ASU professor Robert Bjork brings Beowulf to life in humanities lecture

November 2, 2015

Beowulf is the kind of guy who leaves an impression.

Do you remember where you were when you first read or were exposed to some incarnation of the Old English epic poem? ASU Foundation Professor of English Robert E. Bjork in front of the ruins of an Anglo-Saxon-inspired church in Sigtuna, Sweden ASU Foundation Professor of English Robert E. Bjork sits in front of the ruins of an Anglo-Saxon-inspired church in Sigtuna, Sweden, that nation’s first town, established in 980. Download Full Image

Robert Bjork, ASU Foundation Professor of English and director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, first read “Beowulf” during his second year as an undergraduate at Pomona College in California.

“I was smitten by its strangeness and wonder,” said Bjork, who would go on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has taught the poem almost every year since graduating in 1979.

“I still find something new every time I read it,” he observed. “It is an existential poem. It offers insight into a whole social structure, but it also takes you into the existence of the individual. And it’s a poem without real resolution, a fact which intrigued me as a sophomore and continues to intrigue me as a professor.”

Bjork closes out the fall portion of the College of Letters and Sciences’ Humanities Lecture Series on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus with his presentation “Beowulf of the Many Faces” on Thursday, Nov. 5.

Beowulf of the Many Faces lecture announcementImage courtesy of the ASU Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Bjork will explore how, since the late 18th century, when this unique manuscript was discovered in the British Museum, “Beowulf” has spread its power throughout the world in editions, translations, literature, art, music, movies, television, and video games — including a 2007 film version starring Angelina Jolie and a music video for history classrooms set to Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”

As a teacher and mentor, Bjork’s interests range over the whole of medieval English language and literature. His primary research areas are Old English poetry, modern Swedish literature, and biomedical writing.

In 2008, Bjork published a new edition of “Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg” with two colleagues. The update included new information gleaned from such things as archeological digs and advances in technology.

“The latter has allowed scholars to decipher letters that were previously illegible,” Bjork explained.

He served as general editor of the four-volume Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages in 2010.

“Bob Bjork is an incredibly gifted teacher and internationally respected scholar,” noted College of Letters and Sciences’ principal lecturer Mirna Lattouf, who organizes the Humanities Lecture Series.

“Always an engaging speaker, he’ll be bringing to life with movie, music and television clips an understanding of how literature produced in the seventh century is still relevant to we humans today.”

The lecture, co-sponsored by ASU’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, will be held on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication/KAET Channel 8 (CRONK), room 128. The lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Maureen Roen

Editorial and communication coordinator, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Celebrated French composer, conductor focus of ASU festival

School of Music celebrates Pierre Boulez at this year’s Prisms Contemporary Music Festival

November 2, 2015

In honor of his 90th birthday, the School of Music celebrates Pierre Boulez’s life and innovations in the music world with “Boulez Legacies,” this year’s ASU School of Music Prisms Contemporary Music Festival.

A renowned composer and conductor, Boulez is one of the most important living musical avant-gardists. He is the founder of IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique), housed at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which is the most-cutting edge, non-profit research center in the field of music technology and media arts. Photograph of composer and conductor Pierre Boulez. Renowned composer and conductor Pierre Boulez is one of the most important living musical avant-gardists. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Orchestra. Download Full Image

Offering the highest-quality performances of experimental music in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the annual Prisms Festival is comprised of themed concerts and showcases great music that is rarely performed, along with pre-concert talks, round tables, film screenings and workshops. The goal of the festival is to promote the view that music is a living tradition — an exciting and vibrant part of modern life — and to pass on that belief by combining performances with informative lectures and discussions for ASU’s students, the local art and music communities and the general public. The festival was founded in 2009 by Glenn Hackbarth, emeritus faculty member of the School of Music, and Simone Mancuso, faculty associate of percussion.

The festival will take place Nov. 4-7, on the Tempe campus, and is organized by Mancuso; Sabine Feisst, professor of musicology; and Garth Paine, who holds a joint appointment as associate professor in the School of Music and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering.

Boulez’s works are musically and technically very demanding, and thus few pieces by Boulez have been heard in Arizona. This year’s festival seeks to introduce local audiences to two of his works: the rarely heard Sonatine for flute and piano, performed by ASU graduate music students Sarah Hartong and Dongfang Zhang, as well as the Arizona premiere of his masterpiece Le marteau sans maître for voice and chamber ensemble, performed by eight members of the San Diego New Music Ensemble and directed by Mancuso.

