Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Phenomenal Women - Composer Spotlight: Joan Tower

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) performs Joan Tower's Chamber Dance, led by Music Director George Manahan, as part of its program Phenomenal Women on Friday, November 2, 2018, 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here

Joan Tower is widely regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. During a career spanning more than fifty years, she has made lasting contributions to musical life in the United States as composer, performer, conductor, and educator. Her works have been commissioned by many of the world's celebrated ensembles, soloists, and orchestras.

In 1990, Tower became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Silver Ladders. Tower's 2008 album Made in America, featuring three works recorded by Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony, collected three Grammy awards: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance. Nashville’s latest all-Tower recording includes Stroke, which received a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.


We spoke to Tower about her first orchestral work, Sequoia, as well as Chamber Dance, written in 2006, which is featured on ACO's upcoming program Phenomenal Women on Friday, November 2, 2018, 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here

Composer Joan Tower. Photo by Bernard Mindich

American Composers Orchestra: Your first orchestral work, Sequoia, was commissioned by the Jerome Foundation and ACO and premiered with conductor Dennis Russell Davies at Carnegie Hall in 1981. We’d love to hear any memories that stand out from that experience. How did it affect the trajectory of your career? 

Joan Tower: It changed my entire life! Francis Thorne [ACO’s co-founder] kept bugging me to write a piece for ACO. I kept saying “no” because I felt wasn’t ready, but he was very persistent. He said, “Joan, you are ready! Just go for it!” So I wrote Sequoia kicking and screaming and not knowing what I was doing.

I remember Keith Jarrett was on the program, the famous jazz pianist, and the place was sold out basically because of him. Dennis decided to reorder the program so that I was right before intermission, following Keith Jarrett playing Alan Hovhaness. I was a total wreck. I thought, “Why did you change the order of the program? You can’t do this to me!” So, of course, Keith Jarrett finished playing this piece by Hovhaness and the place went bananas, because it was Keith Jarrett, and I thought, “Ok, that’s it, I’m finished.” Then my piece was played and they went nuts again! I thought, “It must be the energy of Keith Jarrett or something that’s carrying over.” I had all these explanations.

But then Zubin Mehta picked it up with the New York Philharmonic. [Sequoia] just launched this completely, incredibly crazy life. Then Leonard Slatkin picked it up with the St. Louis Symphony. He said it was a really unusual piece and asked me to be Composer-in-Residence in St. Louis. I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I was from the chamber music world, not the orchestral world. All I had was that piece [Sequoia], an orchestration of another piece, and that was it. I told him [Slatkin] that. I said, “You’re taking a big risk with me.” He said he was willing to take the risk. He wanted to help me write some more music for orchestra.

So Slatkin took me all over the place, recorded the piece, made me Composer-in-Residence … I wrote a Concerto for Orchestra for them and several other pieces. [Sequoia] did literally change my life.

Listen to Sequoia, performed by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic:


ACO: Chamber Dance, which ACO performs on November 2 at Carnegie Hall, was commissioned by Orpheus in 2006. Can you talk about your experience writing this piece and working with Orpheus? How did you come up with the title?

JT: I think Chamber Dance is a really good title. It's one of my better titles actually, because it is, to me, a dance between the musicians. It's a real chamber music piece, and it requires a lot of listening to each other, which is what Orpheus did. Writing for them was such an honor because they had figured out how to do that with fairly complicated music. I decided this definitely had to be a larger sounding chamber piece. It has duets and solos and groups and it covers a lot of different textures in the piece, where people are brought forward out of the group. They took it to Korea and they took it to Europe. I couldn't go to Korea because I fell on the platform at Penn Station and broke my knee, so I couldn't go to Korea, but I went to Europe with them, which was such a pleasure. It was like traveling with a large chamber group of terrific players, and I was even able to make changes to the piece here and there. So that was a fun piece to write.

ACO: The Boston Globe recently wrote that in the early 2000s you thought you were finished writing for orchestra, quoting you as saying, “I thought I’d spend my time in welcoming worlds.” What made you change your mind?

JT: I did think that was it and I was not going to write for orchestra any more. It was because I didn’t think the world was as welcoming as some chamber music worlds, the band world, the choral world ... At that time I really felt I wanted to spend time writing for players who were more welcoming.

But then, along came the Made in America project. It was a commission for community orchestras, which I had not dealt with before. I wasn’t sure about that world, I didn’t know what it was about, so I asked a violist who actually played in community orchestras. She said they don’t play as well as the professionals, but they actually love to do what they’re doing. That’s what they look forward to, coming to the orchestra rehearsal at night, which is more interesting, sometimes, than their day jobs. I thought that was really interesting. In fact, it made the decision for me and I decided to accept the Made in America commission.

What she [the violist] described was true. I went to 20 orchestras out of 65. I traveled around the United States to these smaller communities and I had a ball with these people, because they really did love what they were doing. It was mostly volunteers and they were there because they wanted to be there. They loved playing in the orchestra. There was a deep kind of care about not only their playing in the orchestra but also their community. They were very proud to do a good job as best they could. It was just a very different kind of world.

The first performance was by one of the most amateur orchestras [in the commission consortium]. He [the conductor] called me and said, “Look, my orchestra is probably going to struggle with this piece. Can I have the score a year early?” And I said, “No, because I haven’t even written it yet.” He said, “Well, can I be the first? You can use me as a guinea pig.” I said, “Absolutely. That I’m up for.” So I would send the work-in-progress to him from time to time. Then I checked out the parts I had written with some professional musician friends. They said, “This is too high for the first violins, this is too fast for the trumpet, blah, blah, ...” They really helped me. They saved me actually, because I wanted all these orchestras to be able to play the piece, of course.

The conductor who was my guinea pig was one of first to perform the piece with his orchestra. I went out there, Illinois I think, and I’ll never forget it. They treated me like a rock star. They picked me up at the airport and they took me to the best hotel and they took me to the best restaurant. I walked into the hall and the orchestra cheered me like I was some kind of rock star! This never happens in a major orchestra situation, never. They were so nervous because they had worked for six months, every week, twice a week on the piece and they wanted to do a good job. And they really pulled every bit of weight they could come up with to make this happen. It was just such a joy to watch the effort and the care of that kind of energy. So, I passed the test with one of the most amateur orchestras in the commission consortium, with the conductor's help too. From there the Made in America tour went on like that in all these communities, and it was a joy actually. The whole trip was wonderful.

