BMS Executive Director
James Bergin is a composer, conductor, violist, and teacher. With Artistic Director Julia Werntz, he founded the BMS’s performing ensemble NotaRiotous and was its conductor from 2006-2012.
His compositions include microtonal and tonal works for chamber ensemble, solo instruments, voice, chorus, piano, and organ. He earned a degree in music theory from New England Conservatory of Music, where his principal teacher was BMS founder Joseph Maneri; he also studied privately with Maneri for many years using Arnold Schoenberg’s texts in traditional harmony, counterpoint, and composition. Like Maneri, Bergin uses 72-note equal temperament in his microtonal works. He has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and in 2013 received a finalist award in composition from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Among his past activities, he was the conductor of the Junior Youth Repertory Orchestra (now called Youth Symphony) at the New England Conservatory of Music, for which he commissioned and premiered pieces by Gary Philo, Thomas Oboe Lee, and Ezra Sims—the latter using pitches from the 72-note octave. He played viola in several premieres for the Composers in Red Sneakers series, and was a member of Helios, a Middle Eastern/avant-garde improvisation quartet. He performed with Joseph Maneri in concerts of free microtonal improvisation. He performed Joseph Maneri’s last completed work, Osanj (for viola solo) on the debut NotaRiotous concert in November of 2006, at Maneri’s memorial concerts in Brooklyn and Boston, and at a tribute to Maneri at NEC. He was the head of the music program at Lexington Christian Academy (Lexington, MA) for almost 20 years.
He currently lives in the Berkshires where he composes and teaches privately. He is a member of the Berkshire Symphony and works in the Orchestra and Score departments of Broude Brothers Limited. He recently founded CIAO! (Community Intergenerational Action Orchestra), based in Williamstown, MA. The ensemble’s mission includes providing performing opportunities for musicians of varying ages and abilities in both traditional and non-traditional venues (including churches, nursing homes, soup kitchens, and malls) and commissioning new music that introduces a variety of contemporary musical languages, styles, and techniques, including microtones.
BMS Artistic Director
Since the mid 1990s the music of composer Julia Werntz has been almost exclusively microtonal. Through her music, her published writings, her teaching, and her activities as artistic director of the Boston Microtonal Society, she has emerged as an important voice in the field of microtonal music. Her compositions have been performed at concert series and festivals around the Northeastern United States and Europe, such as the Tage für Neue Musik at the Darmstadt Akademie für Tonkunst, the Stockholm New Music Festival, the Week of Contemporary Music, Bucharest, the Here/Now Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, the UK Microfest, the BKA Theater in Berlin, New York’s Vision Festival, Enchanted Circle, Extension Works, and the Auros Group for New Music, Firebird Ensemble, Prana Duo, DuoKaya, Loadbang and NotaRiotous series. She has three times been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
With Manfred Stahnke, Sarvenaz Safari and Georg Hajdu, Werntz is co-authoring a book on microtonal composition, for publication with Bockel Verlag (Germany) in 2014. She has also published articles on microtonal and other contemporary music in Perspectives of New Music, The Sonneck Society Bulletin, ParisTransatlantic, NewMusicBox, and New World Records. She has been Director or Co-director of the Boston Microtonal Society since 1992, and she is co-founder of both NotaRiotous, the chamber ensemble of the Boston Microtonal Society.
Werntz is on both the Ear Training and Composition faculty at Berklee College of Music, and she teaches Microtonal Composition and Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music. Her music is available through Frog Peak Music.
Bert Van Herck
Bert Van Herck’s music has been performed in the US, and Europe among others by the Nouvel Ensemble Modern, Danish National Vokal Ensemble, Oxalys Ensemble, Garth Knox, Mario Caroli, Orchestre National de Lorraine (France), Jeremias Schwarzer, Ensemble Fa, Spectra Ensemble, White Rabbit, Talea Ensemble, Berten D’Hollander, Ian Pace, Ensemble Mosaik, Arditti String Quartet and Ensemble InterContemporain. He has been an active participant in several summer courses, such as the Acanthes summer courses in France, the Bartok Seminar in Hungary, the International Academy for Composition and Audio Art in Austria, the Wellesley Composers Conference, June in Buffalo, and Domaine Forget, all at which his music has been performed. There he has been able to meet many of today’s leading composers, such as Jonathan Harvey, Wolfgang Rihm, Pascal Dusapin, Marco Stroppa, Michaell Jarrell, Denis Smalley, Boguslaw Schaeffer, Mario Davidovsky, Martin Brody, Pablo Ortiz, Denis Bouliane, François Paris, Jean Lesage, David Felder, Charles Wuorinen and Roger Reynolds. He has also attended the Summer Course at IRCAM, the Tenso Seminar and the Darmstadt International Courses for New Music.
