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


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Underwood New Music Readings - Composer Spotlight: Ryan Lindveit

Composer Ryan Lindveit’s works have been performed across the United States and around the world, by ensembles including Alarm Will Sound, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, Orkest de Ereprijs, the USC Thornton Symphony, and many others. His music has received recognition from BMI, ASCAP, SCI, the American Modern Ensemble, the National Band Association, Tribeca New Music, and the Texas Music Educators Association.

Ryan grew up in Texas and is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where he was selected as Salutatorian for the class of 2016 and named the Thornton School of Music’s Outstanding Graduate. He is currently a master’s student at the Yale School of Music. His past teachers include Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Theofanidis, Andrew Norman, Ted Hearne, Frank Ticheli, and Donald Crockett.

Ryan’s piece Like an Altar with 9,000 Robot Attendants was selected for the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings where it will be workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Ryan 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 Ryan Lindveit. Photo by Marije van den Berg
American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Underwood New Music Readings?

Ryan Lindveit: I was elated! The Underwood New Music Readings have almost become a rite-of-passage for aspiring orchestral composers in the United States, so I am very happy to be a participant this year. Composing orchestral music is mostly lonely and laborious, and it is gratifying to receive the validation of having my piece selected for performance. 

ACO: Can you talk about what it's like to hear a new orchestral piece read for the first time as a composer? Can you talk about any moments in your selected piece Like an Altar with 9,000 Robot Attendants that stood out when it was read for the first time by the USC Thornton Symphony?

RL: It’s so exciting! Hearing my orchestral music performed is one of my favorite things ever. I become totally engrossed. When my piece was performed by the USC Thornton Symphony, I remember being so impressed by the energy and vitality of my colleagues in the orchestra, and I look forward to hearing a second performance by the professional musicians in ACO. 

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

RL: First of all, I am packing because I will be flying to New York from Aspen, Colorado, where I am spending most of the summer as a composition festival at the Aspen Music Festival and School. Secondly, I am scoping out some new restaurants to try in the city. New York has *such* great food, and I feel like even a lifetime of exploring New York restaurants wouldn’t exhaust its food scene.  In terms of changes to my piece, after I found out I was selected for the ACO Readings, I made a few revisions to tighten the structural pacing and polish some particular orchestrational moments, but it was nothing too drastic. 

ACO: What are you most looking forward to about the Underwood New Music Readings? What do you hope to gain from the experience?

RL: First of all, I am excited that this will be my first performance in New York. I love any chance I have to visit the city, which thankfully I can do fairly often since I live in Connecticut. I am also very much looking forward to working with the performers in the American Composers Orchestra and Maestro George Manahan. Finally, I am stoked to have the chance to learn from the fantastic roster of composer mentors.

Hear Ryan'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 Ryan at www.ryanlindveit.com
Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud

Friday, April 20, 2018

EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Meng Wang

Meng Wang (b. 1989) is a Chinese composer currently based in New York City. Meng’s music has been performed throughout North America, China, and Europe, by esteemed ensembles such as The Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Thin Edge New Music Collective, LONGLEASH trio, MSM Composer’s Orchestra (George Manahan, conductor) and China Youth Symphony Orchestra. Her piece Beloved by Artemis won the 2012 Chinese National Chamber Music Composition Competition and was selected for the composition showcase by the Xi’an Conservatory of Music in China. Meng has been a fellow at Aspen Music Festival and School and was named The Deolus W. Husband Scholarship for Composition in 2015-2017. Upcoming projects include a chamber opera, Simulacrum, presented by Path New Music Theatre, which will be premiered in April 2018. Meng is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Dr. Reiko Fueting. She also studied with Andreia Pinto Correia and Kaija Saariaho.

Meng Wang was selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings for her piece Blooming in the Long Dark Winter’s Night, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Courtney Lewis in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Meng spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Meng Wang

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that your piece had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Meng Wang: When I first saw my name on the EarShot program this year, I was so excited! Especially when I realized that this would be such a fantastic chance to have my music performed by the incredible Jacksonville Symphony. I started to feel that this trip to Florida would be mean a lot to me.

