Ascendant composers prepare new works for Yale Philharmonia performance

Left to right: Alishan Gezgin, Krists Auznieks, Eli Greenhoe, Fjola Evans, Liliya Ugay

On Thursday, Dec. 7, conducting fellow David Yi will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral works by several of YSM’s graduate-student composers. We spoke recently with composers Alishan Gezgin (The Passage), Krists Auznieks (Grace), Eli Greenhoe (Wrest), Fjola Evans (Lung), and Liliya Ugay (To the Lost World) about composing and preparing their pieces for performance.

Q: What does it mean to you that the orchestra performing your piece is an ensemble of your peers? 

Gezgin: For me, being a composer is most meaningful when I can connect sounds and ideas to real human beings I know and care about. It’s a gift, how deeply embedded this piece feels in the Yale community. Everything in the piece emerges from my time here, the conversations and experiences I’ve shared with friends and teachers, and the countless new ideas those exchanges have brought me.

Auznieks: It is always a pleasure working with people who share your life experience; they are the ones who are most likely to understand the cultural context of where the piece is coming from, and in that sense they are also the best judges of the music.

Greenhoe: I already feel so lucky to have the opportunity to attend YSM and study among friends and colleagues who are some of the finest musicians I know of. To have the opportunity to write a piece specifically for them to play, and knowing the profound depth of musicality among the student body here, is a rare opportunity and (to borrow a cliché) a total dream-come-true.

Evans: I’m really excited to have written this piece for an orchestra of my classmates. Getting to attend the Yale Philharmonia concerts in Woolsey Hall while writing my piece was great. It’s rare that you get to see the ensemble you are writing for perform in the same hall your piece will be premiered — being there helped me to viscerally imagine what I wanted my piece to sound and feel like.

Ugay: It means that the musicians of the orchestra are able to connect to my music in a personal way, as many of them know me as a person and/or have already worked with me/played my music before. It deepens the mutual understanding and eases communication between the orchestra and the composer, something a composer can (usually) achieve only by working with one orchestra for years. MORE

Published November 30, 2017
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Faculty composer Hannah Lash, on YSM’s annual New Music for Orchestra program

Hannah Lash

On Dec. 7, conducting fellow David Yi will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral works by the School of Music’s graduate-student composers. The annual New Music for Orchestra program is part concert and, to the composers whose music is performed, part workshop.

“The only way to learn orchestration is to hear your own work,” faculty composer and New Music New Haven Artistic Director Hannah Lash said. “You can study scores all you want, but there’s nothing like having that hands-on experience.” Part of that experience is hearing, in person and in context, what works and what may not. “There’s nothing like learning from your own mistakes.”

For Lash and her faculty colleagues in YSM’s composition program, the annual program reflects the work students have done throughout the semester and in some cases before that. It’s also a snapshot of work that will continue. The School’s faculty composers mentor students in conceptual and practical areas. “We feel really compelled to share our experience,” Lash said.

And while the graduate-student composers are the beneficiaries of that wisdom, members of the Yale Philharmonia become ambassadors of the music that’s being composed today. “For any player who has any anticipation of potentially playing in an orchestra,” Lash said, “it’s really, really important that they have a first-hand experience (with music) that has been written by their contemporaries” — in part to help dispel the notion that orchestras are simply vehicles for music of the past. “They, too, are benefiting from this,” Lash said of the instrumentalists, “not just their composer peers.”

The New Music for Orchestra program presents an opportunity for audience members, too. Each year, Lash sits among them without identifying herself. “Optimistically,” she said, “the response has been positive. They’re curious and sort of don’t know what to make of (watching) the next generation of composers find their legs a little bit.”

On Dec. 7, that next generation of composers will add new music to the orchestral repertoire.

Stay tuned for interviews with the graduate-student composers whose work will be performed as part of the Dec. 7 New Music for Orchestra program.

