In early September the Nashville Symphony opened the stage for five emerging composers to have their work performed by a professional orchestra.
Just before the concert 91Classical had the opportunity to speak with all five of the Composer Lab participants. They shared excitement, gratitude, and optimism.
Jack Frerer works as a film maker and recording engineer on top of his composing. His daily commute on the 1-train in Manhattan inspired his piece “On-Again, Off-Again,” even going as far as portraying the familiar freeze of the stop at 125th Street in Harlem.
Frerer called his music “dramatic” and pointed out that it tends to move quickly, though he says that while he takes composing seriously, he aims that his music does not take itself too seriously. This is as he writes, as he puts it, “the music I wish existed.”
Canadian-American composer Jared Miller was listening to a lot of electronic dance music when he wrote “Ricochet-Reverb-Repeat.” The piece takes the orchestra out of time with itself to recreate sounds that are most often found in electronic samples.
Miller enjoys blending elements of the natural world with elements of the mechanical world. He achieves this by employing extended techniques on instruments in order to open a larger palette of colors and textures. This all feeds the large ambition Miller holds, “to create a sound world that would not have otherwise been created.”
Niloufar Nourbakhsh was already working on a piece about loss when a friend of hers passed away. “Knell” mimicks an extension of the sound of a bell, rung slowly as if for a funeral. Nourbakhsh is one of the founders of the Iranian Female Composers Association, and an advocate for music education.
Nourbakhsh frequently employs drones as a musical device, fitting with her often slow and deliberate pacing. This acts in service of the dramatic shapes that she builds. She hopes to be part of a growing movement in music education in her home country of Iran.
SiHyun Uhm is currently still a student at the Eastman School of Music. Her piece “Ladybug in the Room” is based on a cold evening in her dorm room. She portrayed her futile attempts at containing a stray ladybug in order to keep it warm with running musical lines and a slamming moment of capture at the end of the work.
She described her music as “very energetic and rhythmic,” noting that she has a particular fondness for “cool harmonies.” Uhm enjoys that many different forms of art coexist, and she aims to contribute more to the interdisciplinary scene.
Birmingham, Alabama native Brian Raphael Nabors pointed out that his pieces are often used as concert closers, and this was no exception. “Pulse” aimed to express his Southern childhood, combined with his thoughts on the nature of our busy lives.
Portraying humanity itself is a goal of Nabors. He self-identifies his work as “an eclectic collection of Americana,” especially found in his use of harmony and rhythmic drive. When asked his ultimate goal, he answered, ”to inspire as many people as I possibly can before I leave this earth.”
The workshop was the culmination of a week of mentoring from conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and composer Aaron Jay Kernis, with visits from composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Kip Winger, alongside a class in business essentials. The symphony’s goal was to give these artists a crash course in working with a symphony orchestra: from the composition to the copyrights and contracts.
Aaron Jay Kernis and Gabriela Lena Frank were both impressed with the Lab participants – not just for their high level of musicianship, but also their unique voices. Kernis pointed out that everyone had cultivated an individual sound. “There’s no mistaking one for the other,” he said, referring to both how they approach the orchestra and in how they think about life in general.
Frank joked that she could barely tie her shoelaces when starting to compose for a symphony. She marveled that there were no major musical conundrums to solve, but rather an aim to become more comfortable in the mechanics of the orchestral world.
After the performance, Nashville symphony Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero pointed out that the goal of the Composer Lab went beyond just helping build nice melodies. He advocated for seeking a deeper connection to the music itself, and reminded the audience of its role in deciding whether music will withstand the test of time. Will these pieces last? Guerrero said, “That’s entirely up to you.”
A sample of each composer’s music is available on the
Nashville Symphony website. The selections of music in this story were as follows, in order:
- Jack Frerer: “On-Again, Off-Again”
- Jared Miller: “Ricochet, Reverb, Repeat”
- Niloufar Nourbaksh: “Happiness Filled in the Space of Sadness”
- SiHyun Uhm: “Ladybug in my Room”
- Brian Raphael Nabors: Piano Trio
- Jack Frerer: “On-Again, Off-Again”