Senior Recital: Natsumi Osborn – memories and sentiments

Writing a piece with sentiment and care for a dear friend and hearing it come to life just might be the most rewarding and enriching experience a composer can have. COVID-19 took away many opportunities for artists to enjoy each other’s company and share their passion for music. But on April 29, composer Natsumi Osborn will showcase collaborative works with other Oberlin Conservatory students, including the Contemporary Music Ensemble. Her 7:30 pm senior recital will offer a snapshot into Osborn’s creative world and her development as a composer during the past four years.

The evening will open with her 2020 composition on the fragility of time, featuring fourth year cellist Elizabeth Kate-Hall. Hall will sing a haunting melody while playing a layer of drones on the cello, creating a meditative piece that speaks of life’s moments of uncertainty and fear. “The piece is also one way of conveying the confusing, cluttered emotions and thoughts about myself, those around me, and our planet, that have consciously and subconsciously plagued my mind over the last many months,” Osborn said during a recent interview. She added that Hall’s evocative humming allows listeners to experience time slowing down, and becoming lost in it.

Writing for Hall is a personal matter for Osborn because the cellist’s junior recital was canceled due to the pandemic. The composer said that in a period of confusion and turmoil, “it is as if a mother is trying to make her child go to sleep during a scary time.” Through the fluctuation of emotion in a volatile world, it is important to protect yourself from what is happening.

The program will continue with for three clarinets written for Julia Klein, Emily Hancock and Katia Waxman. First encountered during a winter term project for the PHLOX Ensemble in 2020, Osborn described the trio as “three very close friends who all happen to be incredible clarinetists. I aimed to write them a piece that would bring out their vibrant, cheerful off stage personalities as well as their animated, virtuosic presence on stage.” Because it’s rare to find pieces for three clarinets, this lineup is sure to bring joy to the musicians and the audience.

Written during her first year at Oberlin, Remembrance of Things Past will be performed by cellist Drew Dansby and pianist Xiaoyan Tan. The piece is a reflection on how past experiences impact the present — grappling with the bittersweet nature of meaningful experiences that are inherently finite. “We eventually learn to accept that these sentiments, even those that are sad, will always exist,” Osborn explained. It is a piece that depicts stages of the journey to reach this point of understanding. Colored with soulful melodies in the cello along with a highly textured piano part, Remembrance of Things Past creates a complexity of emotions. 

The concert will conclude with Three Apparitions at Twilight, the most recent piece Osborn has written, and one that displays her development in growth and maturity as a 21st century composer. The Contemporary Music Ensemble will fill the stage, led by Timothy Weiss. “This piece is loosely inspired by a series of reflections I had last year, months into the pandemic, on the idea of memory. I found myself reflecting on the ways in which we remember immediate experiences, and the ways in which those memories or recollections change with time.” 

Dedicated to her friend and harpist, Hannah Allen, Three Apparitions at Twilight captures her sentimental memories as the piece progresses through its three movements. Osborn said, “Over a year ago, I had studied harp with Hannah and ever since then I wanted to write for her as part of my final piece at Oberlin.” Osborn has written lyrical lines for the harp that beautifully complement the orchestral ensemble. Although sometimes jumpy and upbeat, other moments can be filled with silence and sorrowful clouds.

Tune into the livestream of Natsumi Osborn’s senior recital from Warner Concert Hall on April 29 at 7:30pm.

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