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New Music Ensemble to release new CD, "Return"

  • Photo of the New Music Ensemble
  • Photo of Return CD album cover
  • Photo of Adam Cuthbért, Matthew Finch and Daniel Rhode
  • Bill Ryan, New Music Ensemble director

Posted on October 19, 2017

Grand Valley’s award-winning New Music Ensemble has released a new CD that was composed by three alumni of the program.

The release of the ensemble’s fourth commercial CD, “Return,” will be celebrated on October 27 with a concert from 7:30-9 p.m. in Louis Armstrong Theatre, located in the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts on the Allendale Campus.

The album’s three composers, Adam Cuthbért, '10, Matthew Finch, '15, and Daniel Rhodé, '12, will be in attendance, and Cuthbért will open the show with a special performance. An opportunity to meet the composers and the members of the New Music Ensemble will take place following the concert. The event is free and open to the public.

Bill Ryan, New Music Ensemble director, said this project fulfills his longtime goal of producing a “100 percent homegrown project.”

“This recording represents everything I envisioned when I started the New Music Ensemble — an entire album composed by three outstanding creative thinkers who came through our program, enthusiastically performed and recorded by current students,” said Ryan. “The result is a strikingly beautiful 78-minute journey that has been the most gratifying experience of my career.”

The composers worked with the ensemble's acoustic recordings, and manipulated some to create the 15 acoustic-electronic hybrid compositions featured on the album.

"There are moments when the instruments are clearly heard, and others where you may think you know what's happening or where you are just perplexed," Ryan explained. "Clarity of the sonic division between the two worlds of acoustic and electronic is a great tool to play with in terms of engaging the listener."

Students were encouraged to explore their instruments in new ways for the album, which Hannah Donnelly said is one of the unique experiences of being a member of the New Music Ensemble.

“Being a part of the New Music Ensemble provides students with a musical experience you won’t find anywhere else on campus,” said Donnelly, a senior majoring in music performance and psychology who plays the flute in the ensemble. “You come to rehearsal and are allowed to experiment with your sound, even if it’s ‘ugly.’ You definitely begin to learn the endless possibilities of the sound of your instrument.”

Ryan Schmidt, a senior majoring in music, said the process of creating “Return” helped him see the possibilities of music differently through feedback from the three composers.

“Something that I thought sounded bad or unacceptable was exactly what the composers wanted, and in fact, they wanted more,” said Schmidt. “For instance, the microphones picked up subtle noises that your mouth can make while wetting a reed or just setting the mouthpiece to play. The composers used these sounds that otherwise would be useless or strange, and made music with it.”

Schmidt added that this experience helped him better appreciate the creative process of developing new music.

“Most often, we are playing from a deceased composer’s score and it can feel like we are trying to replicate something that has already been done,” he said. “This process was so valuable because we were making something brand new.”

Cuthbért said one of the themes throughout the project is the underlying technology behind human expression.

"Ultimately, a lot of my inspiration for this music came from daydreams of how we can keep our humanity at the front and center of exponential advancements in technology and science," he said. "I looked for instances of every day technology that is ubiquitous, so, for example, 'location sharing' and 'background refresh' are two tracks named for minor features on our phones that streamline communication through pretty complex technology."

"Return" is available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. The CD will be released on the Innova label, and the album was mastered by Grammy Award winner Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound, whose other clients include Lady Gaga, Adele and Katy Perry.

The New Music Ensemble promotes contemporary classical chamber music, with a special focus on music of the past 20 years, through commissions, tours, recordings, educational events, workshops and videos.

Since the ensemble formed in 2006, the group has released three other critically acclaimed recordings, which have appeared on “best release lists” by The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Weekly and Time Out Chicago. Some of the ensemble’s recordings have appeared in film and television shows on MTV, Showtime, as well as at more than 75 film festivals around the world, and most recently in U.S. movie theaters as a part of the soundtrack for the film “As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM.”

The ensemble has completed four tours, including their most recent tour across four U.S. national parks in 2016. The group has also performed at the Bang On a Can Marathon in New York City, the College Music Society National Conference in Atlanta and at Carnegie Hall.

For more information about the New Music Ensemble, visit