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.

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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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Helen Hagan’s grave finally marked in overdue ceremony

dsc_4597A long overdue ceremony was held at New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery on Thursday, September 29, to honor Helen Eugenia Hagan, who died in 1964 and was buried alongside her parents, albeit without individual mention. A headstone was placed on Hagan’s grave as members of the local community and others who’ve been connected to Hagan’s legacy acknowledged her extraordinary life.

Elizabeth Foxwell, who organized a crowd-funding campaign to permanently mark Hagan’s resting place — a campaign to which the Yale School of Music contributed — said, “Journalist, professor, Yale alum, and future NAACP activist William Pickens wrote the following about Hagan in 1916: ‘I remember […] I settled back into an easy chair to listen when the little girl was led in by her mother and seated at the piano just to show me. She showed me and has since shown hundreds of thousands that genius […] will out.'” Foxwell, who edited the 2015 anthology In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I (Oconee Spirit Press), also quoted from a letter Hagan penned in 1932 to W.E.B. Du Bois describing the struggles she was experiencing.

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Helen Hagan is believed to have been the Yale School of Music’s first female African American student. She graduated from the School in 1912 and soon thereafter became the only African American performer to travel to France to entertain Black troops stationed there after World War I. Hagan was the first African American pianist to perform a recital at a New York concert venue. While at Yale, Hagan performed with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and composed and performed her Piano Concerto in C minor, which, sadly, is the only one of her compositions to have survived. MORE

Published September 30, 2016
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David Kaplan appointed Lecturer in Piano at UCLA

David Kaplan | Photo by Samantha West

David Kaplan | Photo by Samantha West

Pianist David Kaplan ’07MM, ’08MMA, ’14DMA has been appointed Lecturer in Piano for the 2016-2017 academic year at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

Kaplan has appeared in programs presented by the Ravinia Festival, National Gallery of Art, Tanglewood Music Center, Mostly Mozart Festival, and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, among others. He is a core member of Decoda, an Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall, and is the artistic director of Lyrica Chamber Music, a concert series in Chatham Township, New Jersey.

In March 2015, Kaplan presented New Dances of the League of David, a piano suite that juxtaposes contemporary works with Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, at Le Poisson Rouge, in New York. Among those from whom Kaplan solicited new music for the suite are Yale School of Music faculty composers Martin Bresnick and Hannah Lash ’12AD, and YSM alumni Samuel Carl Adams ’10MM, Timo Andres ’07BA ’09MM, Ted Hearne ’08MM, Andrew Norman ’09AD, Caroline Shaw ’07MM, and Augusta Read Thomas MM. Anthony Tommasini included Kaplan’s performance on The New York Times’ list of “The Best Classic Music of 2015.”

Throughout his time at Yale, Kaplan studied with Claude Frank. Prior to enrolling at Yale, Kaplan studied with Walter Ponce at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and, by way of a Fulbright grant, studied conducting with Lutz Köhler at the Universität der Künste Berlin.

DAVID KAPLAN

Published August 19, 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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[ students & alumni ]

Faculty, Alumni, and Students Receive NEA Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced the recipients of their Art Works Grants for 2016, and several faculty, alumni, and student composers are among the awardees. The organization awarded $27 million for arts projects across the United States, and the first round of FY 2016 funding inaugurates the next 50 Years of National Endowment for the Arts Support.

The NEA defines “Art Works” as referring to three things: the works of art themselves, the ways art works on audiences, and the fact that art is work for the artists and arts professionals who make up the field. The NEA recognizes these catalytic effects of excellent art, and the key role that arts and design organizations play in revitalizing them. MORE

Published March 1, 2016
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[ students & alumni ]

YSM faculty and alumni receive grants from New Music USA

Harold Meltzer | Photo by Emily Greta Tabourin

Harold Meltzer | Photo by Emily Greta Tabourin

Several YSM faculty and alumni composers and performers have been selected to receive grants from New Music USA for its Fall 2015 Project Grants Awards. Totaling $276,770 in funding, the awards support artistic work involving a wide range of new American music. The 53 awarded projects include concerts and recordings as well as dance, theater, opera, and more, all involving contemporary music as an essential element. The public can explore awarded projects from all five rounds via media-rich project pages.

Harold Meltzer ’97 MMA, ’00 DMA was recognized as part of the American Notes commissioning initiative by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Along with composer Jessie Montgomery, Meltzer has been commissioned to create an original orchestral work for Orpheus to be premiered at Carnegie Hall and on tour to audiences across America in 2016.

The Music Mondays series in New York City was awarded a grant for the first-ever full-length portrait concert in New York City for Judd Greenstein ’04 MM. Titled City Boy: Music of Judd Greenstein, the concert featured the Claremont Trio, NOW Ensemble, and Roomful of Teeth, and was held on February 15, 2016 on the Upper West Side. MORE

Published February 23, 2016
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[ in the press ]

YaleNews: Take 5 with Composer Hannah Lash

lash-take5YaleNews | By Susan Gonzalez

Take 5 offers a brief introduction to Yale faculty members in a Q&A format. The featured faculty member selects 5 out of 10 questions to answer. Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of YaleNews.

Hannah Lash, a member of the School of Music faculty since 2013, is a composer of chamber, choral, orchestral, vocal, and solo works, which have been performed throughout the country and abroad. Her music has been commissioned by the Boston and Alabama symphony orchestras, Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, and the Aspen Music Festival and School, among many others, and have won her numerous awards and fellowships.

Closer to home, Lash’s work has been debuted by Yale Choral Artists and by the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, which last fall premiered the first installment of “The Voynich Symphony,” an ongoing collaboration that the orchestra will introduce in four parts in concerts over two seasons. Lash’s inspiration for the piece is the Voynich manuscript, an illustrated codex in an unknown writing system housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library that has long been a mystery to scholars and cryptographers worldwide. MORE

Published February 8, 2016
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[ concerts ]

Hannah Lash offers three new works Feb. 9

Hannah Lash, composition facultyThe Faculty Artist Series at the Yale School of Music a concert of music by prize-winning composer Hannah Lash on Tuesday, February 9 at 7:30 pm.

Performing Lash’s music will be The City of Tomorrow wind quintet as well as YSM students and alumni: Molly Netter, soprano; Jeff Stern, percussion; Samuel Suggs, bass; Jacob Ashworth, violin; and Lee Dionne, piano.

The program will feature the world premieres of three new works by Lash. The City of Tomorrow will present a wind quintet, Hero and Leander. The Sonata for Violin and Piano will be performed by Jacob Ashworth and Lee Dionne. Four Songs will feature the composer on harp along with Molly Netter, soprano; Samuel Suggs, double bass; and Jeff Stern, percussion. MORE

Published January 20, 2016
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