ACO: Your piece Blooming in the Long Dark Winter’s Night is based on the French symbolist poem "Correspondences" by Charles Pierre Baudelaire. Why did you decide to base your piece on this poem? Is the poem well-suited to your compositional style?

MW: "Correspondences" is a sonnet divided into two quatrain and two tercets. The title of the poem points out what the poem is about, which is to blend all the perceptions. When I was working on this piece, I used the ideas of "blending" and "transforming one thing from another" to organize my orchestration of this piece. We can hear the frequency transferring from different groups in the opening section, and all the sounds blending into a sound field in the slow part. I chose metallic percussion instruments hitting throughout the whole piece to imitate the bell in the ancient temple, which then becomes the most important symbol of this piece.

ACO: What aspects of your piece have you improved or fine-tuned during the readings?

MW: After the two-day intensive rehearsal of my piece with Music Director Courtney Lewis and workshop with three mentors Marcos Balter, Steven Mackey, and Courtney Bryan, my piece has been adjusted in many ways and become more and more mature. For me, this is the most valuable experience during the readings. Now I'm very looking forward to hearing the latest version performing by Jacksonville Symphony on April 20th.

Learn more about Meng Wang at www.mengwangmusic.com
Follow Meng on Facebook and Instagram

The EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings culminate in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Check out Meng's contemporary opera group, Path New Music Theatre, which has an upcoming performance of Meng's chamber opera Simulacrum on June 3-10 in NYC.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Ursula Kwong-Brown

Ursula Kwong-Brown (b. 1987) is a composer and media artist from New York City. Described as “atmospheric and accomplished” by The New York Times, her work has been performed in diverse venues including Carnegie Hall, Le Poisson Rouge, Miller Theatre and the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center in New York, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Awards include a 2017- 2019 fellowship with the Berkeley Symphony, the 2016 George Ladd Prix de Paris Prize, the 2015 Composers, Inc. BAMM Prize, and the 2014 Bowdoin Festival Prize, as well as honors from ASCAP, the New York Composers’ Circle and the Chicago Ensemble. Plans for 2018 include new works for both the Berkeley Symphony and the UC Berkeley Symphony. Currently, Ursula is finishing a Ph.D. in New Media & Music at UC Berkeley with support from a Mellon-Berkeley fellowship.

Ursula was selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings for her piece Night and Day, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Courtney Lewis in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Ursula spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Ursula Kwong-Brown

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that your piece had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Ursula Kwong-Brown: I was super excited to find out that my piece Night and Day had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings. I’ve never heard this work performed before - not even a rehearsal - so I am very much looking forward to hearing it for the first time. Also, I’m looking forward to working with my mentor composer, Steve Mackey, and getting feedback from the orchestral musicians. I just met my fellow composers in the hotel restaurant here in Jacksonville, and I am excited to get to know them and to hear their works, too. 

ACO: Your experience includes some fantastic projects that are far removed from the concert hall, including your sound-art installation Chromatic Counterpoint and research on production and perception of musical intervals in African clawed frogs for Columbia University. Can you talk about why these experiences have been important for you as a composer? Do you think they affect your approach when it comes to writing a conventional orchestral work?

UKB: It’s funny because I rarely think about the influence of my background in science on my compositions, but I think there is a connection between the textures and timbres in the “Night” section of my piece and the many hours that I spent recording and analyzing the calls of crickets and frogs in the nighttime.

ACO: Your piece Night and Day is split into two sections, night in the first half, day in the second. From your program note it seems as if these two sections will contrast quite a bit. What, if any, are the musical elements that tie them together? Is the piece trying to show similarities between night and day, as well as differences?

UKB: Excellent question. To be honest, I really think of this piece as having two separate parts. The one conscious connection that I made was in the orchestration: both start with pizzicato in the strings, but use the pizzicato in very different ways. 

ACO: What aspects of your piece do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?​

UKB: It’s hard to say without hearing the piece, but I am open to any and all possible improvements! From the more technical aspects of orchestration to the more musical questions of motivic development.

The EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings culminate in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Learn more about Ursula at www.ursulakwongbrown.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Nicholas Bentz

Nicholas Bentz (b. 1994) is a composer and violinist whose music often takes its inspiration from pieces of literature and poetry, film, and visual art. He has received several esteemed commissions and performances of his music, was Composer-in-Residence for Symphony Number One’s 2016-17 season, and was a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards in 2014. Nicholas is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in violin at Peabody Institute and studying composition privately with composer Felipe Lara.

Nicholas was selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings for his piece E.W. Korngold Goes to Nikkatsu, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Courtney Lewis in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Nicholas spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer and violinist Nicholas Bentz

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that your piece had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Nicholas Bentz: When I first found out, I was floored! The orchestral stage is one of the largest for a composer, and it's a steep learning curve that we have to figure out extremely quickly. ACO provides such an amazing program in that you get to learn from your fellow composers as well as mentor composers that have already mastered the game, so to say. I'm really excited to dig into my piece and to see what things I can tinker around to better approach the sound I want to hear. As great as MIDI has become, it doesn't compare to a full orchestra!

ACO: You are both a composer and a performer, with extensive experience studying and playing the violin. How does the performing aspect of your career affect the way you write music? Do you compose on the violin?

NB: I think that being a performer can only positively influence you as a composer. Being an active performer allows you to go through and really get to know so many pieces on a different level. I've always treated orchestra rehearsals like orchestration lessons, seeing what works in the orchestra and what doesn't - seeing what kinds of gestures require additional rehearsal time, and which ones can be executed correctly the first time. Being a performer also forces me to think about the physicality and psychology of the players. I've played through enough pieces where I feel like my part is either extraneous or overbearing, and it's hard to connect to a piece in which you feel that way. I actually don't compose on the violin oddly enough, even though it's easily the instrument I'm the most comfortable on. I oftentimes find myself controlled by the idiomatic nature of the instrument if I ever do try.

ACO: Your program note says that your piece E.W. Korngold Goes to Nikkatsu is based on the idea of using Korngold's musical style to score a Nikkatsu film. Can you talk about the result of combining these two artists' styles into one piece? Did it end up different than you expected when you first had the idea?

NB: When I first set out with the idea of a piece based on the combination of Korngold and Suzuki, I was more than a little apprehensive. I didn't know if there was much overlap between the two artists that I could utilize for myself, but as I watched more and more Suzuki, and got more accustomed to his frenetic and high-octane style, the more comfortable the idea became. The piece definitely came out much different than I planned (which is never a bad thing)!

ACO: What aspects of your piece do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?​

NB: I definitely have a few gestures and textures that I want to see if I got right, and how to make them more like what I hear. It's also always good to look towards possible balance issues and to see how those work out, and how I can best improve those situations.

The EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings culminate in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Learn more about Nicholas at www.nicholasbentz.net
Follow him on Soundcloud and Facebook

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dreamscapes: Q&A with Clarice Assad

Clarice Assad is a Brazilian-American Grammy-nominated composer, pianist, vocalist, bandleader and educator. She has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Orquestra Sinfônica de São Paulo, Albany Symphony, BRAVO! Vail Music Festival, and her works have been recorded by Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Eugenia Zuckerman, Chanticleer, and Liang Wang. Assad is a founding member of the Chicago-based music and poetry publishing company Virtual Artists Collective and VOXPloration, an award-winning research based outreach program and workshop for children and adolescents on spontaneous music creation, composition, and improvisation.

Clarice's piece Dreamscapes for violin and chamber orchestra is based loosely on Assad’s research on the subject of rapid eye movement (REM) and lucid dreaming. The piece follows a storyline based on notes Assad made about her own dreams, and depicts her struggle to have a pleasant dreaming experience against the strong subconscious draw of negativity.

ACO gives the New York premiere of Dreamscapes with violinist Elena Urioste on Friday, April 6, 2018, 7:30PM at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. Click here for concert details and tickets.


Clarice Assad. PC: Amara Photo.
"One of Brazil's brightest young composers" – Gramophone

American Composers Orchestra: In addition to composing, you are an accomplished singer/pianist and a dedicated educator as co-founder of VOXploration. Can you compare the concert experience as a composer (sitting in the audience listing to a performance of your piece) vs. a performer (on stage and performing your own music)? Do you find one more nerve-wracking than the other?

