Thursday, June 2, 2016

Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Katherine Balch

Composer Katherine Balch writes music that explores lyricism through textural soundscapes, with performances by esteemed groups such as the Albany Symphony Orchestra, the New York Youth Symphony, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Yale Camerata, among many others. She currently studies with David Lang, pursuing her Master’s at the Yale School of Music. Her piece Leaf Catalog will be read by Music Director George Manahan and the ACO on Tuesday, June 14 at 7:30pm at the 25th Annual Underwood New Music Readings at Miller Theatre, Columbia University.

Katherine was kind enough to answer a few questions about her piece and the upcoming workshops and readings.

Composer Katherine Balch

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Underwood New Music Readings?
Katherine Balch: I was very excited! I have heard wonderful things from past participants about the program and I’m grateful to get to experience it.

ACO: Your piece Leaf Catalog is an "ode to little netted veins," "emerald epidermi," "viridian curves and fern-green webs," which you describe quite poetically in your program note. What is your process for translating those ideas into music?
KB: I spend a lot of time drawing, sketching, and mapping out gestures and large-scale formal architecture before I start through-composing a piece. For Leaf Catalogue, I knew I wanted the first half to be built on simple, rhythmically charged motivic cells, and the second half to be a single, slow, continuous line. In this way, my piece loosely follows a process of zooming out onto a larger picture, where details gradually dissolve into the whole.

ACO: Leaf Catalogue was first performed in 2015 by the Yale Philharmonia and conductor Heejung Park. What changes, if any, have you made to the piece since then?
KB: I’ve adjusted a lot of tiny things, like dynamics, phrasing, and some registers in the brass writing, but the overall shape of the piece is the same.

Excerpt from Leaf Catalogue score

ACO: What do you hope to gain from the workshops, especially the feedback and guidance of mentor composers Derek Bermel, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Stephen Hartke?

KB: I’m looking forward to the feedback from these experienced composers, particularly with regards to orchestration and the orchestral rehearsal process. I hope to learn more about the orchestra and be inspired by my fellow colleagues and the mentor composers!

Find out more about Katherine at

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