Then Orpheus came along and said they wanted a piece from me. I thought Orpheus is this wonderful, wonderful chamber group. I couldn’t turn them down. So that kind of broke the ice for me to get back into more welcoming situations. Then Pittsburgh [Symphony Orchestra] came along a few years later and wanted a piece from me. So by that time I thought, “Ok, you don’t have to be so hardcore about this.” So I did two pieces for them, actually: Tambor and Stroke. And now New York has asked me, so I’m writing a piece for them.

ACO: A big part of ACO's seasonal activities are our programs for emerging composers, such as the Underwood New Music Readings, EarShot New Music Readings, and our Composer Yourself! program for high schoolers. What is some advice you think is important to give emerging composers?

JT: The musical advice I can give is to make sure you know what you have. You need to have musical control over the piece, and the only way you can have musical control over anything is to know what you have. You might not always have control over the orchestration, because that’s often new to emerging composers, but you should always know what the music is supposed to do. For me, that’s very important for writing an orchestra piece. That’s what I did with my first piece Sequoia. I knew I had control over the music. I didn’t have control over the orchestration as much as I wanted to, but I figured if I had control over the music itself, the orchestration would follow even if it was a little awkward. Orchestration doesn’t make the music, it’s the music that makes the orchestration.

Chamber Dance is featured on ACO's upcoming program, Phenomenal Women, on Friday, November 2, 2018, 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Phenomenal Women - Composer Spotlight: Alex Temple

American Composers Orchestra gives the world premiere of Alex Temple's Three Principles of Noir – featuring singer Meaghan Burke, directed by Amber Treadway, with costumes by Storm Garner – on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here

Alex Temple is a composer who loves both the Western classical tradition and the world of pop culture. Uncomfortable with stylistic hierarchies and the idea of a pure musical language, she prefers to look for points of connection between things that are not supposed to belong together. Temple's music has been performed by many prominent soloists and ensembles – including Mellissa Hughes, Timo Andres, Mark Dancigers, Chicago Composers Orchestra, Spektral Quartet, Fifth House Ensemble, Cadillac Moon Ensemble, and Ensemble de Sade – and she has appeared at venues such as Roulette, Exapno, the Tank, Monkeytown, Galapagos Art Space, Gallery Cabaret, and Constellation performing her own works for voice and electronics.

We spoke to Temple about her new commission from ACO, Three Principles of Noir, which premieres on ACO's program Phenomenal Women along with works by Valerie Coleman and Joan Tower – Friday, November 2, 2018 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here

Composer Alex Temple. Photo by Marc Perlish

American Composers Orchestra: Can you talk about your process for coming up with the idea for this piece?

Alex Temple: The idea of the three principles of noir is something I came up with almost a decade ago when I was spending a lot of time on film messageboards.  Each one is based on a particular movie:  the Double Indemnity principle says that it doesn't matter how well you plan it, you won't get away with it;  the Detour principle says that it doesn't matter whether you actually do it or not, you won't get away with it;  and the In a Lonely Place principle says that it doesn't matter whether you actually do it again, cause you're a bad person anyway.

The plot has been floating around in my head for quite a while too.  It was inspired by the moral unease of film noir, of course, but also by my longstanding love of time travel stories, by Erik Larson's account of the 1893 World's Fair in The Devil in the White City, and by the seething wit of Sweeney Todd and the feminist bitterness of Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs.  I thought about turning the story into a piece of music for years, but I never managed to find the right context for it until I got the commission from ACO.


ACO: How did singer Meaghan Burke, director Amber Treadway, and costume design by Storm Garner become involved?

AT: I've been friends with all three of them for a long time.  Meaghan and I have worked together before, when I wrote Switch: A Science-Fiction Micro-Opera for Cadillac Moon Ensemble in 2013, and the original plan for this project was to write a sequel to that piece.  Eventually I scrapped that idea and brought in this story of murder and time travel instead.  Meaghan's numerous vocal styles — sultry cabaret, melancholy Sprechstimme, dreamy spoken flights of fancy — had a huge influence on how I conceived of the protagonist.

Storm is a polymath:  not only a costume designer but also a singer, composer, photographer and filmmaker.  Her work is always imbued with an experimental spirit — including our one previous collaboration, a polystylistic film called And In Her It Danced: An Inheritance, which included my piece This Changes Everything! in the soundtrack.  Amber, meanwhile, has been doing great work in the queer and feminist opera world, directing shows like Kate Soper's Here Be Sirens and Griffin Candey's Sweets by Kate, the latter at the Stonewall Inn.  I originally know her from Twitter, which she is the official best at.


ACO: Your bio describes your tendency to “look for points of connection between things that are not supposed to belong together” in your work. What are some things that “don’t belong together” in Three Principles of Noir?

AT: There are all kinds of styles and reference points at play in the piece:  tango, Weimar cabaret, atonal counterpoint, the Great American Songbook, Straussian Romanticism, Robert Ashley monotone singing, Andriessenish sound masses.  All of them relate in some way to the story, the mood, or the period(s) that the piece takes place in.  Theatrical music is a particularly good venue for this kind of eclecticism, because you can use the narrative to unite all the disparate elements.

ACO: Can you talk about your relationship with ACO and the path that lead you to receiving this commission?

AT: I first worked with ACO in 2011, when I wrote Liebeslied for Mellissa Hughes to perform with them at the opening concert of the SONiC Festival.  It was a great experience for all involved, so I was excited when we started talking about collaborating again.  It's taken several years to put all the moving parts together, including securing a grant from the MAP Fund, going through several different ideas for what the plot might be, getting collaborators on board, and — if I can be candid — delaying the whole project after Trump's election sent me into one of the worst depressions of my life.  I mention this because I believe that our cultural taboo against discussing mental illness makes it harder for people to find support, and I want to help erase the stigma by being open about my own experiences with it.


For a while I wondered whether I really wanted to write a piece with such a dark ending, under the circumstances.  One thing that helped me was Derek Bermel telling me not to let myself be defeated, and saying that now was my moment to be angry, to be vulnerable, to be subversive.  Three Principles of Noir isn't about modern fascism, but it certainly is about anger and vulnerability and subversiveness.

ACO: What can the audience expect at the world premiere of Three Principles of Noir, and what are you most looking forward to about the concert?