Clarice Assad: I think being exposed is the nerve-wracking part in either scenario, but it might be more so when I am sitting from an audience. When I perform, I am so preoccupied with the music that I am playing, that I tend to forget about everything else to focus mostly on doing justice to that piece (which most of the time, is music written by other composers…). When my own music being performed by other musicians, I will think about a million things per second. Ultimately though, it’s just an amazing moment to be inside of, having my music performed by people who took the time to learn it and are sharing it with others. The butterflies in the stomach turn out to be a good thing.

ACO: The human voice is the centerpiece of many of your works and performances, including your well-known singing scat concerto which you have performed all over the world. Can you talk about the influence the human voice has, if any, in your instrumental music? The violin is an inherently lyrical instrument -- did you write the solo violin part in Dreamscapes almost as if it was a singing part?

CA: Maybe I unconsciously write for other instruments thinking about the voice, because it is such an important part of my musical life! Dreamscapes is not really singable, though. It has lyrical moments, but I was more concerned about the different emotions and change of scenarios that take place, and the interplay between the orchestra and the soloist.

ACO: As a Brazilian-American who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and English, can you talk about how your music has been influenced, affected, or guided by these languages?

CA: When I think of languages I think of cultures, so yes, I think somehow speaking other languages may influence the way in which we organize thoughts. I traveled frequently to France as a child and this experience deeply influenced me in every area of my life. Traveling at a young age also meant that I came in contact with people from other nationalities, so this may have given me a sense of familiarity with cultures that were not my own, and carte blanche to write in styles and genres that might not have come from my place of origin. I still feel a sense of belonging to more than one place at once.

ACO: Your Dreamscapes violin concerto is inspired by your research on the subject of rapid eye movement (REM) and lucid dreaming, and follows a storyline based on notes you made about her own dreams. Did the process of composing this piece change the way you think about dreams? Did it change anything about your actual dreams?

CA: I have an overactive mind and have had a handful of anxiety related problems affecting sleep. I've experienced many events of sleep paralysis which were petrifying until I knew how to handle them, so I began reading a lot about the brain and sleep. Writing this piece was the way I found to exteriorize what happened in my own mind, obviously because vivid dreams were a constant part of my life. I am in a better place now, having found ways to cope with these symptoms, and the silver lining was to turn vivid dreams into a piece of music. 

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the upcoming performance?

CA: Everything. The performance, hearing the orchestra, the soloist,  the hall, and the experience of re-visiting a work that is now completing 10 years of existence!

ACO gives the New York premiere of Dreamscapes with violinist Elena Urioste on Friday, April 6, 2018, 7:30PM at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. Click here for concert details and tickets.

Learn more about Clarice at www.clariceassad.com
Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, InstagramYouTube, and Soundcloud


Thursday, March 1, 2018

EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Felipe Nieto

Composer Felipe Nieto (b. 1988), originally from Bogota (Colombia) has received first prize at the annual PUBLIQuartet Composition Competition, first prize at the Exit 128 Ensemble Composition Competition, Honorable Mentions at the Buffalo Chamber Players Call-for-Scores and the Boston Guitar Festival Composition Competition, and is a two-time recipient of the Smadbeck Prize for Music Composition at Ithaca College.

Recent engagements include his assignment as Assistant Artistic Director of Las Americas en Concierto (New York) and collaborations with Brower Trio (Spain), Vox n Plux (New York), and the Bogota Chamber Orchestra (Colombia). Felipe holds a Bachelor of Music in Composition from Oklahoma City University where he studied with Edward Knight and a Master of Music in Composition from Ithaca College where he studied with Jorge Grossmann and Dana Wilson.

Felipe was selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings for his piece Artesania Sonora, which will be workshopped and conducted by Assistant Conductor Christopher James Lees in a final read-through on Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Felipe spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Felipe Nieto. Photo by Hugo Mantellato

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that Artesania Sonora had been selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Felipe Nieto: I was thrilled!! I have never work with a professional orchestra. Insight into how things work at that level is very valuable.

