacy
Symposium presentations on Partch's 43-tone scale and writing for his instruments, plus films of late Partch works

September 19, 2012
7:30:PM  NEC’s Williams Hall
Music of Harry Partch
John Schneider performs work by Partch using conventional instruments in unconventional ways

September 20, 2012
9:00:AM  NEC’s Keller room
Partch's Americana Works
Lecture by Thomas McGeary and John Schneider 

September 20, 2012
11:00:AM  NEC’s Keller Room
The Harry Partch Legacy
Symposium on maverick American composer continues with presentations on Partch's relationship to the hobo ethos.

September 20, 2012
2:00:PM NEC’s Keller Room
Interactive MaxScore
Workshop with composer Georg Hajdu is part of the Harry Partch symposium schedule

September 20, 2012
3:30:PM  NEC’s Keller Room
The Harry Partch Legacy
Presentations on Partch's 43-tone scale, early vocal music, and corporeality and theatricality in his middle and late works

September 20, 2012
7:30:PM NEC’s Jordan Hall
Music of Harry Partch
Dean Drummond and Newband perform works using Partch's bewitching hand-crafted instruments
$20 + $2 processing fee; $15 + $2 fee for students, seniors, faculty; free for NEC and Northeastern University students; available online and at the door

September 21, 2012
9:00:AM Fenway Center, Northeastern University
Lecture on the first European reconstruction of Partch's instruments, for the 2013 Ruhrtriennale led by Heiner Goebbels

September 21, 2012
11:00:AM Fenway Center, Northeastern University
Presentations on Partch's connections to fellow composers Lou Harrison and John Cage

September 21, 2012
2:00:PM 354 Ryder Hall, Northeastern University
Performing in Just Intonation on Conventional Instruments--workshop with violinist Sharan Leventhal

September 21, 2012
3:30:PM 354 Ryder Hall, Northeastern University
The Harry Partch Legacy
Presentation on Partch and World Music, plus preview screening of Partch documentary Bitter Music

September 21, 2012
7:30:PM Fenway Center, Northeastern University
Music after Harry Partch
Music by composers participating in the Harry Partch symposium and festival

For more information, check the Northeastern University website or the NEC website.NEC’s Jordan Hall, Brown Hall, Williams Hall and the Keller Room are located at 30 Gainsborough St., corner of Huntington Ave. St. Botolph Hall is located at 241 St. Botolph St. between Gainsborough and Mass Ave.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115