DETAILS & TICKETS

Published November 29, 2017
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Faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis, on New Music New Haven

Aaron Jay Kernis, left, and Christopher Theofanidis

The New Music New Haven series kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 28, with a program that features violinist Chee-Yun and music by faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis and graduate-student composers. We spoke recently with Kernis and Theofanidis about their work, and about the series and its value to audiences and to the School’s composition program.  

Q (for AJK): First Club Date is a new piece. What was its genesis and/or inspiration and what are you exploring in the work?

AJK: My son Jonah is a young (14-year-old) cellist and loves jazz. There so little jazz or jazz-influenced repertoire for cello that I wanted to fill that gap a bit, so this piece runs the gamut of inspiration from ragtime to funk and Jonah’s favorite new band, Snarky Puppy.

Q (for AJK): Three of the work’s five movements will be performed on Thursday, Sept. 28. How does hearing a new piece typically inform further work on that music?

AJK: From the first rehearsal before the August premiere, I was collaborating with my son and Matt Haimovitz (who performed the premiere), tightening it, tweaking the cello part, and coaching him to be funky. I keep on at that until I feel the music is completely right – then I can let it go and move on.

Q (for CT) Flow, my tears was composed 20 years ago in memory of Jacob Druckman. Do you let a work live on its own or do you revisit it as it’s performed anew by different players?

CT: It’s one of the great joys of composing – coming back to an older work and hearing it performed by different artists of different ages, sensibilities, metabolisms, and life experiences. They each bring their own take and timing to it, and sometimes it is really amazing to me that music can stretch as much as it does in these differing interpretations. Although I usually am done writing and reworking the actual notes of pieces by the premiere (or shortly thereafter, if I make minor adjustments), I often do change my ideas about the pacing of the work based on later performances. In this case, apart from the scores of performances it has already had, it has also been performed on different instruments – the violin, viola, cello, and guitar, and even each of those instruments has its own way of breathing and its own logic, which affects the work and my own sense of what works best.

Q (for CT): The Violin Fantasy is a reframing of the second movement of your Violin Concerto. How does the solo part differ, if at all, from the original, and what persuaded you to present the piece as a stand-alone work?

CT: The solo part is exactly the same, but the orchestral part is a reduction into a piano part, so it is quite a bit different than the original version. It was fun finding a way to make 85 instruments work in just the piano, though! The violinist for whom it was written, Sarah Chang, wanted to do the second movement on a 30-city tour as part of a concert recital, but it had to be just for violin and piano. Thirty cities was an offer I couldn’t refuse! The piece was played in Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, in Thailand, in Japan, in South America – and all over the world.

Q (for both): How does teaching inform your work and vice versa?

AJK: I learn so much from my students, and their interests sometimes lead me into places and music I hadn’t know about. Also, they’re so good, how can one help but be inspired by their talent and inventiveness?

CT: One of the most important qualities in being a composer is being a good “editor” of yourself and your materials. I think teaching helps you become better at recognizing things that are happening in music and what is ultimately of value – your editorial sense kicks in when looking at other people’s music often more quickly than when looking at your own. I am much better now after so many years of teaching at stepping outside myself and looking objectively at what I am doing in my own music.

I think the decades of practical experience and the great journey in the arts that one lives are the most useful elements in teaching students. You see just how many ways things can work and be said musically, and it gives you a lot of ideas of how to help people who are just starting on their journey. Also, we all benefit from being truly who we are – not trying to be someone else- living what is most important to us – and I think that is maybe the most important thing we can pass on to a student as a model.

Q (for both): What opportunities does the New Music New Haven series afford students, particularly in terms of hearing works by their peers and receiving feedback? What does it mean to YSM’s composition students to have their work performed by peers and alongside music by their teachers? And what should audiences know, in general, about YSM’s composition department and students and the work that’s being produced here?