AT: Listeners should come prepared for bloody schemes, feminist rage, moral ambiguity, academic angst, memorable tunes, convoluted rhymes, electronic collages, and more swears than you'd probably expect to hear on stage at Carnegie Hall.  As for me, I'm just looking forward to finally being able to relax into the role of audience!

American Composers Orchestra gives the world premiere of Alex Temple's Three Principles of Noir on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here

Learn more about Alex Temple at www.alextemplemusic.com
Follow her on Twitter


Friday, October 12, 2018

Phenomenal Women - Composer Spotlight: Valerie Coleman

American Composers Orchestra gives the world premiere of Valerie Coleman's Phenomenal Women – a concerto for wind quintet and orchestra featuring Imani Winds – on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here

Valerie Coleman is among the world’s most played composers living today. The Boston Globe describes Coleman as a having a “talent for delineating form and emotion with shifts between ingeniously varied instrumental combinations,” and The New York Times has praised her “skillfully wrought, buoyant music.” With works that range from flute sonatas that recount the stories of trafficked humans during Middle Passage and orchestral and chamber works based on nomadic Roma tribes, to scherzos about moonshine in the Mississippi Delta region and motifs based from Morse Code, her body of works has been highly regarded as a deeply relevant contribution to modern music.

We spoke with Valerie about her ACO/Carnegie Hall commission Phenomenal Women. The work is inspired by Maya Angelou's poem and book Phenomenal Women, and honors Angelou, as well as Claressa Shields, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Katherine Johnson, and Immigrant Mothers, with solo interludes by members of Imani Winds. The world premiere is Friday, November 2, 2018 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. More information here




Learn more about Valerie Coleman at www.vcolemanmusic.com
Follow her on Facebook


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

EarShot Grand Rapids Symphony - Mentor Composer: Margaret Brouwer

Last week, the EarShot New Music Readings in Grand Rapids, MI, brought together four emerging composers; three mentor composers; and conductor Jacomo Bairos and the Grand Rapids Symphony for four days of rehearsals, feedback sessions, and recorded readings.

Emerging composers Emmanuel Berrido, Tyler Eschendal, Jiyoung Ko, and Daniel Leo were selected for the readings, and worked with mentor composers Bright Sheng, David Biedenbender, and Margaret Brouwer to fine tune their works and learn about the process of working with a professional orchestra as a composer.

We spoke to Margaret Brouwer about her experience during the program. Brouwer is an award-winning composer whose music has been performed by orchestras such as the Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony, and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2008, ACO commissioned and premiered Brouwer's orchestral piece Breakdown!

Composer Margaret Brouwer. Photo by Christian Steiner
American Composers Orchestra: Can you talk about your general reaction to the readings? We'd love to know your thoughts on the four selected works, any moments that stood out, and how you thought the orchestra and the audience reacted to them.

Margaret Brouwer: My reaction to the readings was very positive.  The Grand Rapids Symphony and Jacomo Bairos were not only excellent but completely enthusiastic about all of the music.  The four selected works each had its own personality, between them covering a range from expressive to broad cluster sounds to rhythmic and driving.  There were a total of 9 concerts!  Each was about 30 minutes in length.  There was a full house for each of the 9 concerts and the audience was completely engaged in the music and gave hearty applause for each work.

ACO: What kind of advice did you give the four selected composers? Was there anything that stood out to you as a particularly good teaching moment?

MB: Much of the advice that we gave the four selected emerging composers was technical advice about how to make each instrument sound its best.  Writing for orchestra effectively takes experience and these were the first orchestral works for them.  For overall advice, we talked with them about not using all of the instruments all of time.  There is such a wide range of colors available in the orchestra that it is good to feature different colors at different times.  When everyone plays at once, one does not hear the color differences.  We also advised them to limit the different ideas that they put into one short piece.  This is always a difficult thing for young composers to learn.  They love everything they write and sometimes leave unrelated motives in a short piece that should not be there.

Left to right: mentor composers David Biedenbender, Bright Sheng, and Margaret Brouwer; and participating composers Jiyoung Ko, Tyler Eschendal, Daniel Leo, and Emmanuel Berrido.

ACO: Can you talk a little bit about your experiences with learning to write for orchestra and getting your orchestral music performed? In what ways were these readings different than the opportunities you had as an emerging composer?

MB: It would have been wonderful for me as an emerging composer to have the ACO Earshot experience!  I learned about how to write for the orchestra mainly by the experience of hearing early works of mine played by student orchestras.  Also, I believe I had a great advantage because I began my money-earning career as an orchestral violinist.  Every day I heard all the sounds the orchestra can make.  Sometimes I would say to my stand partner – “Didn’t that sound great with those two instruments combined?”  She would look at me as if she didn’t know what I was talking about!  I had been composing since high school, but as a young person had planned on the violin (which I also loved) as career choice.  However more and more, I wanted to spend all my time on composition, so eventually I decided to give up making my living as a violinist and went back to school to get a DMA in composition. My first position after graduating was teaching at Washington and Lee University.  While in Virginia, I was very lucky to be asked to be the Composer in Residence with the Roanoke Symphony – a position I held for 7 years.  So I gained more experience writing for orchestra during those years, and other orchestras began to program my orchestra music as well.  As Composer in Residence there, I started a listening group for the symphony board members.  We met once a month at 5PM – had a happy hour, and I played recordings of new works and talked a little about them.  These people became part of the selection process for picking the new works that the symphony performed on each concert.  It was terrific to see them become invested in the new works.

ACO: Was there anything that you learned as a composer during to the course of the readings?

MB: More than anything, what I learned last week at the ACO Earshot readings is that new music is alive and well.  It is exciting to see how many young people wish to become composers!   It is also exciting to experience a terrific conductor, Jacomo Barios, who took on 9 new works to prepare and was completely in control and knowledgeable about each one.  And it was so impressive to see the enthusiasm of the Grand Rapids Symphony in rehearsing and perfecting all of these works!  Even during 6 concerts on the final day, they never lost their vitality, enthusiasm and expert playing.

ACO: What was your experience with the artistic community of Grand Rapids? How did it tie into the EarShot residency?

MB: It was extremely inspiring to experience the vibrant music and visual arts scene in Grand Rapids.  The involvement of the community, and the expertise of the Grand Rapids Symphony is all very impressive.  This was another reminder of how many excellent musicians there are in our country.   And it was so impressive to see how the Earshot program has developed, and to experience the expertise of the people running it!

