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


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Underwood New Music Readings - Composer Spotlight: Carlos Bandera

Composer Carlos Bandera embraces his fascination with musical architecture and music of the past to create works that often explore these subjects. His music has been performed in the Faroe Islands, Scotland, Uzbekistan, China, and US, including Carnegie Hall. In 2016, he organized and participated in a workshop between Peabody composers and the Uzbekistan-based contemporary music ensemble, Omnibus Ensemble. Carlos earned his Bachelor of Music degree at Montclair State University and his Master of Music degree at The Peabody Institute, where he participated in masterclasses with Christopher Rouse and Georg Friedrich Haas and studied privately with Kevin Puts.

Carlos’ piece Lux in Tenebris was selected for the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings where it will be workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Carlos spoke to us about the readings and his 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 Carlos Bandera

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

Carlos Bandera: I’m very sentimental about my piece Lux in Tenebris. It was the last piece that I finished as a master’s student at Peabody and is sort of the culmination of my studies and musical interests during that time. Finding out that I had been selected for such an amazing opportunity was incredibly exciting, particularly because it meant that this piece would be getting some more life.

ACO: You biography describes you as a composer fascinated by the music of the past, often using musical quotations in your works. In your program note, you write that the first section of your piece Lux in Tenebris quotes the main theme of the first movement of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony. Can you talk about how you go about dismantling and developing this theme, vs. how Bruckner goes about it in his Eighth Symphony?

CB: I use quotation in a lot of my recent works, though in a variety of different ways. In some pieces, I like to mask the use of a quotation, but that is definitely not the case in Lux in Tenebris. I use two quotations from the first movement of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, and when these quotations appear, they come to the forefront and pierce through the surrounding textures.

The quotations are presented similarly in Lux in Tenebris as to how they appear in the Eighth Symphony, at least in its orchestration. The context in which it appears, however, is quite different. The first quotation that I use is the main theme from the first movement. In the Eighth Symphony, the main theme is essentially the first thing you hear, but in Lux in Tenebris, the Bruckner theme appears after about two minutes of establishing a dense micropolyphonic texture. It may not always be audible, but tiny fragments of the theme are present throughout a great deal of my piece.

The second quotation is the last time the main theme is played in its entirety at the end of the first movement, which Bruckner described as “how it is when one is on his deathbed, and opposite hangs a clock, which, while his life comes to an end, beats on ever steadily: tick, tock, tick, tock.” Immediately after this quote is presented, the textures begin to outline C-major, as if the textures, which had persisted for much of the work, have become infused with Brucknerian light. The use of C-major is almost a quote in itself, as it represents the light in the darkness-to-light narrative of the entire symphony. I don’t want to say that in Lux in Tenebris, the textures represent darkness, and Bruckner represents light, because the quotes that are taken from the Eighth Symphony are in fact used to represent both light and death. I like to think of it as if the textures function as a sort of fabric through which elements that make up the darkness-to-light narrative of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony are occasionally interwoven.

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

CB: I’ve made some minor changes to the orchestration. The piece features a great deal of independence of parts, particularly in the strings, so I tailored this version of the piece specifically for the string section of the ACO. I must admit, I think I like this version better than the original version!

ACO: In 2016, you organized and participated in a workshop between Peabody composers and the Uzbekistan-based contemporary music ensemble, Omnibus Ensemble. Can you talk about what the Peabody composers and Omnibus Ensemble were able to learn from each other?

CB: Every composer that participated in the workshop was able to write for any combination of the instruments in Omnibus, so I think every composer learned something different. Omnibus is a remarkable ensemble that is comprised of both western instruments and traditional instruments of Uzbekistan, such as a Nay, Tanbur, and Chang. I think for me personally, this workshop gave me an opportunity to explore timbre in a new way by allowing me to experiment with blending these different kinds of instruments.

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

CB: I don’t know if there’s specifically something I hope to gain, but I’m really looking forward to hearing my piece, particularly with some of the changes I’ve made. I’m also incredibly excited to learn from the mentor composers and all the presentations, in addition to hearing the works by the other participating composers.

Hear Carlos'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 Carlos at www.carlosbandera.com
Follow him on Facebook and Soundcloud


Friday, June 15, 2018

Underwood New Music Readings - Composer Spotlight: Scott Lee

Composer Scott Lee earned his PhD in composition at Duke University, Master of Music degree at the Peabody institute, and Bachelor of Music degree at the Blair School of Music. His bio describes his music as "infused with the visceral sounds of popular music" and Scott has worked with many top orchestras and chamber groups: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, and Portland Symphony Orchestra; Jack Quartet, yMusic, and the Da Capo Chamber Players; and multi-platinum pop artist Ben Folds.