A native of Belgium, Bert Van Herck studied composition with Luc Van Hove and Luc Brewaeys before coming to Boston. He has written extensively for acoustic instruments, ranging from solo works to full orchestral compositions. He has been writing increasingly for electronics and instruments with live processing, and developed a great interest in microtonal music. He studied composition with Chaya Czernowin, Magnus Lindberg, Tristan Murail, Brian Ferneyhough, Helmut Lachenmann, and Julian Anderson; electronic music with Hans Tutschku; orchestration with Joshua Fineberg; and choral writing with Elliott Gyger.
In addition to his compositional career, Bert Van Herck is active as a conductor and a pianist. Recent performances include a concert in Merkin Hall and a performance of Bach’s D minor keyboard concerto. As the conductor of the Dudley House Orchestra at Harvard University, he performs a wide repertoire from Mozart to today, with special attention for a balance between standard repertoire and lesser known works. Recent concerts have featured music by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Mozart, Tubin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Sibelius.
Awards include the First Prize in the Cantabile Composition Competition, the Adelbert Sprague Composition Award, the Boott Prize for Choral Composition, the Kaske Fellowship, and the ‘Attestato di Merito’ in Torneo Internazionale di Musica, Rome. Additional recognition for his music came through the selection for performances at the ISCM World Music Days: In 2009 his ‘7 Chansons sur textes de Maurice Maeterlinck‘ were premiered in Växjö, Sweden; and ‘Spectra‘ was performed in Sidney, Australia in 2010.
Bert Van Herck presented his work in music theory on international conferences. At the Hull University MAC, he presented his work focusing on Olivers Knussen’s compositions and at the 11th Conference of the Dutch-Flemish Society for Music Theory his topic was ‘Feria‘ by Magnus Lindberg. He attended several master classes at the Orpheus Institute, and has his article on spectral music published in ‘Spectral/World Musics – Proceedings of the Istanbul Spectral Music Conference’.
For his dedication as a teacher, he has been awarded the ‘Certificate of Distinction in Teaching’ at Harvard University. He is presently completing his PhD studies there, and has been teaching music theory, electronic music and chamber music.
Joe Maneri (1927-2009)
The Boston Microtonal Society was founded in 1988 by a group of New England Conservatory students led by their teacher, composer and performer Joe Maneri.
As a young man, Maneri had performed on clarinet and saxophone in jazz bands in the New York area, as well as some bands that played Greek, Turkish, Klezmer and other ethnic music using pitches not found in classical Western music. Maneri studied music theory and composition with Josef Schmid, a student of Alban Berg and adherent of the Second Viennese School. After composing a number of twelve-tone works, Maneri found himself increasingly drawn to microtonality. In the late 1970s he adopted 72-note equal temperament, using the notation developed by Ezra Sims, though composing from an entirely different theoretical approach. Maneri eventually designed a 72-note keyboard and wrote a book of ear-training and composition exercises, Preliminary Exercises in the Virtual Pitch Continuum (with Scott Van Duyne).
In 1970 Maneri was hired by Gunther Schuller to teach in the Theory Department at the New England Conservatory, and over time began teaching in the Composition, Third Stream and Jazz departments as well. In 1980 Maneri began a unique course in microtonal ear training, composition and performance. Some of Maneri’s some of his unique and most essential insights in this course were his emphasis on microtonal compositional theory rather than tuning theory, and his insistence that ear training and compositional growth happen simultaneously and very carefully, through graduated exercises. The Boston Microtonal Society was an outgrowth of these classes, as many students desired to continue their work in microtones after completing the course. The BMS elephant logo was designed by Maneri’s wife, artist Sonia Holzwarth Maneri.
Although Maneri had devoted most of his energies to composition and teaching for many years, in the 1990s, encouraged by his son, violinist and violist Mat Maneri, he began to perform on reeds again, recording and touring widely in North America and Europe with small ensembles playing microtonal jazz improvisation. During the decade that followed, the Joe Maneri Quartet recorded extensively for the ECM, Hat Art and Leo labels.
BMS Artistic Director Julia Werntz studied for several years with Maneri and today teaches the Microtonal Composition and Performance course at NEC, developing the ideas of the course further, and thus bringing Maneri’s legacy to new generations.