I look forward to really digging into the score and fix it as much as possible with the aid of everyone's input. There are so many sides... the orchestra, the conductor, the mentors etc. I am really looking forward to compile everything they have to say.

ACO: Your bio mentions political commentary as one of the themes you aim to address with your music. Does Artesania Sonora make any kind of political statement, either directly or indirectly?

FN: I have written works that make some commentary regarding politics. I think most prominently my string quartet, which is a sort of offertorium to a man that influenced me a lot ideologically but that was assassinated as a consequence of his outspokenness. His name is Jaime Garzon, a political satirist from my native Colombia with a talent of proportions that I have not seen since his death. Jaime was a true activist. He used humor to change and challenge things. In my opinion, he was very very funny but he wasn't joking. I dedicated my quartet to him.

That being said, my "artisanal" pieces are not to be interpreted politically. At least not in essence considering that it is hard for me to imagine something being completely "apolitical" but, Artesania Sonora is a work that is purely focused and inspired by the idea of creating a sonic entity that is the result of actual manual work. I work a lot on the paper designing the different structures that will appear in the piece. Shape and gesture are very important as well as rhythm.

ACO: You write that Artesania Sonora is inspired in part by gold artisanal work from the indigenous cultures of South America, particularly the Colombian territory where you come from, where "form and content are earned and not exposed from the outset." Can you talk about the ways in which this idea is presented in your piece? Are there any other influences from Colombia or South America in the piece?

FN: Lately I have been very interested in composing pieces that borrow the approach that indigenous people's from Colombia used to carve their gold figures. Their artisanal craft is so remarkable, expressive and mystical all at the same time. I take a look at what they do and try to apply this to the music and, most importantly, to the score. The result, is music that has the qualities of the figures: imperfect symmetries, repeated patterns, continuity (since these figures are not assembled but are made in one piece), angular shapes and so on...

In regards to the idea of "form and content being earned", this came about because of the unavoidable issue of music happening over time. The artisanal figure is, for us, a finished product; but in music I had to come up with a way to get there. So, I decided that the orchestra was going to carve the piece in real time in front of the audience. In this piece the music starts with a very open texture that we slowly start to break into different shapes and forms until the work achieves a complex layered structure.

ACO: What aspects of Artesania Sonora do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?

FN: I think the readings will help solve many of the technical difficulties of my proposal and will also help reveal wether or not I am close to achieve my ideal. I am really looking forward to hear the orchestra execute the work and see if it is translating well.

The EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Learn more about Felipe at www.facebook.com/FelipeNScomposer


EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Niloufar Iravani

Composer Niloufar Iravani studied piano and composition at the University of Tehran, Iran – receiving several national honors including the second rank in the field of Musical Arts at the National Master Degree Examination – before starting the PhD in Music Composition at Louisiana State University, under the supervision of Prof. Dinos Contantinides. She is now the graduate teaching assistant and the coordinator of the Composers Forum at LSU. Her music has been performed in Iran, Greece, and the USA by great ensembles and soloists including Athanasios Zervas, Maria Asteriadou, Kostas Tiliakos, Angela Draghicescu, and Amalia Sagona. The Summer 2017 concert series at Baton Rouge libraries, conducted by Prof. Constantinides, featured her work, Shadows in Chase, for string quartet. Recent highlights include the performance of DIR for solo violin at LMTA 65th Annual Convention at the University of New Orleans and the performance of Seven for fixed media for seven channels at the University of Tennessee Contemporary Music Festival.

Niloufar was selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings for her piece Fantasy, which will be workshopped and conducted by Assistant Conductor Christopher James Lees in a final read-through on Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Niloufar spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Niloufar Iravani. Photo by Afarinesh Studio

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that Fantasy had been selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Niloufar Iravani: I felt very surprised when I found out that my work has been selected for EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings. It is my first orchestral piece that I composed in 2013 as part of my Master’s thesis. The piece has never read or performed, so this is going to be a great opportunity for me to listen to it, feel it, and learn from it! I am very looking forward to the program to experience the reading of my piece by a professional orchestra, work with the mentor composers and the conductor, and learn from the community.