Notable honors include a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, and winner of the Symphony In C Young Composer’s Composition. Lee has also received fellowships to attend the Tanglewood and Aspen Music Festivals.

Scott’s piece Anadyr was selected for the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings where it will be workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Scott spoke to us about the readings and his 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 Scott Lee

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

Scott Lee: I was absolutely thrilled to hear my piece had been selected. I've been a fan of the ACO for a long time, admiring all of the organization's amazing programs and activities from the sidelines. Now that I get to be a part of the action I couldn't be more excited. 

ACO: Your selected piece Anadyr is named after the Soviet Union's secret 1962 operation, "Operation Anadyr," in which Soviets deployed missiles and supporting forces to Cuba, prompting the Cuban missile crisis. You write that the piece "aims to evoke the deception and subterfuge that characterized this period." Why did you choose this incident as the basis for your piece? Why did you feel it was an important moment in history to evoke?

SL: There's an obvious connection between the subject matter of the piece and current world events, but I didn't intend to write a political piece. Instead, when writing music I most often begin with the musical materials themselves, letting them dictate the initial stages of the creative process. Once I start to feel a strong sense of character coming from the music, I then usually begin to find an appropriate subject matter to help guide the material in a specific direction. That's exactly what happened with Anadyr. After figuring out some of the initial material, I realized that the music had, despite my best intentions, turned into something resembling the opening credit music of a spy movie. After some trepidation, I decided to fully embrace this aesthetic, and dove headfirst into the world of spies. 

I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the Cuban Missile Crisis has left a relatively strong historical presence. To me the Cold War embodies the romanticized idea of spycraft, so I thought it would make the perfect subject matter for the piece. As I was researching, I came across "Operation Anadyr," which described the most preposterously secretive mission. For example, all of the supplies to be taken to Cuba from Russia were loaded onto boats and submarines in the dead of night, disguised as farm equipment. The captains were given binders full of possible destinations, and weren't told which was the true one until they were already underway. Russian intelligence agencies gave false information about the mission to Americans, but fed true information to Cuban émigrés living in Miami, knowing the CIA would discount the credibility of that intelligence. The name of the mission itself, Anadyr, (which in and of itself was undeniably part of the reason for my choosing it) is the name of a remote town in Northeastern Russia near Alaska, and was chosen in order to suggest to eavesdroppers that the mission was taking place far from the Caribbean. 

While I didn't intend to write a political piece, it is impossible to deny the subject matter's resonances with our current international political climate. Having grown up in the post-Cold War era, my encounters with Russia were mostly through its role as a common and easy antagonist in films, novels, and video games. While for a time it has been replaced by other stock “bad guys,” Russia seems to be bending over backwards to reprise its role as nemesis of the West, perhaps sooner than historical cycles usually predict. Russia’s recent return to prominence in our cultural consciousness has made it a compelling subject to tackle in my piece.

ACO: There is definitely a spy movie feel to your piece. Were you inspired by or referencing any film scores when you were writing Anadyr, such as John Barry's James Bond film scores, or any other film composers?

SL: It would be more accurate to say that I stumbled into a spy movie aesthetic rather than purposefully took inspiration from any specific spy movie score. But the scores from the many James Bond, Mission Impossible, and Jason Bourne films I've digested over the years undoubtedly influenced the aesthetic of this piece. Another score that may have offered a more immediate, but also nonspecific, influence would be Darcy James Argue's Real Enemies, which I've listened to a great number of times since the recording was released. I intended the music to be a bit stranger than most spy film music, using pointillistic orchestration and intricate polyrhythms. I also wanted sections of the piece to have a certain swagger, which comes from the heavy groove that appears early on in the music.

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

SL: I have made a number of changes since the piece was initially read by the Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra last summer. I had a really helpful phone call with Derek Bermel, the ACO's Artistic Director, which resulted in a number of edits. Most of these suggestions were pretty technical, like adding a double bar line at a specific moment to signify the start of a new section. Others were more about the more intangible aspects of notating music, like adding expressive indicators such as "sempre lyrico" to tell the strings to play out in certain sections. I also made some edits to the drum set part. Writing for drum set and orchestra is always a challenge (one that I seem to put myself through quite often), both because of the acoustic issues and because drum set parts often have to live in a liminal world somewhere between being precisely notated and being mostly improvised. I tend to write out the exact pattern I want at the beginning of a section, but then allow the player to make it their own as it continues. This often requires a number of adjustments after the first performance, and almost always benefits from close collaboration with the drum set player, which is a lot of fun.