Learn more about ACO's opportunities for composers and orchestras at www.americancomposers.org

Learn more about Margaret Brouwer at www.margaretbrouwer.com


Friday, September 28, 2018

EarShot Grand Rapids Symphony - Composer Spotlight: Tyler Eschendal

Tyler Eschendal is a composer and percussionist originally from the suburbs of Detroit and now resides in Los Angeles, CA. A love for rhythm, pulse, and layering heavily influences his music, as well as an interest in introducing sample-based procedures found in electronic music to acoustic and live instrumentations. Tyler’s music has been performed at institutions across the U.S. and by such ensembles as the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, yMusic, the Norfolk New Music Ensemble, and Sō Percussion. He holds a B.M. in music composition from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati studying with Michael Fiday, and a M.M. in composition from the University of Southern California studying with Ted Hearne, Sean Friar and Don Crockett.

Tyler's orchestral piece Zarathustra Mixtape was selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings, where it will be workshopped and read under the direction of conductor Jacomo Bairos. Public performances will take place on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Tyler spoke with us about his piece and the upcoming readings.

Composer Tyler Eschendal

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings?

Tyler Eschendal: My reaction came as a great surprise!  The original instrumentation is for a much larger orchestra than the readings presented, but I was up for the challenge of rescaling the work.  

ACO: You describe your piece as a "mixtape" of Richard Strauss’Also Sprach Zarathustra, "splicing, stretching, shifting, layering, reorganizing, and most importantly, re-contextualizing" the composer's 1896 tone poem. Can you talk about your first encounters with Also Sprach Zarathustra, and why you chose it for the basis of your own orchestral work?

TE: Like a lot of composers, some of my first introductions to classical music was through the orchestra and its immense power.  Also Sprach was a piece that immediately resonated with me and I became obsessed.  The more I listened, the curiouser I got. Zarathustra Mixtape gave me an opportunity to extend and exploit fragments of the piece that I had always wanted to see in a different context. 

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece?

TE: Strauss’ original orchestration calls for a massive orchestra with quadruple winds and brass, two harps and lots of string divisions.  In order to replicate the source I wanted to use as large of an orchestra as I could get my hands on.  For the ACO readings I was working an ensemble half that size, so the biggest challenge was downsizing the instrumentation and reorchestrating moments of the piece.  

ACO: What do you hope to gain from this experience?

TE: I hope to gain more experience working in time-sensitive situations like rehearsals and meetings with a professional arts organization like GRS and ACO.  Understanding how to make the most out of a short rehearsal block is an absolute skill!

Grand Rapids Symphony will give public performances of Tyler Eschendal's Zarathustra Mixtape on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton, as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Learn more about Tyler Eschendal at www.tyler-eschendal.com
Follow him on Twitter and Instagram


EarShot Grand Rapids Symphony - Composer Spotlight: Emmanuel Berrido

Emmanuel Berrido is a Dominican-American composer with a passion for telling stories with his music. In May 2017, he was awarded the Louis Smadbeck Composition Prize in Ithaca, NY, for Bend the Knee for brass quintet, and in February 2018 he was awarded the Ithaca College Orchestral Composition Prize for Danza Ritual.

Emmanuel has studied music composition with Orlando Jacinto García, Evis Sammoutis, and Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann. Other mentors include composers Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas, and Chinary Ung; violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved; and clarinetist Lori Freedman.

Emmanuel's orchestral piece Danza Ritual was selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings, where it will be workshopped and read under the direction of conductor Jacomo Bairos. Public performances will take place on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Emmanuel spoke with us about his piece and the upcoming readings.

Composer Emmanuel Berrido

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings?

Emmanuel Berrido: I was at once very honored and humbled. I remember my mentor at undergraduate mentioning American Composers Orchestra on my very first day of Composition Seminar, so when Vanessa Rose called to let me know I had been invited my heart jumped – I was going to come and work with these prestigious institutions (ACO and the Grand Rapids Symphony), thus adding my name to a conglomerate of very talented composers whose careers had been enriched by their collaboration with ACO. Also, given the large pool of applicants that send their music for consideration, one could not help but feel very blessed about being invited to participate in EarShot.

ACO: In the program note, you write that you composed Danza Ritual as a way to explore "elements that make the musical culture of the Dominican Republic beautiful." Can you talk a little bit about these elements, and how they are presented in your piece?

EB: It's funny to discuss the program note, because when I was on my way to Michigan I thought about the story of this piece in retrospect, and remembered other details about it which are connected to Dominican culture and myself as well. So I guess I'll dodge the question a bit, but not really, and give you more of the story.

At the time I wrote Danza Ritual (which at the time had another name) I was about to go to a festival where the centerpiece of the orchestral gala was going to be Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which is also about both a ritual and dance. It was a cool exercise for me to think how these two concepts could also come into existence within my music, and I also wanted to bring about something that felt like it was Dominican, and therefore closer to the things that make me, me.

And so during the soul-searching process I went through before composing Danza Ritual I decided on two narrative elements, which –hopefully– will guide the experience of this piece a bit:

The beginning and ending sections of this overture reflect my need to get my heart close to the Dominican culture, and the music heard on these sections is inspired by Afro-Caribbean religious manifestations from the Dominican Republic, where dance and mysticism are also patent. These manifestations, like the "música de Palos," are very rhythmic, and oftentimes loud with distinct melodic lines often sung or played in homophony — they also make use of various types of drums and the metal güira. So the elements that I talk about on the program note are the driving rhythms, dance-like spirit, loudness, and use of very particular percussion instruments (the güira IS that one element that makes it more Dominican!). The middle section, which is the larger chunk of the piece, is inspired by the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, namely the sacrifice of Isaac, which is one of the earlier histories about “sacrifice” that I ever heard.

So, throughout the narrative of this piece I aim to depict these two ideas (dance and sacrifice) from different perspectives, and the spirit of the sections of the work are to show for this.

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece?

EB: Providentially, this orchestration was read and performed at Ithaca College last February under the baton of my colleague and dear friend Keehun Nam. When I submitted the work for consideration by ACO I was prepared to make changes, but it happened that the orchestration provided by the Grand Rapids Symphony was the same that I'd written this piece for originally. In a more nuts-and-bolts plane though, I did have to put some time in and review aspects of notation to make sure the music was well presented for the orchestra. To me, notation is communication through and through, so a well-presented part not only shows that I care for my music, but also that I deeply respect the musicians who will play it.

ACO: What do you hope to gain from this experience?