“Pierre Boulez is a multi-talented musician, a five-star composer and conductor,” said Mancuso. “For me it is very interesting how he integrated conducting techniques in his compositions. His conducting gestures are part of his music.”

Boulez is considered an avant-garde composer because his works continuously explore new art forms. “A French military term, avant-garde refers to soldiers who are at the front and move into new territory first,” said Feisst. “The music that we are exploring at the Prisms Festival is avant-gardist in that it shows artistic courage and an adventurous and pioneering spirit.” Other avant-garde composers who have been featured in past festivals include Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and John Cage.

“The music of Boulez is wonderful, complex, challenging and has inspired a plethora of innovation in musical composition,” said Paine. “This festival illustrates his influence by also including contemporary works and world premieres in the context of a retrospective.”

The first concert of the festival, at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 5, features the San Diego New Music Ensemble performing Boulez’s Le Marteau. Joining the ensemble are School of Music faculty members Walter Cosand, professor of piano, and Robert Spring, professor of clarinet, performing music by composers associated with Boulez: Anton Webern, Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail.

In the festival’s second concert, on Nov. 6, Schwarz will present a world premiere solo using CataRT, and perform along with Mancuso, Paine and Justin Kennedy, doctoral student in composition, in a group improvisation using CataRT. Other premieres in this concert include All the Broken Instruments for percussion and electronics, by Jay Batzner; In Praise of Shadows for three paper performers (2015), by Kotoka Suzuki, assistant professor of music composition; and Glimmering Edges for snare drum and electronics (2015) by Paine.

The festival concludes with a concert on Nov. 7 featuring Simone Mancuso conducting ASU Arizona Contemporary Music Ensemble performing works by Boulez, Messiaen and Varèse, along with works by Boulez followers Grisey, Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho, and a work written by Glenn Hackbarth, emeritus faculty member of the ASU School of Music.

Another highlight of the festival will be an all-day workshop from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 4, in the Matthews Center iStage, a guest lecture and two performances with Diemo Schwarz, a composer of electronic music who is currently a researcher and developer at IRCAM housed at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Schwarz’s presentations will feature his Concatenative Realtime Synthesis (CataRT) system.

Numerous students in the School of Music and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering will be participating, including members of the Arizona Contemporary Music Ensemble; the Laptop Orchestra of Arizona State University, co-directed by Kennedy, and Althea Pergakis, undergraduate student in Arts, Media and Engineering; and graduate students in musicology.

“I hope that the participants in this festival will be inspired by the spectrum of music and discussions offered,” said Feisst. “And hopefully they will explore these musical directions further, as performers, composers or as listeners.”

Festival highlights:

10 a.m.–4 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 4
iStage Blackbox Theatre, Matthews Center, 2nd floor
Diemo Schwarz, director
Admission: free
This workshop explores Diemo Schwarz’s Concatenative Realtime Synthesis (CataRT) system, and is co-sponsored by the Laptop Orchestra of Arizona State University.

Concert 1
7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5
Katzin Concert Hall, School of Music
Simone Mancuso, director
Tickets $5-9, purchase tickets
Featuring the San Diego New Music Ensemble and ASU School of Music faculty members Walter Cosand, piano, and Robert Spring, clarinet, this concert will showcase the first complete performance of Le marteau sans maître in Arizona as well as works by Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail, inspired by Boulez’s aesthetics, and by Anton Webern, who was one of Boulez’s role models.

Concert 2
7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6
Katzin Concert Hall, School of Music
Tickets $5-9, purchase tickets
This concert features performances using live electronics and electro-acoustic with performers Diemo Schwarz, Andrew Spencer, Garth Paine, Simone Mancuso, Lisa Atkinson, Arian Abdollahi, Bryan Hummel and Justin Kennedy. It includes world premieres of works by composers inspired by IRCAM: Diemo Schwarz, Jay Batzner, Kotoka Suzuki and Garth Paine.

Concert 3 
7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 7
Katzin Concert Hall, School of Music
Simone Mancuso, director
Admission: free
The Arizona Contemporary Music Ensemble presents pieces composed by Pierre Boulez and Boulez’s teacher Olivier Messiaen and role model Edgard Varèse. The program will also include works by Boulez’s followers Gerard Grisey, Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho, and a work written by Glenn Hackbarth, emeritus faculty member of the School of Music.

Pre-concert lectures will be presented by Laura Emmery, assistant professor of music theory, by Feisst; and by graduate students in musicology.

For more information on the Prisms Festival, go to


Heather Beaman
School of Music Communications Liaison