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

SL: First and foremost, I hope to have a productive and fun experience rehearsing my music with a fantastic orchestra and conductor. It's always an incredible experience to hear my music in the hands of top-notch performers. I'm also looking forward to being inspired by the exciting new works of my peers, as I'm sure all of our pieces will explore different aesthetic directions. I can't wait to meet and work with the ACO mentors, all of whom are leading composers that I have admired for a long time. Finally, I think I'll get a ton of useful career advice and information from the many seminars and discussions that are planned.

Hear Scott'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 Scott at www.scottleemusic.net
Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Soundcloud


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Underwood New Music Readings - Composer Spotlight: Lily Chen

Lily Chen, born in Taiwan, is a composer of both acoustic and electronic music interested in exploring literary, emotional, and social aspects of the contemporary condition. Lily's numerous awards include the George Ladd Prix de Paris, 1st Prize of Asian Composers League Young Composers Award, and winner of !BAMM! Student Composers Competition. Her music has been performed in the US and Asia, by esteemed ensembles such as St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Signal, Mivos Quartet, Ensemble Mise-en, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, and many others. Lily studied at Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan and received her Ph.D. in music composition from the University of California at Berkeley.

Lily’s piece A Leaf Falls After was selected for the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings where it will be workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Lily 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 Lily Chen

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

Lily Chen: I was very excited when I found out I'd been selected for the readings, since I’ve heard it’s an amazing program where composers work with professional orchestra performers and mentor composers.

ACO: Having lived on three continents - Asia, North America, and Europe - during your career, can you talk about what influences that different locations have had on your compositional style? Or has your compositional style developed independently from where you happen to live?

LC: My compositional style has developed more by my listening and studying experiences than my living experiences.

It’s hard to describe what has influenced my compositional style, but my compositional style might be traced back to some musical styles of these three continents through my listening experiences. Born and raised in Asia, I had access to some Asian traditional music while studying Western music; the heterophony, linear gestures, and subtle timbral changes have somehow inspired me. But at the same time, I’ve listened abundantly to European and American contemporary music, which has aroused my interest in the world of timbre.

My experiences living on three different continents exercise more influence on my compositional attitude than my style. I’ve broadened my listening experiences as well as become more open-minded and bolder in exploring sonic potentials and the possibilities of music, which has helped develop my compositional style a lot.

ACO: You write that your piece A Leaf Falls After is inspired by both the beautiful and frightening experiences you had when you lived in Paris and traveled around Europe for the first time. Do you find it easier to write music inspired by beautiful moments or frightening ones? Or do both processes come naturally?

LC: To me, both processes come kind of naturally, or rather, emotionally. However, the harder (and more important) process when composing this piece is how to orchestrate or fuse the musical gestures/materials transformed from the beautiful and frightening images, and how to create musical tension or strike balance between “beautiful” sounds and “frightening” noises.

Also, I would like to invite the audience to join my sonic world through the metaphors transformed into music. Though some noises I use in my piece are inspired by some frightening moments, still these so-called “frightening” noises also sound very “beautiful” to me. Maybe to some people they are not so accessible or familiar, but to me, beautiful sounds and frightening noises exist naturally and necessarily in my music, just as beautiful and frightening memories co-exist in one’s life. I hope these experiences not only bring me inspiration for composing, but also provide my audience with some images in connection to music so that it’ll be easier for them to get into my piece.

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

LC: I have revised the piece quite a bit, simplifying some textures to make the music more concise and more effective for the readings. Also, after discussing with Dr. Derek Bermel, I added more expressive indications in the score to suggest the scenarios, hoping this could help introduce the performers to my music world more easily and quickly.

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

LC: I wanted to thank the UNMR program for providing us composers with such strong support and complete working process: arranging phone discussions with the director to help refine our pieces, giving us comments from the publishing consultant to help us make professional scores/parts, and building up a perfect platform to promote this event and the composer participants. I’ve learned a lot through the working process. I am looking forward to gaining precious experiences of working with the professional orchestra, learning from them about how to make the performance effective, and enjoying the other composers’ great music!

Hear Lily'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 Lily at www.chenlily.com
Follow her on Facebook and Soundcloud