EB: During the morning of the first day we were talking about being a composer and our relationship with performers, and I shared how I strongly believe that "fellowship with others is good for the soul." So this is what I believe about something like EarShot and similar programs – we come here to work hard, but I also hope (at least this is a hope I come with) to go back home with at least one new friend. Like I mentioned at the beginning, it is already an honor to be around this talented group of people and this honor is already enough reward, but if I could even ask for more, then I would probably hope to come back to my apartment in Ithaca with at least one new person in my contacts list whom I can talk to about music and life; it is in this form of genuine relationships with others where careers grow and advance, music matures, and perspectives get broadened.

Grand Rapids Symphony will give public performances of Emmanuel Berrido's Danza Ritual on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton, as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Learn more about Emmanuel Berrido at www.emmanuelberrido.com

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram


Thursday, September 27, 2018

EarShot Grand Rapids Symphony - Composer Spotlight: Jiyoung Ko

Jiyoung Ko is a Michigan-based composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music. Her works have been performed around the world by ensembles including Ensemble Dal Niente, Del Sol String Quartet, New York New Music Ensemble, NEC Honors Ensemble, and KNUA Chamber Ensemble. Jiyoung was selected for the 2018 Civic Orchestra of Chicago New Music Workshop with coaching by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) at Chicago’s Symphony Center. In 2017, her orchestral work, Spring Overture, was mentioned as an alternate for the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. Jiyoung received her Master’s degree from The New England Conservatory and her Bachelor’s degree from Korea National University of Arts where she studied with Michael Gandolfi, Kati Agócs, and Geonyoug Lee.

Jiyoung's orchestral piece Remembrances was selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings, where it will be workshopped and read under the direction of conductor Jacomo Bairos. Public performances will take place on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Jiyoung spoke with us about her piece and the upcoming readings.

Composer Jiyoung Ko. Photo by Hyewon Park

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings?

Jiyoung Ko: I was pleasantly surprised. It is a great honor to be selected. This piece was a departure from my usual composition style. I wanted my repertoire to be more robust and this piece gave me an opportunity to branch out of my comfort zone.

ACO: In the program note, you write that your piece is about the emotions you feel when "a new experience unexpectedly seizes me," when a memory is created. Why did you chose to write a piece about this? Did the music come first and then the idea, or the other way round?

JK: The idea definitely came first. I wanted to capture notable moments in my life and transfer them into music. I think this is a way to give them permanence. Although this piece is about the emotions I feel and try to retain, it is my hope that the music will evoke memories of special moments in the listeners' lives as well.

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece?

JK: To prepare for the readings I had to fine tune and balance several passages. The original instrumentation of my orchestra piece is broader than the Grand Rapids Symphony's instrumentation, so I first compressed it for the GRS, then considered voicing and carefully amped up important melodies that I wanted to emphasize more strongly in performance. I have also adjusted my score and parts based on suggestions from ACO's engraving specialist.

ACO: What do you hope to gain from this experience?

JK: I hope to learn more about orchestration and the orchestra rehearsal process. For example, effective communication with the conductor and the orchestra, precise notation, rehearsal technique, and balance. All these will have an impact on my writing of orchestra pieces or large ensembles in the future. Also, I will be inspired by the feedback from the mentor composers, the conductor, the musicians, and my fellow colleagues.

Grand Rapids Symphony will give public performances of Jiyoung Ko's Remembrances on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton, as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Learn more about Jiyoung Ko at www.jiyoungkomusic.com


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Philadelphia Orchestra Readings – Composer Q&As

As part of a collaborative working session, six women composers – all of whom have been commissioned previously through ACO’s programs – will have their works read and recorded by The Philadelphia Orchestra in a rehearsal led by Assistant Conductor Kensho Watanabe. Composers will engage with the Orchestra’s leadership and Artistic Committee, and will receive feedback from co-facilitators, ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, and native Philadelphian Melinda Wagner.

This score-reading session will take place on Thursday, September 6, 2018 from 10:30am to 4pm at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public, no RSVP is necessary. Seatings will happen approximately every 30-40 minutes between pieces. View the full schedule here.

We spoke to the six participating composers – Xi Wang, Hilary Purrington, Nina C. Young, Melody Eötvös, Chen-Hui Jen, and Robin Holcomb – about their works and what they look forward to at the readings.

Composer Xi Wang

XI WANG - Above Light, a conversation with Toru Takemitsu

American Composers Orchestra: Can you tell us a little bit about the piece you are bringing to the Philadelphia Orchestra for these readings?

Xi Wang: The elegance and colorfulness of Takemitsu’s imaginary soundscapes drew my deep love and admiration. The style of my compositions is quite different from Takemitsu’s. However, I believe the beauty of music is its diversity and the coexistence of difference. I see struggles in my life, so do my music. And I love both of them!

There are two fundamental components in Above Light. The first material—a delicate melodic phrase played by piano, flute and harp, opens this piece. It reminisces and is a tribute to Takemitsu’s music. It is soon interrupted by the second material—heavy strokes from percussions and a dark, low, sustained note played by bass instruments. These two contrastive materials are juxtaposed several times, and are developed in length and density each time. Later there comes an attempt to combine all the materials vertically.  The first material—a lyrical melodic contour is now played by piccolo and violins at the high register, producing a mist to shroud the rest of the orchestra. The other materials sweep in gradually, but violently conflict with the first. The orchestra reaches its saturation and is taken over by the massive sound from percussions. After reaching the forceful drum climax, the music collapses onto one long note played by violins at the extremely high register. It leads to a short recapitulation of the first material, with an aloof reminiscence of Takemitsu’s music.

ACO: Your relationship with ACO began with your Symphony No. 1 at the 2010 Underwood Readings. Can you talk about anything that you learned or gained from that experience that you used when writing this new piece, or that you plan to use during the rehearsals with the Philadelphia Orchestra?

