January 2021 Update

If there is anything I’ve learned this year, it is that attending a performing arts university entirely online several time zones away from any of my classmates, amid a pandemic and civil unrest, with a traumatic brain injury, after the death of a relative and subsequent legal labyrinth, and with two at-risk parents and a tumor-ridden cat underfoot, is not particularly easy. However, it would have been much more difficult, had I not had certain support mechanisms by which Curtis is, and should be, defined. I’m especially grateful for composition department den mother David Ludwig. :))))

Despite the calamity, I was able to engage with some projects, an update about which I am happy to share here:

  • I, along with 10 other composers, including colleagues Elise Arancio, Aiyana Braun, Tyson Davis, and Jane Meenaghan, created a piece for a project entitled Requiem-20, through the Musical Mentors Collaborative.
  • I was one of fifty composers commissioned to write a short piece for LA-based piano duo HOCKET’s new album, #What2020SoundsLike, which will release later this year.
  • I produced a digital recital of modern and contemporary music for violin, which will premiere on YouTube on February 5th at 7:30pm MST (please save the date!), in partnership with Composers Now’s 2021 (Streaming) Festival. I recorded works by Sarrah Bushara (‘20), Devin Maxwell, Missy Mazzoli, Tania Leon, Matthias Pintscher, Messiaen, and myself over a three-month period, as well as conducted interviews with the living composers.
  • An exciting new development is that a multimedia installation project I am developing with artist David Michalek and dramaturg Norman Frisch has received a Helping Hands grant from The American Opera Project and will be moving forward this year.
  • I recently completed a commission for loadbang, which will be premiered in Fall 2021 and subsequently toured with the ensemble.
  • This coming March, pianist Inna Faliks will record a new work of mine for solo piano, commissioned at her behest to reflect on the novel The Master and Margarita. It will be released on the label Sono Luminus.
  • Finally, over the summer, Sarrah Bushara and I founded a new performance art duo called ~ [pronounced two]. We will be presenting our first evening-length concert with Fidget in March (date TBD), and are working on a large-scale commission for UK-based platform Zeitgeist.

On creolity: a new endeavor

While I long to add my voice to the righteous clamor of now, I personally believe that this medium is not the platform for that voice to have much effect at all and have directed it elsewhere. However, since most of you know me as an artist or musician, I will comment on the positive fact that much has been said in the music world recently about incorporating works by composers of color into the classical or concert canon. This is absolutely the right movement, and long overdue, but I fear a slyly diversional emphasis will be placed by behemoth institutions on music by non-white people that conforms to the standard of the white canon, soothing the discomfort of recognizing white privilege with familiarity, hailing the spread of the genius of Western principles across the globe. People of color or otherwise do not need to be a mirror to reflect the beauty ideals of the fading imperial world, though they may respect these paradigms on a purely aesthetic or intellectual level. Instead they should be valued as their own individual artists with their own capacity for innovation and invention, not simply as artisans merely capable of living up to standards set by, frankly, white men from distant centuries. If their brilliance lies within a genre sculpted and defined by the western imperial complex, then it is an example not of the colonization of non-European arts but of the creolization of those western arts. This is beautiful. However, we must make sure that this creolity (described in an essay by George Lewis and using the words of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak as “the delexicalization of the foreign”) does not become co-opted and transformed into impotent, corporate “diversity” by the buzzword-obsessed elite. Equality does not end with percentage increases. I’d like to quote Lewis further:

“Although pursuit of greater numerical representation (or even ‘balance’, however defined) is desirable, this alone is unlikely to bring full subjecthood to women composers or composers of color in the long run. Subjecthood and membership are reflected not only in numerical representation, but also in the circulation of sounds, culture, histories, and ideas. Conceptual migration (or even conceptual nomadism) would create a new curatorial subject for contemporary music that can directly conceive of ascribing kinship, membership, and subjecthood to these new composers and their forebears, creating a new, creolized usable past for new music.”