ACO: Your program note for Fantasy says that the piece aims to demonstrate your "innovative and personal approach to the concept of fantasy as a musical genre." Can you elaborate on this? What is your definition of fantasy as a musical genre? What is your approach to composing music in this genre?

NI: From the imaginative and improvisational works of Italian lute performers in the sixteenth century to freely composed pieces of the twentieth century, fantasy has had a long interesting story in the history of Western music. Some believe that the ideal fantasy should be very free; any obligation leads to shutting down the innovation! In my piece, I tried to be very free in presenting the thematic materials through meaningful patterns, repetitions, and formal structures as well as the dynamic use of rhythm, register, and texture.

ACO: What aspects of Fantasy do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?

NI: I would like to find out how my thoughts and ideas sound by a real orchestra. I hope to see the performers and the conductor happy, excited, and interested in the piece. I’ll surely find and learn the ways to improve it and make it as comfortable and realistic as possible for everyone. This would undoubtedly include specific attention to articulation, techniques, and dynamics.

The EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Learn more about Niloufar at www.niloufariravani.com
Follow her on Facebook, YouTube, and SoundCloud


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings: Composer Spotlight - Nathan Kelly

Composer Nathan Kelly's music reflects his eclectic mix of musical experiences, from playing gospel piano in East Texas churches, to Broadway in pit orchestras in New York City, to bands on cruise ships around the world, to working in Hollywood with music producers and film composers. He has orchestrated for artists such as Dionne Warwick, Rod Stewart, Jackie Evancho, Andrea Bocelli, Jennifer Lopez; Broadway shows (Gypsy, Curtains, The Tony Awards); TV’s Macy's 4th of July Fireworks on NBC, Audra McDonald on PBS and more; and was recently a Visiting Artist at The American Academy in Rome.

Nathan was selected for the EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings for his piece Redwood, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Andrew Constantine in a final read-through on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. Details here.

Nathan spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Nathan Kelly

American Composers Orchestra: In addition to composing contemporary classical works, your career includes orchestrations for many major artists, Broadway, and TV productions. Can you talk about how your composing process differs when composing in these two very different settings?

Nathan Kelly: ​Orchestrating for other people is a lot of guessing what the composer's intentions are - if they really mean these pitches, these durations, these instruments, this key or is anything you're given just an approximation of an effect or are you supposed to enhance it, to re-write it and to what degree should you add or subtract.  It's a big guess and you do better, the more you work with the composer, as opposed to when writing my own things, you I don't have to guess.  

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings?

NK: ​I'm looking forward to hearing it and seeing how it comes to life and what things I did really work well and what things take more work or could be better.
 ​
ACO: What aspects of Redwood do you hope to improve or fine tune?​

​I anticipate possibly rewriting one section that is aleotoric notation with a deliberately thick orchestration (done so, because it's easier to subtract instruments than write them in on the stand).  There are a few spots with some cues written in that say "Cue: Play if asked" and if time allows, I might want to hear some passages on other instruments. 

The EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:30pm. Details here.

Learn more about Nathan at www.nathankelly.com


Monday, February 5, 2018

EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings: Composer Spotlight - Sohwa Lee

Korean-born composer and theorist Sohwa Lee (b. 1987) received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in composition at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul. She currently studies music composition and theory at Mannes School of Music in New York City.

Sohwa was selected for the EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings for her piece Palindrome, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Andrew Constantine in a final read-through on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. Details here.

Sohwa spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Sohwa Lee

American Composers Orchestra: Your biography says that you strongly embrace a sense of humor in your approach to music. Can you talk about the ways that this manifests itself? What specific musical elements might the audience recognize as humorous? Is humor a feature of your selected piece Palindrome?

Sohwa Lee: Shortly after moving to New York, I had a big realization about myself. I used to work alone and I think I made myself pretty isolated. It was bringing a sense of inflexibility to my music, almost like a textbook. Now, I have come to realize the importance of interacting and being inspired by other people and with that, how humor is always a good way to break the ice. Music is one of the languages that I can speak, so as a composer, I have found that humor is an important tool in that language as well. I want people to feel happy and to have fun when they listen to my music. In the middle of Palindrome, there is a moment to me evokes the image of toy soldiers, almost like video game music. Overall, it is a serious piece of music – a palindrome is a complex form to write a piece based on – but I wanted to include some fun and relaxed moments.

