Ohio Arts Council honors Beerman’s body of work

  Burton Beerman


BOWLING GREEN, O.—During his lengthy recovery from a life-threatening accident in June 2003, Dr. Burton Beerman found new insights into his work as a musician. Among them was rediscovered recognition of tunes from his childhood in Atlanta.

“My first experiences with music were in the synagogue,” the clarinetist and composer recalled, and those memories came back to him after the accident, in which a truck struck him in downtown Bowling Green.

The reconnection with his Jewish heritage contributed to the composition of “Tikvah,” a multimedia chamber oratorio based on the memoirs of Toledoan Philip Markowicz, a Holocaust survivor and Torah scholar. “Tikvah” (Hebrew for “hope”) earned Beerman an Individual Excellence Award for music composition from the Ohio Arts Council—the third time the professor of music composition had been so honored during his career at Bowling Green State University.



The council is now recognizing Beerman again with a 2008 Governor’s Award for the Arts in the individual artist category. The award will be presented Wednesday (April 16) during a ceremony at the Columbus Atheneum.

“Tikvah” remains an ongoing project for Beerman, who said he’s “very proud” of the OAC honor. In the works is an orchestral version of the oratorio for saxophone quartet, soprano voice, narrator and two newly composed movements.

He is also producing a DVD and, as part of that, working on a feature-length documentary film. Plans are under way for the program to be distributed to public television stations around the country and to universities as an educational resource.

In March, a BGSU audience was introduced to a short preview of the film that also involved a multidisciplinary panel of University scholars discussing individual responsibility as it relates to the human condition and the laws governing morals and values in our society.

Previously, the Martin Luther King International Center and the Ebenezer Baptist Church choir commissioned Beerman to compose choral segments of the oratorio for performance during the King holiday week of activities in Atlanta. The premiere concert of the 90-minute “Tikvah” was produced at the King Center in January 2006, and has since been presented in other prominent venues.

Also on his plate currently is a piece for voice and piano that’s scheduled for a June premiere at New York’s Symphony Space with Jane Schoonmaker Rodgers, an associate professor of voice at BGSU. The June 2006 premiere of his “A Still, Small Voice” at Symphony Space garnered an enthusiastic review from The New York Times, which called it “the most interesting, and by far the most elaborate, display of experimentation” at the Festival of American Music.

Beerman composed “A Still, Small Voice” for Madeleine Shapiro, renowned cellist and director of New York’s ModernWorks!, and Celesta Haraszti, former soloist with the Hungarian Ballet Theatre. The composition was part of the Barlow Endowment Commission for Music Composition, which he received in 2005. The international award is designed to encourage and financially support individuals “who demonstrate technical skills and natural gifts for the composition of great music.”

In addition to Symphony Space, venues hosting performances of his compositions have included Carnegie Hall, Mexico City’s Chopin Hall, Town Hall in Brussels and the Edinburgh (Scotland) International Art Festival. Beerman has also been a guest composer on tour in Belgium, Amsterdam, Paris and Japan, presenting more than 20 concerts and lecturing on interactive technology.

Composer works in many media

Interactive, real-time electronics is among the many media his music spans. Music for documentary film, video art and performance, and theatre are on that list as well, along with chamber and orchestral music, and dance.

Beerman’s spring and summer schedule also includes work with and for dance and string quartets, and a new CD, for which he will record one piece this summer. That’s something of an achievement in itself, considering that he couldn’t play the clarinet for two years after the 2003 accident destroyed his left shoulder, and still can’t play full concerts.

“It felt good playing again,” he said, explaining that the instrument feels heavier now. But “life changes,” he added, saying that if he had lost the ability to play, “other things would have replaced it.”

Beerman is an elected member of the governing board of the American Composers Alliance, New York City. He has been a BGSU faculty member since 1970, distinguishing himself as a visionary and for establishing innovative programs that continue to flourish and bring national and international attention to the University.

He established the Electronic Music & Recording Studios, which serves as a premier research facility, in 1971; the New Music Ensemble, which provides opportunities for students for experimental, improvisational and multidisciplinary collaborations, in 1970, along with Donald M. Wilson; and the New Music and Art Festival, which has hosted more than 700 guest composers during its 28-year history. He is also the first and only College of Musical Arts recipient of the University’s Olscamp Research Award, in 1999.

Beerman earned master’s and doctoral degrees in music composition and performance from the University of Michigan in 1968 and 1971, respectively. His bachelor’s degree in music is from Florida State University.

Two other individuals with ties to BGSU are also receiving Governor’s Awards on April 16. Michael Huffman, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the University and now teaches in Lima City Schools, will be honored in the arts in education category, while the arts patron award is going to Susan Reams of Perrysburg, a longtime friend and supporter of BGSU. Each honoree will receive an original work of art by Ohio painter Betsy DeFusco, who received an Individual Excellence Award from the OAC last year.

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(Posted April 09, 2008 )