Monthly Archives: December 2014

Higdon ’86 to receive honorary doctorate


BOWLING GREEN, O.—Two BGSU alumnae who have had influential careers will receive honorary doctorates from the University during fall commencement ceremonies. The board of trustees approved the degrees at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon ’86 is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. She has become a major figure in contemporary classical music, with commissions in the orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and wind ensemble genres.

She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania, a bachelor’s degree in flute performance from BGSU, and an Artist Diploma in music composition from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she now holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies.

Her Percussion Concerto won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in January 2010. Higdon also received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto.

She has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters (two awards), the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Meet-the-Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ASCAP.

Most recently, Higdon has written an opera commissioned by Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and Minnesota Opera, based on the National Book Award winner “Cold Mountain,” by Charles Frazier. It will be premiered in Santa Fe on August 1, 2015.

Higdon and television executive Eileen O’Neill ’90 will give the commencement addresses, Higdon on Dec. 19 and O’Neill on Dec. 20. Both were named among BGSU’s 100 most prominent alumni during the University’s 2010 centennial celebration.

From cellist to country rock

Jonathan Kampfe ’05 tours the country with The Phillip Fox Band

Jonathan Kampfe ’05 used to picture himself as a professional cellist playing in ensembles — a career classical musician.

He trained for years to fulfill this dream, attending BGSU on a music scholarship and earning a bachelor’s degree in cello performance from the College of Musical Arts in 2005.

Then, an offer from an old friend changed everything, and Kampfe found himself playing music not in  symphony halls, but in stadiums, rock clubs and country western saloons.

Today, the one-time classical cellist is the bassist for the Columbus-based country-rock quartet, the Phillip Fox Band. Kampfe will return to Bowling Green on Saturday, when his band plays a 9 p.m. show on Saturday, Dec. 6 at Grumpy Dave’s Pub, 104 S. Main St.

The band is currently touring to promote its first full-length album, Heartland.

The Phillip Fox Band is a full-time gig for all of its members, Kampfe said. They don’t work side jobs and make the band their sole career focus, playing about 200 shows in 2014.

“At some point, you have to take that leap of faith,” Kampfe said. “I think one thing that helped me from the get-go was knowing there was no plan B. We all knew we wouldn’t be making money for awhile, but that just pushed us harder to make it work.”

Although the Phillip Fox Band is more popular than ever now, Kampfe struggled after graduating from BGSU to find his purpose.

“For a change of scenery, I moved to Virginia and started working for a company that did window treatments,” he said. “I did some music gigs on the side, but it didn’t take long before I knew this was not what I should be doing.”

Kampfe’s life and career took a new direction when he reconnected with a friend from the Toledo area, fellow musician Phillip Fox.

Fox told Kampfe he was looking for a bass player for a new band.

Unsure whether this was the right move for his music career, Kampfe reached out to his former BGSU professor and mentor, Dr. Alan Smith, for advice.

“I wanted to get his reaction, because he was my cello teacher, and I wasn’t sure he would take it well,” Kampfe said. “To my surprise, he told me, ‘Go for it.’”

Kampfe accepted Fox’s offer and moved to Columbus. By March 2011, Fox and Kampfe had been joined by guitarist David Morckel and drummer Austin Nill.

While the band produced the album Heartland without the support of a record label, its fans helped offset recording studio costs by raising $18,000 via the popular crowd-funding website In return, the band took fans’ input on what songs they should include on the album.

Although they have built their biggest fan base in Ohio, the Phillip Fox Band performed last month in Houston at the APCA South Central Regional Showcase. The showcase allows entertainers to connect with university event planners to book campus appearances.

While he prefers to tour for a week or two, rather than for months at a time (he and his wife welcomed a baby boy six months ago), Kampfe hopes doors will continue to open for the band.

“We do hope for that national exposure, but the main goal is to continue to do what we love to do, and to keep finding creative ways to do it,” he said. “I think we have a bright future ahead of us.”


Amahl’s touching tale a tuneful triumph at BGSU

Composer Gian Carlo Menotti plucked the plot for “Amahl and the Night Visitors” from the folk tales of his native Italy.

The old tale is in the tradition of pastoral Christmas settings that gave birth to the Nativity scenes, bringing together Luke’s shepherds and Matthew’s Magi. But the one-act opera is more than a pageant of plaster figures come to life. – David Dupont, Sentinel News Editor

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Myra Merritt: distinguished guest at Metropolitan Opera Guild Luncheon


The Metropolitan Opera Guild honored legendary soprano Jessye Norman at its 80th Annual Luncheon on November 21, 2014 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.  Myra Merritt was one of the forty-five distinguished guest artists invited to attend the event as one of the honored guests of the Metropolitan Opera. Ms. Merritt sang at the Met from 1980 through 1991 and was introduced as one of the artists who sang over 147 performances at the Met.

Student Composers Confront “The Beast”


David Dupont of the Sentinel Tribune writes,

“Composition students at Bowling Green State University tangled with a beast last week.

At the Student Composer Reading Session, five composition students had the chance to hear their compositions played by the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.

Writing a piece for orchestra is no small task, said Chris Dietz, the composition professor who organized the event. He likened the orchestra to a “72-headed dragon.”

Composition students at Bowling Green State University tangled with a beast last week. At the Student Composer Reading Session, five composition students had the chance to hear their compositions played by the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.

Writing a piece for orchestra is no small task, said Chris Dietz, the composition professor who organized the event. He likened the orchestra to a “72-headed dragon.”

Students presenting works were: Chris Lortie, Lydia Dempsey, Alan Racadag, Brian Sears and Kyle Laporte. Their work was selected from about 20 applicants, Dietz said.

Guest composer Steven Stucky, who has worked closely with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said the students were up to the task. “The whole thing came out very well.” He was especially impressed with the variety of the works presented. “None resembled each other.” Some had robust sections that evoked a movie soundtrack; some had passages of great tenderness.

Sears’ “Fractured Spirits” celebrated the human spirit as it confronts life’s traumas. Racadag’s “ONE” seemed to give voice to mathematical formulae. The pieces required the orchestra to articulate serpentine rhythms with the utmost precision.

A couple pieces had the musicians making up some sounds on the spot. The orchestra, conducted by Michael Lewanski, handled it all with aplomb, Stucky said.

Laporte tackled the notion the orchestra as beast head on in “Fire Breather.” He imagined, he said, the orchestra as “a humongous being” that comes to life in the course of the piece. The orchestra, despite the pieces experimental elements, brought the music to life, he said. “I was very pleased. It was quite experimental.”

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