XW: I learnt a great deal when work with ACO in 2010. For example, precise notation, effective communication with the orchestra, rehearsal technique, and fine orchestration, etc. All these have impact on my writing from then on especially on my compositions for large ensembles.

~~~

Composer Hilary Purrington

HILARY PURRINGTON - Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky

American Composers Orchestra: Your relationship with ACO began with your participation in the 2017 Underwood Readings with your piece Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky, for which you won the 2017 Underwood Commission. The Philadelphia Orchestra will also be reading Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky. Is there anything you have changed about the piece since Underwood last year? Is there anything in particular that you are planning to focus on during the Philadelphia readings?

Hilary Purrington: I changed several very minor things during and after the Underwood readings last year. Overall, I feel that Likely Pictures is in excellent shape, and I'm very excited to hear it again! When I wrote this work, I never imagined that four different orchestras would eventually read and/or perform it. Regarding the Philadelphia Orchestra readings, I look forward to meeting and forming connections with the musicians and administrators. It's nearly impossible to predict what one will learn from these kinds of experiences, but I anticipate leaving with knowledge and ideas that I'll certainly apply to future works.

~~~

Composer Nina C. Young

NINA C. YOUNG - Excerpts from Agnosco Veteris, for orchestra

American Composers Orchestra: Can you tell us a little bit about the piece you are bringing to the Philadelphia Orchestra for these readings?

Nina C. Young: I am bringing an excerpt of my orchestral piece Agnosco Veteris.  This orchestra work is a partner piece to, and a reworked memory of my 2014 sinfonietta piece Vestigia Flammae.  In book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dido, long in grief over her late husband Sychaeus’s death, is suddenly awakened from emotional slumber by the visiting Trojan hero Aeneas. In an upheaval of emotion, she proclaims, “Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae,” or “I recognize the traces of an ancient fire”. For Dido, experiential time becomes a complex and powerful mix of emotions past and present. The quote resurfaces in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The overarching allegory of this epic poem traces themes of Dante’s spiritual quest through symbolism. Dante, guided by Virgil, achieves literary immortality through the act of storytelling that appropriates and amalgamates references to antiquity, classical literature, mythology, Christianity, and (then) contemporary Italian politics. In Purgatorio 30, Dante feels the presence of Beatrice and matches his emotional upheaval to that of Dido. Dante makes a final tribute to Virgil by stating, “conosco i segni de l’antica fiamma” – an Italian translation of the Latin “Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae.”

This passage is the poetic impetus for my two partnered pieces. While neither work is explicitly programmatic in connection with Virgil or Dante’s literary narrative, the music invites private, distinctive, and profound interpretations in each listener’s experience as she addresses the central concepts of lost memories, vestigial emotions, and melancholy for the passage of time (common themes in my music). 

Dante appropriates explicit cultural references and symbols as a tool to weave the narrative of the Divine Comedy. However, when I was collecting the source material for Vestigia Flammae, I abandoned explicit quotation. Rather, I tried my hand at writing imagined faux folk, modal, and fanfare-like source-music that could be mistaken for something pre-existing.  There is one direct quote, though, an exchange between the clarinets at the beginning of the excerpt which is a time-stretched version of the opening riff from Radiohead's Bloom.

While episodic in construction, Agnosco Veteris is divided into three large sections. Part 1, the “Music of Before” presents the thematic source material, or sonic memories. Part 2, the “Music of Ritual” is a static reflective checkpoint during which the listener can consider the musical recollections that came before. Part 3, the “Music of After” is characterized by energetic renewal and presents a reconfigured collage of the musical material.

ACO: Your relationship with ACO began with your piece Remnants at the 2013 Underwood Readings, and continued with your ACO/Jerome Foundation commission Out of whose womb came the ice, which was premiered in 2017 at Symphony Space. Can you talk about anything that you learned or gained from these experiences that you used when writing this new piece, or that you plan to use during the rehearsals with the Philadelphia Orchestra?

NCY: The giant orchestral machine is a beautiful, tricky beast.  As a composer, it's sonic heaven to work with so many instrumental colors on the same stage, but the reality is that there is never enough rehearsal time and the nature of orchestra rehearsal and detail is very different than when working with a chamber ensemble.  The only way to learn these nuances is through real-life experience: mistakes, happy accidents, and the occasional good idea!  I'm really thankful to have had so much time to work with the ACO, and a few other groups - it's not easy to get music in front of an orchestra.  These experiences have been extremely educational, and with each orchestral reading and performance I get to strengthen my understanding of the translation between the score and the performed sound.

~~~

Composer Melody Eötvös

MELODY EÖTVÖS - The Saqqara Bird, for Symphony Orchestra

American Composers Orchestra: Can you tell us a little bit about the piece you are bringing to the Philadelphia Orchestra for these readings?

Melody Eötvös: This piece is called The Saqqara Bird and it was commissioned by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in 2016, and premiered that year in August.  The work is about a small artifact discovered in Saqqara, Egypt.  There is a great deal of speculation about the purpose and design of the object (see picture attached) from claims that it is merely a children’s toy, to it being the first experiments with aviation.  The uncertainty behind the function of the bird immediately appealed to me as it embodies an openness of interpretation that works brilliantly with composing.  In the music you can identify various motives and modal colors that clearly speak ‘Egyptian-bird-thing’.


ACO: Your relationship with ACO began with Beetles, Dragons & Dreamers at the 2014 Underwood Readings, and continued with your ACO/Toulmin commission Red Dirt | Silver Rain at Carnegie Hall in 2015. Can you talk about anything that you learned or gained from these experiences that you used when writing this new piece, or that you plan to use during the rehearsals with the Philadelphia Orchestra?

ME: When comparing The Saqqara Bird to my previous two works BDD and RD|SR, it’s a little difficult as they’re all very different pieces.  Each had significant challenges for me: BDD was my doctoral dissertation and the longest orchestral work I had completed to date; RD|SR was more of a chamber orchestra situation and I potentially realized this too late in the composition process (and was also my first piece with that reduced, yet still quite large instrumentation); and Saqqara had no harp or piano, and only 1 percussionist so my idealistic ‘resonant’ combinations were very limited for the first time.  Workshopping the first two works with the ACO though was invaluable in that it was an intense and devoted time to simply work out the music.  There is no time to make revisions there, so any issues of balance needed to be addressed there and then, and the ACO was fantastic at doing this, as well as being patient and understanding of young composers.  And of course my experience with these two pieces informed not only the composition process (conceptually), but also how I wrote the piece in terms of how much rehearsal time I knew I’d have, and what the audience would be like.  It was the first time I let those factors creep in to my music and instead of regretting it and thinking I’d let myself be influenced by artificial, anti-artistic means, I had made a very good, mature choice to consider my audience and rehearsal time, finally.  And this lead to a much larger and important commission with the TSO again in 2018.  Now, using this knowledge for the ACO rehearsal coming up in Philly?  I’m already armed with the edits that came up from the premiere with the TSO in 2016, so I feel very well prepared.  Though, keeping an open mind and readiness for a different orchestra, as well as letting them make their own interpretation of the piece is important as well.

