UIndy professor’s piece to debut at Carmel Symphony Orchestra concert


Composer John Berners’ admiration for author William Faulkner inspired a piece called “In Rowan Oak.”

“I wanted to write a dramatic, new romantic-kind of Gothic-sounding piece,” said Berners, a Greenwood resident and music professor at the University of Indianapolis. “The title came after I was already working on music. But Faulkner is described as a Southern gothic writer, and his books are all set in Mississippi in the early 20th century. There’s lots of tension in that society, for sure. There is a tragic aura hanging over everything, and that does match the music. I named the piece after his home in Oxford, Mississippi.”

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John Berners’ reworked his piece “In Rowan Oak” for a full orchestra. The piece will make its world premiere at Carmel Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks 5 concert April 22 at the Palladium. (Photo courtesy of CSO)

Berners wrote the original piece for a chamber orchestra.

“I reworked the whole thing for a full symphony orchestra,” Berners said. “I tore out half of it and replaced it, so all of it has been rewritten. It’s not really the same piece anymore, even though the title is the same and some of the themes are the same. It was pretty much comparable to writing a whole new piece.”

The world premiere of the composition will be included in Carmel Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks 5 concert at 7:30 p.m. April 22 at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

Berners is married to CSO principal flute player Tammy Thweat.

“I heard John’s music online and was immediately attracted to it,” CSO Artistic Director Janna Hymes said. “There is an angular, percussive sound to it with a compelling result.”

Berners wrote the original piece more than 12 years ago.

After talking with Hymes, Berners decided to expand the piece to include a full brass and percussion section.

“So that became my summer project of 2022,” he said. “The original piece had things that Janna liked and things I liked, so I didn’t want to just discard it. I wanted to rejuvenate that material. We made it bigger, and we think it will have more drama to it with the full orchestra and the huge concert hall because it is gothic music.”

Hymes said she loves premiering new works.

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Sterling Elliott will be a special guest at the Carmel Symphony Orchestra concert (Photo courtesy of CSO)

“There is always an excitement about playing a world premiere, a piece that has never been played before as there are no expectations or comparisons to other performances,” Hymes said. “It’s always a treat to work with living composers.”

Cellist Sterling Elliott will be a special guest at the concert, performing on selections from Camille Saint-Saens and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

“Sterling is an amazing young man,” Hymes said. “At 23, he is mature, calm and has an extremely warm heart. His playing is spectacular with a depth and sophistication beyond his years. This will be our third time working together. I just performed with him (recently) in a concert in Arizona and he was brilliant.”

Hymes said Elliott possesses tremendous charisma.

“I know our audience is going to fall in love with this young musician and his extraordinary abilities,” she said.

Elliott learned to play the cello at age 3 and made his concerto debut at age 7. He is a student at New York’s Juilliard School of Music

For more, visit carmelsymphony.org.