ACO: You have created a new arrangement of Palindrome for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra EarShot Readings from the original version premiered by the Mannes School of Music Orchestra. Can you talk about some of the orchestration decisions you had to make? Is there anything that you are particularly excited (or nervous) to hear when FW Phil performs this version for the first time?

SL: The new arrangement was created just for a practical reason: FW Phil has no piano (which is common) so I had to change that part of the piece. Other than that it's not very different than the version Mannes Orchestra premiered. I’m sure that FW Phil will perform it wonderfully.

ACO: Can you talk about the Gamelan music and Asian themes you use in Palindrome?

SL: I used these elements to make a contrast with the first section. I get a lot of inspiration from music from the early 1900s, when a lot of composers were being influenced by music from Asia.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What aspects of Palindrome do you hope to improve or fine tune?

I look forward to seeing the other composers in the workshops. Meeting other composers always give me inspiration and motivation because composers always work hard.

I know my strengths and weaknesses in music. Palindrome is the first symphony piece that I’ve written so far. My process for composing Palindrome was meticulous and thorough, but there are always areas you know could be better. I wish I had more clear score for performers. I think that's the most important job as a composer in my side.

The EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:30pm. Details here.

Follow Sohwa on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings: Composer Spotlight - Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin (b. 1994) is an Indiana-based composer who writes music characterized by colorful orchestration, a neoclassical nod to the past, and a deep love of narrative storytelling through music. Commissions and performances have come from the Burning Coal Theater Company, the Lux Quartet, Split The Lark, and in 2015 Robert was named “Emerging Composer” at New York's Tribeca New Music for his Clarinet Quartet.

Robert was selected for the EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings for his piece Nijinsky Dances, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Andrew Constantine in a final read-through on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. Details here.

Robert spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Robert Rankin. Photo by Kevin Madison

American Composers Orchestra: Your piece Nijinsky Dances is named after 20th-century choreographer Valslav Nijinsky, who choreographed landmark ballets such as Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune, Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel, and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Trying to set aside the incredibly evocative scores, is Nijinsky's choreography something you take inspiration from as a composer?

Robert Rankin: I thankfully figured out in my undergrad that an “artist” can learn a ton about the creative process by watching people from the other arts do their thing. For instance, taking a poetry class taught me so much about how to think about form and narrative in a unique way and how that relates to music. Regrettably, I know very little choreography but the one aspect that continues to shock me is that there is no formal notation per say for preserving ballet. So in turn, as a composer, it makes me think that the product that the audience hears (sees in the case of dance) is more important than the notes on the page.

Specifically speaking of Nijinsky’s choreography, I think most people are familiar with his work in Le Sacre, but there is this amazing video on YouTube that shows the original choreography for L’après-midi d’un faune and it is as radical if not more so than Le Sacre. It was really surprising to me! I watched a lot of really grainy archival footage of Nijinsky while writing the piece.



ACO: You write in your program notes that the piece makes subtle reference to the masterful orchestration of these scores. Can you talk about the ways in which you do this?

RR: The way I basically learned how to compose was by checking loads of scores out of the library when I was in high school. Most were large orchestral scores so I’ve been in love with this quintessential early 20th century style of shimmering, colorful orchestration for a long time. Ravel, Stravinsky, and Debussy all had an uncanny sense of mixing orchestral colors in a brilliant way but never overloading the entire piece with constant tutti passages to weigh it down. In turn, in my piece, I tried to give the orchestration that colorful shimmer and gestural flare that is so iconic in those early ballet scores of especially Ravel and Stravinsky. And there is a section about a quarter way through that is just straight up quotation of Petrushka and Daphis and Chole (just as nudge nudge wink wink moment to the audience).

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What aspects of Nijinsky Dances do you hope to improve or fine tune?

RR: I’m really looking forward to the whole experience to be honest. I hope to sponge up as much information as possible. The people I know that have been through similar Earshot Readings have had nothing but positive things to say about the entire experience. Additionally, this has given me the opportunity to rework a few moments in Nijinsky Dances that didn’t quite work when it was initially played.

The EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:30pm. Details here.

Follow Robert on Twitter and Instagram.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fellow Travelers: Q&A with composer Gregory Spears

Gregory Spears is the composer of the critically acclaimed new opera Fellow Travelers, which receives its New York premiere January 12-14 at PROTOTYPE Festival, co-presented with John Jay College of Criminal Justice and American Composers Orchestra.

The work of Gregory Spears, whose relationship with ACO extends back to his participation in our 2001 New Music Readings, has been called “astonishingly beautiful” (The New York Times), “coolly entrancing” (The New Yorker), and “some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory” (The Boston Globe). Based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel, Fellow Travelers is an extraordinary personal journey through the intriguing, gut-wrenching world of the 1950s American witch-hunts, and the often overlooked “Lavender Scare.” Tenor Aaron Blake stars as Timothy Laughlin, a recent college grad eager to join the crusade against Communism. A encounter with handsome State Department official Hawkins Fuller (baritone Joseph Lattanzi) leads to Tim’s first job, an illicit love affair with a man.

Gregory was kind enough to answer a few questions about the opera, as well as his relationship with ACO over the years.

Composer Gregory Spears. Photo by Dario Acosta

American Composers Orchestra: When did you first read Thomas Mallon's 2007 novel Fellow Travelers and what was your initial impression? Did you immediately realize its potential to become an opera, or was that sometime later?

Gregory Spears: [Director] Kevin Newbury and [Executive Producer] Sterling Zinsmeyer first introduced [librettist] Greg Pierce and me to the book, and asked whether we thought it could be an opera. I think I was most drawn to the way Mallon depicts the excitement and danger of first love, and then shows the effects of the political turmoil and homophobia swirling within the state department in the 1950s on that relationship. I also really wanted to write an opera about ordinary people, so I liked that the central characters weren’t historical figures.

ACO: In your program notes, you write that in the music you “looked for ways to express the innuendo-driven world of Hawk and Tim while maintaining a relatively cool musical surface.” Since opera is not often associated with a “cool musical surface,” can you talk about this stylistic decision? Was there any part of you worried about not having enough of the traditionally big, dramatic opera moments?

GS: Well I would like to emphasize the word “relatively” as there is still a fair share of anguished singing in Fellow Travelers as well as orchestral outbursts. But yes, in opera specifically, I try to avoid writing music that tells a listener what to feel or music that directly represents or underlines a character's feelings from moment to moment. I agree with John Cage who once said: “I don’t mind being moved, but I don’t like to be pushed.” So I think a lot about how one might create dramatic tension without underlining a character’s emotions in a typical 19th century way. For me it’s an interesting paradox to ponder. I’m also really inspired by the many American composers who use what I think of as a “cool musical surface” to create what I find to be moving and dramatic music. Meredith Monk, Robert Ashley, and of course David Lang are just a few examples.

ACO: This is not the first time you and ACO have crossed paths. You were a participant in our 2001 New Music Readings, where you workshopped your orchestra work Circle Stories, and the ACO/Penn Presents New Music Readings in 2007, where you worked on Finishing. Can you talk about the influence these experiences had on your musical career? Was there anything that carried into your compositional process for Fellow Travelers?

GS: Those were both wonderful experiences, both as a chance to hear those pieces read by pros but also as practice for all the technical and editorial challenges involved with music preparation. Visualizing an orchestra in an actual space is the best way for me to begin thinking about orchestration. And in many cases, I visualize the ACO in the same room where my orchestral piece was read back in 2001. That’s how vivid the memory is!

ACO: What has working with George Manahan and ACO been like for this production?

GS: Working with George and the ACO have been wonderful! George has the calm confidence and experience which is absolutely necessary in the theater where there are so many things happening at once. That  comes with lots of experience and sets the singers and also the composer at ease.

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Fellow Travelers opens at the PROTOTYPE Festival on Friday, January 12, 8PM at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Additional performances on Jan. 13 (2pm & 8pm) and Jan. 14 (2pm). More information here

Learn more about Gregory Spears at www.gregoryspears.com