~~~

Composer Chen-Hui Jen

CHEN-HUI JEN - in eternal dusk, for orchestra

American Composers Orchestra: Can you tell us a little bit about the piece you are bringing to the Philadelphia Orchestra for these readings?

Chen-Hui Jen: The work I am bringing is a recent work finished last year, called in eternal dusk.  It was a granted commission and received its premiere in this past January in Indianapolis.  in eternal dusk is my third orchestral work, whose original instrumentation allows a smaller string section in comparison to my other works, which require a large string section for many divisions.  I am excited to hear it brought to live again with possibly different interpretation.

in eternal dusk carries a poetic idea of time, memories, and longing.  I was inspired by the daily light outside my window, where faces the airport and the twilight.  During the past decade I have been traveling back-and-forth across the ocean, and now even cross the continent as well.  To me, the direction of twilight - the dusk, in a darker state - is where I am from and where I have been.  I would say it's my musical meditation of seeking myself and my internal voices.

ACO: Your relationship with ACO began with your participation in the 2012 EarShot San Diego Symphony New Music Readings. Can you talk about anything that you learned or gained from that experience that you used when writing this new piece, or that you plan to use during the rehearsals with the Philadelphia Orchestra?

CHJ: In 2012 I participated the EarShot San Diego where another larger work of mine, yet the dew remains in pale, was read by the San Diego Symphony.  We received workshops on publishable-quality notation and score preparation, feedbacks from the orchestra members and from the mentor composers.  Very luckily, the ACO collaborates with the League of American Orchestras that launched a new program for women composers commissions and readings a few years ago.  Four of this Philadelphia Orchestra reading recipients, including myself, are the winner of the LAO's women composers commissions.  My work with Earshot brought be the opportunity to write this new work, and, thankfully, ACO is now bringing me and this new work to Philadelphia.

~~~

Composer Robin Holcomb

ROBIN HOLCOMB - All the While, Suite for Orchestra

American Composers Orchestra: Can you tell us a little bit about the piece you are bringing to the Philadelphia Orchestra for these readings?

Robin Holcomb: All the While is a reflection on that which underscores waking life and runs, just below the surface of consciousness, all the while. It is my first composition for full orchestra, written in 2016.

ACO: Your relationship with ACO began with your participation in the 2015 Jazz Orchestra Institute Readings. Can you talk about anything that you learned or gained from that experience that you used when writing this new piece, or that you plan to use during the rehearsals with the Philadelphia Orchestra?

RH: I had been composing for big band, chamber groups and solo piano, writing songs and scoring films and  dance and theatrical productions. I was improvising pianist as well and generally performed my own music. I had always wanted to write for orchestra, saw the JCOI opportunity, composed and submitted one minute of music for full orchestra and was accepted into the program. All the While was read as part of the EarShot Naples Philharmonic Jazz Composers Readings conducted by Yaniv Segal in May, 2016.

Of particular interest to me was being in a community of composers interested in bringing the spirit of improvisation to orchestral writing. How to translate writing for and improvising with individuals and personalties to writing for a large group of players. The importance of notating everything – detailed instructions about timbre, articulation and intention that in previous ensemble writing I had often communicated orally. The unintended consequences of omission! A lot about balance and creating contrast and clarity. The speed of the orchestra feels different, how to write for this. Experimenting with all of these elements was both exhilarating and excruciating. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have my work supported by the ACO.

~~~

Philadelphia Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra's Showcase for Works by Women Composers is on Thursday, September 6, 2018 from 10:30am to 4pm at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public, no RSVP is necessary. Seatings will happen approximately every 30-40 minutes between pieces. View the full schedule here.



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Underwood New Music Readings - Composer Spotlight: Tomàs Peire Serrate

Tomàs Peire Serrate was born in Barcelona. He studied piano at the Sant Cugat del Vallès conservatory, where he grew up, and history at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. After few years performing and teaching he decided to focus on composition, first studying at the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (Barcelona) with Salvador Brotons, and in 2009 at the Sibelius Academy of Helsinki (Finland) with Tapio Tuomela and Risto Väisänen. In 2011 he moved to New York with the La Caixa Fellowship to pursue a Master's in Scoring for Film and Multimedia at the New York University, where he graduated in 2013 obtaining the Elmer Bernstein Award. That year he moved to Los Angeles to explore the film music industry and participate as a composer in different projects including writing the music for the films The Anushree Experiments and Prism, and orchestrating and arranging music for If I Stay, Minions, and Love and Friendship.

In the fall of 2015, Tomàs initiated his PhD studies at UCLA, where he is having the privilege to study with Bruce Broughton, Richard Danielpour, Ian Krouse, Mark Carlson, Peter Golub and David S. Lefkowitz. His research at UCLA is about music, space and media, with particular interest in new technologies and virtual reality. His concert works have been performed in Europe, US and Asia, and is currently working on a short opera-monologue that will be premiered at the Off-Liceu series in Barcelona next June 2018.

Tomàs' piece Rauxa was selected for the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings where it was workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Tomàs received the $15k Audience Choice Commission to write a new piece for ACO to be performed during a future season. He spoke to us about the readings and his piece.

Composer Tomàs Peire Serrate

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Underwood New Music Readings? 

Tomàs Peire Serrate: I was very happy, of course! I knew it was a demanding selection process because of the amount of composers applying. The thought of having the opportunity to work with an orchestra such as the ACO, and getting feedback from both the performers and the mentors of the program was already extraordinary. 

ACO: Your write that your selected piece explores the duality of two Catalan words: Rauxa, meaning "a sudden determination," and Seny, meaning "balance and sensibleness," which together are used to describe the Catalan people and their character. Can you talk the musical elements you used to represent both Rauxa and Seny in your piece? Did your native Barcelona influenced your piece in any other ways?

TPS: The piece begins in a very passionate mood, with a lot of intensity and motion. But this doesn't last long as the music evolves and delves into this intensity by exploring it more carefully, from different perspectives, reaching unexpected places. I like to think as Rauxa and Seny as intrinsic to each other. In a way, I perceive the relation between these two concepts as similar to what happens in the creative process of an artist, in which there's a component of inspiration but also a lot of reflection, study and hands-on work. This process sometimes can culminate in something quite different from the initial idea or sketch, and I find this quite appealing. 

