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            Montgomery is a native New Yorker, a graduate of the Juilliard School in violin performance, and holds a master’s degree from New York University in music composition.  Her publications focus on various combinations of strings, and enjoy wide performance popularity with noted ensembles throughout the country.  She is a devoted supporter of educational activities, and youth musical ensembles.   Her musical style is, if anything eclectic, and is obviously a reflection of the enormous variety of musical art in her native New York City.  Mahler once somewhat fatuously remarked something to the effect that a symphony should contain “everything.”   Well, Montgomery dips into a remarkable universe of musical traditions, and reinterprets them in her own voice—just not all in one piece, of course.

            Starburst was written in 2012 for the “Sphinx Virtuosi,” the professional touring ensemble of the Sphinx Organization.  The latter supports young African-American string players in the Detroit area; Montgomery is composer-in-residence for the organization. Starburst takes its title from the composer’s feeling that the young members of the “Sphinx Virtuosi” are rather like “new stars in a galaxy.”

            A brief, but scintillating, affair, Starburst is a winsome example of much of new music of the twenty-first century.  Montgomery is typical of young contemporary composers unhindered by the siren calls that dominated “academic” music of the second half of the twentieth century:  complexity, dissonance, adherence to “systems,” and a general tendency to value art that is esoteric and recondite.  Rather, the cheerful staccato perpetual motion and constant interplay of a seemingly endless variety of ideas and motives creates a vivacious sparkle that perfectly encapsulates the title of the work.   While not exactly clearly establishing a “key” for the audience, Starburst is a pleasant exploration of familiar scales, chords, arpeggios, and melodic ideas that anyone can enjoy and recognize.  But, of course, adroitly woven together into quite a new composition.  Who should know better than the composer herself how to describe it?

            "This brief one-movement work for string orchestra is a play on imagery of rapidly changing musical colors. Exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle fleeting melodies in an attempt to create a multidimensional soundscape. A common definition of a starburst, “the rapid formation of large numbers of new stars in a galaxy at a rate high enough to alter the structure of the galaxy significantly,” lends itself almost literally to the nature of the performing ensemble that premiered the work, the Sphinx Virtuosi, and I wrote the piece with their dynamic in mind."

--Wm. E. Runyan

©2021 William E. Runyan