It was Conor Brown’s first visit to the Finnish embassy in Washington, and he’d brought company: Two violinists, a cellist, a violist, a clarinetist and a singing accordionist. They’d be doing most of the work.
Brown (MMus’18) had largely done his part. Over the prior 18 months or so, he’d composed an original classical musical work the group would perform in a 100th anniversary celebration of Finland’s independence from Russia.
“It’s contemporary classical music inspired by Finnish folk texts,” said Brown, winner of the College of Music’s Finnish Jubilee Composition Scholarship. “The music is all about trying to tell the story in the texts.”
Sponsored by Don Johnson (Arch’62) and his wife, Maria, a dancer and native Finn, the scholarship was intended to inspire an original composition in Finland’s honor while benefiting a promising CU Boulder student.
After Brown, 29, won, he flew to Europe for 10 days of immersive research. He’d never been to Finland; it was a chance to steep himself in the language, landscape and musical tradition.
Brown’s Airbnb hostess in Helsinki, it turned out, was the daughter of Finland’s 2009 two-row button accordion champion, a resident of the far-northern town of Rovaniemi, near the Arctic Circle. Brown had coincidentally made plans to visit Rovaniemi. Once there, he hunkered down with the champion to soak in his knowledge of the instrument’s outsized role in Finnish folk music.
The experience inspired Brown to give the accordion a prominent role in his new piece, a three-movement, 20-minute work that had its world premiere at CU Boulder shortly before the trip to Washington.
“It really isn’t done until it’s on stage,” said Brown, who grew up in Boulder and studied clarinet at CU during high school, working with faculty clarinetist Daniel Silver.
Silver was on hand at the embassy, too — performing the clarinet part in Brown’s piece before an audience of about 150, among them a contingent of fans and friends from CU. Alicia Baker (MMus’17), pictured, played accordion and sang.
“The ambassador and other officials seemed incredibly pleased with how the work turned out,” Brown said.
Days later, he and the musicians recorded the piece for the first time.
Brown again left the clarinet part to Silver.
“I’m just the composer!” he said.
Photo by Daniel Kellogg