AJK: New Music New Haven is vital to bring student composers together with their performer colleagues (sometimes bringing about life-long collaborations), then getting critiques from composer peers and faculty. It’s one of the most important and vital elements of their education at YSM. Listeners should know that YSM has hosted and produced a few score of brilliant young composers over the years who have gone on to splendid careers out in the world. These concerts also give a window into the work of some of the most interesting established composers in the world (including the faculty), so these presentations are a spirited way to experience beautiful, fascinating music right here in New Haven (and via streaming).

CT: The students have works scheduled, rehearsed, coached by faculty, performed, and recorded (both audio and video) in our program – and then afterward, we all talk about the piece together as a group in the subsequent weeks, which helps everyone learn from the process. It is a rich experience from beginning to end and is kind of an idealized working situation for students to create; it is protective but realistic.

We try to foster a real sense of community in the greater program because these 12-15 composers will be running into one another for the rest of their lives and need one another; we choose people of an enormously broad stylistic variety and way of thinking and then try to cultivate respect and support between each of the composers.

The first New Music New Haven concert of the season takes place on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. Learn more about the program, which is free and open to the public, and the series.

Published September 27, 2017
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Katherine Balch named composer-in-residence at California Symphony

Composer Katherine Balch ’16MM was recently named the California Symphony’s Young American Composer-in-Residence. Over the course of a three-year residency, which begins in August, Balch will work closely with the ensemble and its music director, Donato Cabrera, to premiere and record three new large-scale orchestral works.

“My residency with the California Symphony will entail both the commissioned new works and outreach,” Balch said. “I’ll be writing three pieces for the orchestra of increasing size and scope over the course of three seasons. The first season, I will write a concert opener for the season finale concert in May. The second season, I’m hoping to write a concerto for a longtime collaborator and friend, and we are dreaming big for the third season.”

Balch, whose orchestral works have been performed by such prestigious ensembles as the Minnesota Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra, described her approach to writing for orchestra. MORE

Published April 20, 2017
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YSM alumni take home Grammys

Michael Daugherty. Photo by Grant Leighton

Michael Daugherty. Photo by Grant Leighton

Yale School of Music alumnus Michael Daugherty ’82MMA ’87DMA received three 2017 Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, for his Tales of Hemingway for cello and orchestra, which was recorded by cellist Zuill Bailey and the Nashville Symphony conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero. The piece won in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo, Best Contemporary Classical Composition, and Best Classical Compendium categories.

Tales of Hemingway was commissioned and premiered by Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony, whose live recording of that performance was released on an album with Daugherty’s American Gothic and a 2015 revision of his Once Upon a Castle, a work for organ and orchestra whose solo part was performed by YSM alumnus Paul Jacobs ’02MM. Guerrero recently conducted the Yale Philharmonia in a program that included Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Shostakovich Symphony No. 10.

Percussionist David Skidmore ’08MM earned a 2017 Grammy as a member of Third Coast Percussion, whose recording of works by Steve Reich won in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category. MORE

Published February 13, 2017
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Christopher Theofanidis receives Grammy nomination

Christopher Theofanidis

Christopher Theofanidis

Yale School of Music faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis’ Bassoon Concerto has been nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category. The piece was recorded by bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann ’02MM and the Northwest Sinfonia, under the direction of Barry Jekowsky.

“Anything like this, which has a visibility beyond the immediate circle of concert music, that’s a really good thing for the field,” Theofanidis ’94MMA ’97DMA said. “It’s kind of like the thing that both your musical and nonmusical friends know.”

