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ASO composer in residence Hannah Lash turns catastrophic theft into new beginning

By Michael Huebner
All Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Composers in the throes of frustration, failure or rage have been known to burn, mutilate or otherwise dispose of their compositions. Berlioz, Bruckner, Dukas and Brahms come to mind, though the line of destructive behavior is long.

Hannah Lash, Alabama Symphony's 2013-14 Sound Investment composer-in-residence, has a different story to tell about her works' demise. Stored in her computer, they vanished along with the rest of her files, her wallet and iPod when a thief broke into her car three years ago.

Although she was able to recover a few scores from various sources, she stopped short of trying to track down and get even with the perpetrator. Instead, she took action by doing what she does best – composing music. “Violations: The Loading Dock Project,” a 25-minute work for eight singers and instrumentalists that addresses theft and loss, was the result.

But her loss of years of hard work may have had a similar effect as those matches-to-paper composers. “Despite the trauma I felt, and the way I dealt with it by writing that piece, I must say that having all that work lost gave me the freedom to establish a narrowed-down catalog,” Lash said this week from New Haven, Conn., where she teaches at Yale University. “I almost feel that if it had not been for that, I would have destroyed a lot myself. I wasn't happy about the way that it happened, but in the end I probably would have done that damage myself. I would almost say it marked the beginning of my compositional adulthood.”

In fact, most of the works listed on Lash's web site are dated 2010 and later. Many have been premiered by high-profile performers such as the Da Capo Chamber Players, Minnesota Orchestra, the Jack Quartet and harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, who recently recorded Lash's “Stalk.” Among the venues where Lash's music has been heard are Carnegie Hall, Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Center and Chicago Art Institute. In addition to ASO, she holds a residency with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

One piece that has been getting some air time and positive notices is “Hush,” a 15-minute work for small orchestra. Premiered in 2011 by the Great Noise Ensemble, it has since been played at Yale University and by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“Hush” will be the centerpiece for ASO's first Classical Edge concert of 2013-14, Friday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. Lash will be on hand for the first of three visits to Birmingham during her residency.


In her description of the work, she wrote about its relentless movement toward inevitable catastrophe, or climax, followed by a post-traumatic response. It was premiered two days before the 10th anniversary of 9-11, which may have been an influence on the composition.

“It was a very personal response,” she said. “I don't think of it as a political piece, but it certainly has lots of connections to that feeling of catastrophe and loss of security. Of course, 9-11 looms in all of our consciousness and will always do so. I'm sure some of that came into play.”