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Mountain Adventure Inspires Dallas Composer's World Premiere Piece

Kimberly Osberg is the rising Dallas-based composer behind "Rocky Summer"

Most people turn the story of a planned outing gone awry into a funny antidote. For Kimberly Osberg, a rising Dallas-based composer, a hiking misadventure became inspiration for "Rocky Summer," the world premiere piece the Dallas Chamber Symphony will perform on March 23 at the Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Osberg listened to more Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin than Bach and Beethoven. She played percussion in her high school's youth orchestra and heard a classmate bragging that he was going to win the orchestra's composing competition. Intent on not playing her classmate's piece, she devised her own and won the competition.

She had not considered a career in music, but the orchestra's conductor, Gene Power, saw a spark of talent. "After the first piece I wrote, he pulled me aside and said, 'I really think that you have something here. I really think you should think about doing this in school.' I decided to give it a try because of him," Osberg said.

She wrote a composition in honor of Power during her senior year. Power died in a car accident at age 36. Osberg treasures the note he wrote in her score of the piece dedicated to him as a source of continual encouragement.

At Luther College in Iowa, Osberg delved into the world of classical music, awed by the power of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."

"I couldn't believe it had been written almost 100 years ago when I was hearing it because it sounded like nothing I had heard before. There were all of these crazy rhythms and textures and colors and it just made me fascinated that music could be more complicated than the stuff I had been playing in my youth orchestra in rural Wisconsin," Osberg said.

Honing her composing skills while earning her masters at Indiana University, she developed a style with a strong narrative.

"I think of my music as a gateway drug into some more wild things. A lot of my melodies are very accessible. People can sing them, and some people get them stuck in their head after the concert, but a lot of the sounds and textures I have framing around them are things that I hope they haven't heard before," Osberg said.

Osberg specializes in music for interdisciplinary collaborations. When New Voices Opera produced "Thump," a work based on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" that she created as an undergraduate, she relished seeing the worlds of theater and music intersect.

"To have that many people involved with something I had written and have that many people excited about it was a really amazing experience," Osberg said.

Osberg moved to Dallas after visiting the city, picking up a newspaper and noticing the buzz around the city's arts community.

"This is a place where people love this stuff, but I still see a need for new music and for a contemporary composer to work with all of these amazing dance groups, visual artists and orchestras," Osberg said. "It's something where I could make a meaningful impact in a way that I might not be able to in New York or Los Angeles."

Osberg is the event operations manager for the Dallas Chamber Symphony. When the orchestra needed music for a corporate event, Richard McKay, the orchestra's artistic director and conductor, turned to her. The event went well, and McKay commissioned a piece from her for the March concert.

Osberg considered the other music on the program: Copland's "Appalachian Spring Suite" and a reprise of Rolfe Kent's original score for the film "Bumping into Broadway."

"To me, the concert experience itself is an interesting way to think about how to structure a piece," Osberg said. "I wanted to do something that I felt could pair well with both of those pieces, but specifically with the Copland. I wanted to write a piece that after it was done, people felt they were ready for 'Appalachian Spring,' but didn't feel like they had already heard it."

She recalled a trip to Estes Park, Colorado where she embarked on a 10.4 mile hike up a mountain with much more experienced hikers. She dragged behind and the hikers encouraged her to remain at a rest point while they finished the climb. She let them go ahead, but she continued the climb at her own pace. She made it to the top and as she descended, she came face-to-face with a violent storm.

That difficult hike was a turning point for Osberg. "It was empowering," she said. "Looking back on it, there were a lot of things that changed for me. It got me out of myself and it got me out of thinking about all of the things that were wrong with me and let me appreciate the things I was seeing around me."

Osberg has written text to accompany the piece. The conclusion sums up the work. "Only years later do I realize that I was wrong," Osberg said. "I'm not the girl who climbed a mountain. I'm the woman who came back down."

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