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Conn’s CD keeps classical traditions alive

by Robert Loerzel

December 13, 2001

     The music on composer Brian Conn's latest compact disc sounds as if it could have been written 100 years ago.

     Some composers would take that as an insult, but not Conn.

     Conn, who lives in Barrington, has never appreciated the atonal and avant-garde music that so many composers wrote during the 20th century.

     “I  think that’s part of the reason classical music is doing poorly, in terms of performance sales and recording sales," Conn said. "When people leave a concert (of atonal music), they don't go home and lie in bed saying, 'I can't get that out of my head, that 'Er! Ooo! Eee!'"

     On the other hand, Conn hopes people will remember the melodies of the music he composes. His third and latest CD with the Brian Conn New Music Ensemble, "Making the Streets Safe for Classical Music, Again," features seven compositions reminiscent of the Romantic period.

     The pieces range from a piano duet, "Romulus and Remus," to vocal pieces in German and Italian.

     "His music is really accessible," said John Towner, who has recorded Conn's three albums at Solid Sound in Hoffman Estates. "He works very hard to craft his melodies. He's quite a good arranger for voices and strings."

     "I find (Conn's compositions) kind of haunting and dark," said Mary Ann Beatty of Wauconda, a soprano who performs on three of the album's tracks. "They're interesting pieces from an intellectual standpoint.  He takes a great deal of care in finding texts that are appropriate for his singers."

     In addition to adapting texts from writer's such as Friedrich von Schiller, Conn writes his own lyrics.  However, Conn has not written any musical pieces that directly address a major aspect of his life: the fact that he has had full-blown AIDS since 1992. 

     "I've always kept it separate," he said. "When life puts up a roadblock, I just look for an alternative route around it."

     Conn, who is 40, has been composing since he was 14.

     He said he met many of his musical collaborators at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, where he has been an accompanist since 1990.

     "I met all of these amazing people," he said. "It really seems to be a mecca for very, very talented people from around Chicago."

     In addition to Beatty, the local performers on Conn's new CD include pianist Linda Camp of Palatine, soprano Colleen Bolthouse of Palatine and alto Val Glowisnki of Arlington Heights. 

     Conn has tried using computer software to compose, but he prefers the old-fashioned method of doing it on a piano and writing it out by hand. 

     He imagines what the various instruments will sound like playing his melodies, but he doesn't actually hear it until rehearsal. That moment of hearing his music realized is always special for Conn, he said.

     "When I hear it, I'm just amazed," he said. "It sounds the way I heard it in my head."

      The three CDs on Conn's Classical Angst recording label are available through his Web site at www.classicalangst.com.

Composer Takes a Classic Approach

by Martin A. Bartels

November 18, 1999

     There’s a generally held misconception lurking in the classical musical industry that the only good composer is a dead composer.  You know-- the Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart set.

     Don’t tell that to Brian Conn, whose New Music Ensemble is proof positive that classical music is alive and well in Barrington.

     Conn, who just released the group’s second CD, “Intense Measures”, is a thoughtful artist, musician and composer whose work bridges the wide gap between true classical music and that dissonant, atonal stuff billed as contemporary instrumental.

     “I believe my music, as compared to other contemporary composers, is a little more accessible,”  Conn said.  “When the 1950s avant garde trend started, I think they stretched the rubber band to the extreme.  And now people are uncomfortable with that attonal approach, and want to get back to a more harmonic base.”

     What that translates to is that Conn is a romantic, at heart.  And it shows in his dynamic and expressive compositions.

     “I’m more of a romantic person, and that’s where I would classify myself--the Romantic period,” he said.  “People who know my music sometimes compare me to Chopin and Liszt.”

     “I was born way too late.”

     In addition to Conn, a pianist, the New Music Ensemble is comprised of five area musicians, including Linda Camp (piano), of Palatine; Susan Siciliano (flute), of Buffalo Grove; and Thomas Yang (violin), Peter Szcepanek (cello), Jeri-Lou Zike (second violin), and Kimberly McLean (viola), all of the North Shore.

     The question still remains, however, why a talented young musician would choose what is ostensibly one of the most difficult areas of the music industry to achieve success.

     “Originally, my intent was to go into piano performance,” Conn, a Butler University graduate, said.  “But a professor told me that I had to learn the standard repertoire--Bach and Beethoven.  I wanted to perform my music.”

     Conn, who wrote his first compositions at the age of 14, was encouraged to major in composition.

     “Classical lends itself to me because with pop and rock, it’s more of a set form and you have more of a set time frame--like three minutes,” he said.  “You can do much more intricate things in classical, and there’s more instrumentation.  That gives you lots more avenues to express the emotions you’re trying to convey.”

     “It’s what I hear in my head,” Conn added.  “It kind of comes to me.  There are times when you sit down, stare at the page and wonder ‘what am I supposed to be writing?’  Other times it just kind of pours out-- sort of divine inspiration.”

     “Intense Measures,” by the Brian Conn New Music Ensemble, can be purchased at several area retailers or via his website, www.classicalangst.com.

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