Cellist Kim Cook, composer Efrain Amaya to premiere collaboration

As if testament to her desire to make music, Penn State cello professor Kim Cook brings her intense musical vision into the community with the debut of her networks’ concerto Aug. 3.

The concert, commissioned by Cook along with a grant from the Pennsylvania Arts Council and the aid of some friends, will come alive on stage with such a coalition of various talents and unrivaled enthusiasm for the instrumental arts.

A collaboration between Cook and Efrain Amaya began last summer.

“After hearing two of his shorter pieces played by the State College Summer Orchestra, I contacted (him) to see if he would be interested in writing a cello concerto.”

A graduate of Yale and the University of Illinois, and this year’s inaugural Penn State Laureate for the Arts and Humanities, Cook has a substantial history playing all over the world. Critics acclaimed at her Carnegie Hall debut, admiring her “ravishing colors and textures” (New York Concert Review). In Europe, she was hailed as “the superb American cellist” (Die Rheinpfalz, Frankfurt), and praised for her “truly glorious tone” (Musical Opinion, London).

Amaya was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and he holds degrees in piano and composition from Indiana University. Amaya was a faculty member of Carnegie Mellon University from 1993 to 2009

“At the time Kim first contacted me, I was very concerned with the socio-political turmoil that surrounds my country of birth, Venezuela,” Amaya said. “It’s fate and the fight of the people were in the forefront of my thoughts. I saw this piece as a wonderful opportunity to give voice to this historical struggle.

“When (she) approached me to write a cello concerto for her, I felt it was the right moment since I had been wanting to write one for a while. At first I was considering a few different directions for this piece, but she had expressed how much she liked it when I include Latin American rhythms in my work, so I kept this in mind when I started to write the concerto.”

“It’s an exciting piece,” Cook said. “There are jazzy rhythmic sections reminiscent of Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story,’ and Mr. Amaya has also incorporated a Venezuelan lullaby and bits of the Venezuelan national anthem. One passage calls for the cellist to play the same note on two strings, creating an almost eerie sound.”

The orchestra began in 2010, inspired into being by conductor Matthew Sheppard. Its participants include local musicians from various levels of development, including students and professionals.

“Orchestral music is still a vibrant force in our culture,” Sheppard noted.

Cook’s concerto will feature compositions by several composers of various local roots and/or connections, while also including a number of worldly debuts to the genre.

Performances include:

• “Un Camino,” by Amaya featuring Cook.

• George Woskob will perform “Playroom,” a piece for chamber orchestra. Woskob is a native of State College, recently graduated from the University of Chicago, and was awarded a prize there for outstanding senior composition for his work on this piece.

• Flutist Agatha Wang will be the soloist in “Saturnian in Paris,” a recent work by Jon Bell, (a Penn State alumni who composes music for film, dance, and instrumental groups in New York).

• Stephen Hopkins, a Penn State professor of music theory, will be represented by two pieces, “Canon” and “Prelude and Fugue.”