We must demand aesthetic and philosophic ingenuity from our institutions, not just homogeneity within a more diverse coalition of proponents. As my good friend Sarrah Bushara, a brilliant and ingenious artist (and yes, a black woman), put it, we must normalize, not ghettoize. And it is with great pride that I announce that Sarrah is also my artistic partner in a new endeavor, ~ [pronounced two]. ~ is a performance art duo that focuses on works from the experimental canon as well as original composed theater, Fluxus-inspired text pieces, interpretive dance, performance art, amateur films, and events. ~ will be based online currently, and when live performance resumes, between Boston and Philadelphia.

Our first piece, Walking Alone at Night, was premiered at the Curtis Institute of Music’s Field Concert Hall in March, and our first online piece went public on YouTube last month. It makes me very happy to share these pieces with you, as well as many pieces to come. Please like our page and stay tuned!

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Cabrillo 2019!

I was incredibly fortunate to spend last week in Santa Cruz at the perennially prosperous, always extraordinary Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, as a Composer Fellow in their prestigious Conductors/Composers Workshop. With 3 composition fellows, 6 conducting fellows, 14 odd auditors and associates, and the incomparable Kristin Kuster, Cristian Măcelaru, and Octavio Más-Arocas as faculty, the workshop is a fruitful laboratory space for both current experiments and future collaborations. I so enjoyed the process of working with my two conductors, Toby Thatcher and Alvin Ho, who brought to our work together an amazing curiosity, energy, and attention to detail that truly benefited both the piece and all involved. Additionally, the orchestra is incredibly unique at Cabrillo. With all the musicians donating their time and talents, it’s clear that every single musician clearly cares deeply about hearing contemporary voices, crafting music brilliantly, and being true to the intentions of the composer. Their questions are clear, their demeanor kind, their feedback insightful, and their playing phenomenal! I feel so grateful for the encouragement and sincerity shown by their interaction with me. Authenticity can be hard to come by in this field; as Cristi is fond of saying (and I paraphrase), “only knowledge brings humility, because the more you know, the more you realize there is to learn”. I hope someday to achieve the wisdom and beneficence required to attain and promote such a mindset.

Photo credit: R.R. Jones

Recap of Summer 2019 (or most of it, at least)

So!  Over the past six weeks, I have been in a total of ten cities… which is a bit much to handle the summer before starting college, but completely worthwhile in terms of the experiences I have had, the friends I have made, and the knowledge I have gained. 

At the beginning of June, I had the distinct pleasure of being a participant in Fifth House Ensemble’s Fresh Inc Festival.  Adventures here included (among many others):

  1. having my piece for three horns, presumably dogs do not reflect upon thinking itself, premiered by Parker Nelson, Momo Hasselbring, and Jonathan Thomas in a literal spaceship (The Golden Rondelle, Racine, Wisconsin)
  2. performing Bartok and Prokofiev violin duos with my awesome roommate Claire Niederberger
  3. swing dancing in Milwaukee and tap dancing at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside
  4. presenting an education show for elementary-schoolers in which we taught the kids about graphic scores and John Cage (my kind of music class!)

Then I ventured off to Minneapolis for the 5th Anniversary Next Notes Showcase, the rare award ceremony in which I participated as both composer and tap dancer simultaneously!  Stay tuned for a new video recording of all that is solid.  It was fascinating to see how the space completely changed the piece.

Directly from Minneapolis, I flew to Fort Worth for an intense but revelatory week of working with Maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya and members of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.  I am incredibly grateful to the musicians whokindly donated their time and talent to my education.  My understanding of what it takes to be a conductor grew exponentially in the five short days I spent learning from the Maestro and the orchestra.  Feeling very motivated to apply these principles to further studies!

After that, I had the opportunity to spend two and half weeks in Italy, performing and studying at the soundSCAPE Festival (or what they called quite aptly a composition & performance exchange).  After a few days spent in Roma and Firenze soaking in the experience of visiting Europe for the first time, I joined such luminaries as George Lewis, Michael Lewanksi, and the FLUX Quartet in Cesena for the festival, at which I conducted two student pieces, had a premiere of my own with FLUX, played violin on 4 pieces for participant-curated concerts, and exchanged music and thoughts with talented performers and scholars from all over the world.  A lot of great music in a short amount of time!

