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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT: Matthew Peterson takes another step in his career as a composer

Matthew Peterson is studying at the Gotland School of Music Composition, part of the Gotland Folksuniversitet in Swedene.

Grand Forks native Matthew Peterson is living, studying and composing in Sweden on a William J. Fulbright Grant, a program that provides U.S. researchers, teachers, students and professionals opportunities to pursue graduate study abroad.

Peterson is studying at the Gotland School of Music Composition, part of the Gotland Folksuniversitet. Gotland is a large island in the Baltic Sea that often is called the Baltic Riviera because of the summer tourism.

He is working on a chamber opera -- an opera with a chamber instrumental ensemble instead of a full orchestra. The roles will be sung by the professional quartet VOX from Gothenburg. New music ensemble NEO, from Piteå in northern Sweden, will be the instrumentalists.

"We're in the process of getting everyone under contract," Peterson said in an interview. "The groups want to premiere the piece in May 2010 in Gothenburg and at the Visby Ljudvågor new music festival and then tour the eight major Swedish cities in November 2010. I'm hoping we can play Oslo and Copenhagen as well."

Librettist Jason Zencka is writing the words. He and Peterson were friends at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., and wrote and produced their first chamber opera, "The Binding of Isaac," in 2006 at St. Olaf.

Zencka came up with the concept while working as a crime reporter in Stephen's Point, Wis., Petereson said.

"This piece is inspired by real court cases that Jason witnessed there, with one very disturbing crime and courtroom drama forming the overarching narrative," Peterson said.

The libretto is unique in that it doesn't have characters who exist from scene to scene. There are individuals that will be played with great character, he said, but the four singers will change roles throughout the piece and sometimes within scenes.

"Sometimes, this effect is funny. Three singers each portray multiple witnesses in one trial. Imagine a revolving door up to the stand," he wrote. "Sometimes, it's very powerful or disturbing: three jailed inmates beat another inmate, then immediately become the judge, prosecutor and clerk for his trial."

Peterson plans to return to North Dakota in July and go fishing, he said. He'll probably return to Sweden in 2010 for the rehearsal and production of the opera, he said.

He hopes to get the opera performed in the U.S. then continue to build his career as a composer and get a doctorate of musical arts.

Next week, Peterson plans to travel to Amsterdam during a school break to visit his girlfriend, dancer and choreographer Sanne Skjervik. She is enrolled in an intensive dance and choreography course there. They hope to create a new piece next summer, when they come to the U.S. , Peterson said, perhaps collaborating with his brother, Michael Peterson, a visual artist in Minneapolis.

"Hopefully, we can do this in Grand Forks and give something special to the community that raised me," Matthew Peterson said.

Peterson graduated in 2002 from Grand Forks Central High School and St. Olaf in 2006. In high school, he was standout in music and academics.