Talking about his Bassoon Concerto, Theofanidis said, “It’s a piece that I wrote 20 years ago that had never had a recording until now.” Kuuskmann, whom he’s known since their time at Yale, “really championed the piece.” MORE

Published December 7, 2016
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NYT: Yale Composers Showcase Their Works at New Music New Haven

Ani Kavafian, Lisa Morre, and David Shifrin | Photo by Chris Lee

Ani Kavafian, Lisa Moore, and David Shifrin | Photo by Chris Lee

The New York Times | By Vivien Schweitzer

It’s rarely a compliment to describe a composer as “academic”: the word is usually applied to those perceived as being sequestered on campus creating esoteric, dreary works. Conversely, being too “accessible” (i.e., not challenging enough) has also been deemed a negative. But there’s nothing pejoratively “academic” or “accessible” about any of the Yale faculty composers featured during a concert on Wednesday at WQXR’s Greene Space in SoHo.

David Lang, Hannah Lash, Christopher Theofanidis, Aaron Jay Kernis and Martin Bresnick represent an accessible aesthetic that draws on multiple stylistic influences. Some of their music has been championed by Bang on a Can, the lively genre-bending collective whose three founders, all Yale alumni, include Mr. Lang. The vocalist Helga Davis hosted Wednesday’s event, part of the NY Phil Biennial, and interviewed each composer and Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic’s music director, onstage. MORE

Published May 26, 2016
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New Music New Haven features Theofanidis and Vees March 10

Christopher Theofanidis Photo by Matt Fried

The New Music New Haven concert series at the Yale School of Music presents a concert on Thursday, March 10 at 7:30 pm. The concert will feature the music of Christopher Theofanidis and Jack Vees along with new works by graduate student composers.

The program will include selections from two of Theofanidis’ operas: “Juliet’s Aria” from Heart of a Soldier, written in 2011 for the San Francisco Opera, and “El Salvador” from The Refuge, which Theofanidis wrote for the Houston Grand Opera in 2007. Both arias will be sung by Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano, with pianist David Fung.

Jack Vees’ Piano Trio (Hulk Smash!), written for three performers on two pianos, will be played by composition alumni Benjamin Wallace, Paul Kerekes, and Fay Wang. Vees’ Ambulant Music, for brass sextet, earned its title “for the simple reason that the performers do walk (on and off) as part of the performance,” says the composer. MORE

Published February 25, 2016
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Argus Quartet performs works by Yale faculty and alumni Feb. 2

Argus Quartet

Argus Quartet

The Yale School of Music presents a recital by the Argus Quartet, YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence on TuesdayFebruary 2 at 7:30 pmThe quartet will perform works which highlight the unique sounds that can be made by playing string instruments in unconventional ways. Among the composers featured will be YSM faculty member Christopher Theofanidis, and Andrew Norman ’09 AD.

The recital begins with Béla Bartók‘s String Quartet No. 4, which makes use of several extended techniques such as large glissandi, muted passages, and the famous “Bartok pizzicato,” in which the plucked string rebounds against the instrument’s fingerboard to create a loud slap.

Next, the quartet will continue with selections from Andrew Norman‘s Peculiar Strokes, which was premiered by the Argus Quartet in December 2015. Written to highlight and explore the unusual sounds that can be made with different types of bow strokes, the collection of miniature movements that make up Peculiar Strokes is an ongoing project to which Norman has been adding for several years. MORE

Published January 29, 2016
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Yale School of Music to be featured in 2016 NY Phil Biennial

Martin Bresnick, composer

The Yale School of Music and its New Music New Haven series will be highlighted in the 2016 NY Phil Biennial, a wide-ranging exploration of today’s music by an array of contemporary and modern composers. YSM’s performance will take place on May 25, 2016 at The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR, the performance will be streamed live via webcast on WQXR’s new-music channel, Q2 Music, and Q2 Music’s Helga Davis will host the performance.

The program represents the past, present, and future of the composition program of the Yale School of Music, established in 1894, whose composition faculty has included Paul Hindemith, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Jacob Druckman. The program opens with songs by Yale alumnus Charles Ives — “our historically most distinguished student,” according to Yale composition chair Martin Bresnick — and concludes with a song by “one of our very promising current students (and fellow New Englander)” Hilary Purrington. MORE

Published October 27, 2015
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