Now I’m off to the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where my latest piece for chamber orchestra, change is the only constant, will be premiered by the festival orchestra with conductors Toby Thatcher and Alvin Ho next Tuesday, July 30th, as part of the 2019 Conductors/Composers Workshop.  Friends in the Bay Area are invited to attend the concert, which is free and also features two other works by my colleagues Annika Socolofsky and Costas Dafnis!  Hope to see you there.

June Recap!

I can’t believe we’re already halfway through June! Tempus fugit, as they say. These past few weeks have been jam-packed, from violin recitals to tap performances to presenting performances, premieres, and sound installations across venues in the Milwaukee and Chicago area at the Fresh Inc Festival (including what may have been an actual flying saucer). I’m off to Minneapolis and Fort Worth for the remainder of June now. More to come!

A fond farewell (for now) to the Utah Symphony

Red pants + Mahler 1… all signs point to an NYO 2017 flashback! Only fitting that my last Utah Symphony concert before moving to Philly would be so close to home. I learned to read scores (which I now write and lead!) by borrowing them from the University of Utah library and bringing them to concerts such as these. I really owe a debt of gratitude to this fantastic orchestra. It has changed my life in ways it can’t even fathom.

Onwards and upwards for the both of us!

The importance of a teacher

When your dad decides to try out his new camera while you’re practicing Beethoven Concerto… really putting the papa in paparazzi!

Looking forward to performing the first movement of this great work on Sunday at my last studio recital in Salt Lake. I am incredibly grateful to my teacher, Yuki MacQueen, for absolutely transforming my abilities as a player and musician. The progress I have made over the last three years with Yuki would have been inconceivable to my younger self. She has helped me prove to myself and the world that I have not only the determination and diligence but also the inherent capabilities to be a musician (provided I put in the blood, sweat, and tears, of course). I look up to her and consider her one of the most important friends and mentors in my life. I appreciate her dry wit, not-so-gentle jibes, and ultimately forgiving attitude. I am proud that our training will have come from the same alma mater! Another Curtis success story… 🙂

April in review!

OK~ lots to cover in terms of an update!

I had a great time navigating the Harvard campus on crutches during Visitas last weekend (that was not meant to sound nearly as snarky as it did!). A beautiful place populated with many beautiful minds (and fortunately also many ADA-accessible ramps!). However, I came to the decision that a conservatory is the better environment for me at the moment; therefore, I am happy to announce that I will be attending the Curtis Institute of Music this fall to study composition. I will of course continue to dance and play violin, and will also pursue serious conducting study. I am looking forward to the move to Philadelphia and creating a network back east. The Philly orchestra has a fantastic line-up for next season. A special shout out to their women-in-music initiative, which ensures that the number of female composers and conductors featured this season will be greater than 0, the number programmed in most of the orchestra’s previous seasons. 😉

Having completed 2.75 out of 5 pieces for this summer’s events, it feels great to put the finishing touches on a string quartet that’s been quite irksome for the last 4 months! Onward!

Speaking of moving onward, time has been flying by. Last week, I successfully completed another rotation around the sun. Here’s to many more!

Happy writing/leading/playing/etc. Hope the lovely spring weather is proving motivating for everyone!


On the merits of winging it!

Pictures from a fantastic concert last night with Red Desert at the Utah Museum of Fine Art. FLUXUS, In C, Feldman, Oliveros, and Devin Maxwell proved to be an artful program which engaged the senses in extremes of quietude and opulence.

In my opinion, it is important for a holistic musician to have the experience of creating while performing. So often as composers, the actual creation happens solely intellectually, over a long period of time, and ensconced in centuries-old power dynamics and expectations. Similarly, as classically-trained players, we spend our hours recreating and recreating, frustrating our imperfect and ultimately constructive inclination towards failure and variation as we learn to perfect and repeat at will the motions of a piece, almost forgetting about its content at a certain point. While I disagree with many things about both Terry Riley and FLUXUS, I believe they provide an important platform for the performer and audience alike to experience instantaneous creation and the fleeting, beautiful, imperfect moments of solidarity, expression, and even brilliance that occur when music-making is not goal-oriented but instead moment-driven. I would encourage my fellow concert musicians to take a lesson from Jazz and improvise as much as possible! Playing this kind of music increases and expands the facility of perception and is invaluable for anyone who thinks in terms of and creates meaning with sound.

Food for thought! In the meantime…

Play/lead/write on!