I have been living far from Barcelona since 2009. I miss my family and friends every day, but I visit as much as I can. Nowadays it's easy to be in touch with people, as well as being connected to what is going on there. That's and advantage but sometimes it can be complicated. The political situation has been very unsettling in these last few years and I find it very difficult to avoid being constantly updated. It can become quite an obsession and difficult to deal with when trying to compose. More than explicitly referring to anything in particular, or using any Catalan music reference, I believe that this feeling can be somehow present in my music.

ACO: You are currently working on a PhD at UCLA with a particular interest in new technologies and virtual reality. Can you talk the ways you've seen new technologies and virtual reality already influencing the music world? In your opinion are the effects always positive, or can there be negative effects as well?

TPS: New technologies are making composers and musicians' life easier in many ways, but they also require a whole new set of skills and knowledge that take time and willpower to acquire. What interests me the most about virtual reality is the potential of exploring music in different ways than we are used to, although I must admit that I am still in the process of researching how those ways will influence music. This means to perceive music from the audience or participant's perspective; but also to create it as composers, using these new tools and platforms that are already available. 

ACO: What did you do to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you made to your piece before or during the readings?
TPS: Of course, I went back to the score I submitted month ago and I reviewed it very carefully. Every time I look again to a piece of mine I find small things to modify or details to add trying to improve it. This time was no exception. Besides that, I tried to minimize any possible mistakes in the parts or confusions with indications and tempi, and added a few expression marks in order to help and ease the performance. 

ACO: What was the most valuable experience, advice, or lesson you gained from the Underwood New Music Readings?
TPS: I couldn't dare to mention only one thing because everything turned out to be a very positive experience where I learned a lot. If anything, perhaps the fact that even thought the reading went very well, and that mentors and musicians liked the piece, it's always possible to find things to improve. That's not new, but it's really something to keep in mind in every work in order to be demanding and critical with it.

Learn more about Tomàs at www.tomaspeire.com


Friday, June 22, 2018

Underwood New Music Readings - Composer Spotlight: Liliya Ugay

Composer and pianist Liliya Ugay's music has been described as “assertive and steely” and “lovely, subtle writing” by the Wall Street Journal. Liliya received the 2016 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a 2017 Horatio Parker Memorial prize from the Yale School of Music. She has collaborated with many top orchestras, including the Nashville Symphony, Albany Symphony, and New England Philharmonic.

During the 2017-2018 season Liliya will be working on a new opera as a Resident Composer at the American Lyric Theater. Originally from Uzbekistan, Liliya is currently a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate at the Yale School of Music studying with Aaron Kernis and David Lang.

Liliya’s piece Rhapsody in Color was selected for the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings where it will be workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Liliya spoke to us about the readings and her piece.

Rehearsals, workshops, and final readings are open to the public on June 21 and 22 at NYU's Frederick Loewe Theatre (35 W 4th St). RSVP here

Composer Liliya Ugay

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Underwood New Music Readings?

Liliya Ugay: Honestly, I was very surprised. I applied to Underwood before with the piece that I would consider more impressive and competitive in terms of its subject and complexity, and it was not selected. In contrast, Rhapsody in Color is a light unpretentious piece – very different from a lot of orchestra music – and writing it I had lots of fun.

ACO: What is it about Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue that inspired you to write your own rhapsody? What do you especially love about these works by Liszt and Gershwin, and what aspects of them do you try to emulate in your own Rhapsody in Color?

LU: Being born and raised in Uzbekistan in a Russian-Korean family I always felt the influence of the various cultures on my music. Rhapsody in Color is my reflection on American music, and particularly on Gershwin and old jazz, which one can hear in both the harmony and rhythm of this piece. I take simple and conventional motives and, using different combinations of timbres and counterpoint, give them a more modern sound. The effect is similar to re-creating old sepia photographs into contemporary colors. On the other hand, it is written in the form of variations with a substantial fast and dance-like coda, which, certainly, can be found in multiple example of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. Hence, the title Rhapsody in Color seemed to me very appropriate for this piece. 

ACO: Your biography mentions the series of lecture-recitals you give at Yale School of Music on repressed composers from the Soviet era. Can you tell us a little bit about one of these composers, and perhaps share a piece that you particularly love or admire?

LU: This is my long-term passion, which started several years ago with the first piano lecture-recital I gave on this topic, which I took as an Independent Study project course at Yale with the generous guidance of Boris Berman. In 2017, as a highlight of my studies and for the anniversary of Russian Revolution, I co-organized the concert series Silenced Voices at Yale, featuring and performing the works of repressed and neglected Soviet composers. The series included solo, chamber, and even choral music of such composers as Mosolov, Roslavets, Ustvolskaya, Gaigerova, Weinberg, Slonimsky, Gubaidulina, and many others, and the pieces were performed by various members of Yale community (including faculty and non-music majors) and beyond. This series was very exciting and intense, and we gathered great audience. For my last recital at Yale I took the theme of Russian/Soviet composers-emigrants, and there I also performed my own music. In future, I plan the series of the music by Soviet composers from Caucasus, Baltic, and Central Asian regions. 

It is hard to name a single favorite piece, but one day I would particularly love to perform Alexander Mosolov's piano concerto, which I truly admire and think fully deserves to be in a standard repertoire – just like Prokofiev's piano concertos. Music of the USSR hides inconceivable amount of gems that could truly enrich the repertoire of each instrument and genre. I, as a descendant of that culture, feel that it is my direct duty to promote these works to the audience in the United States, and to preserve the memory of the culture that was either lost or never fully exposed.

  
ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece?

LU: Rhapsody in Color received readings last summer at the Aspen Music Festival. I was not happy with how the piece turned out there, so for the Underwood readings I made a completely different orchestration. Hearing it today for the first time, I can tell I am happy with how I have done it, because now the piece has the character I intended it to have – light, joyful, fun, and excitingly cute.

ACO: What do you hope to gain from the Underwood New Music Readings?

LU: I hope to gain more skills and practical wisdom in writing for orchestra. It is very important that here we have two sessions of readings, and we get feedback from mentors as well as the musicians. And of course, I am looking forward to the final reading and the recording of my piece.

Hear Liliya's piece at the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings. Rehearsals, workshops, and final readings are open to the public on June 21 and 22 at NYU's Frederick Loewe Theatre (35 W 4th St). RSVP here

Learn more about Liliya at www.liliyaugay.com