When I first wrote Salt, nothing I wrote on the page seemed good enough for a tribute to Beethoven, let alone for the highly esteemed musicians I was to meet. However, upon arriving at the Emerging Composer Intensive, I found that the talent, intellect, and genuine passion that the performers and composers brought with them gave life to each piece beyond the page. Salt became something much more profound than I had imagined through a network of musicians and music enthusiasts. Suddenly, the art of composing seemed less lonely and consequently limitless.
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When I first arrived at the ECI, my piece was fairly close to it’s final version. However, during my time at this wonderful event I learned some invaluable lessons on writing idiomatically – from Cindy, I learned how performers rehearse, helping for a much smoother experience for everyone involved. From Drew, I learned piano writing techniques that maximize the instrument’s power. From Wang Jie and Nick, I discovered new ways to apply elements of theatre and emotion to my music. And from everyone who showed up, I grew, became comfortable speaking, and walked away with a newfound sense of pride.
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In writing my piece, “please see me invisible,” I grappled with the idea of creating grandeur within the context of a string duet. I find that often, this instrumentation is difficult to work with, since creating rich chords with more than two pitches requires a delicate balancing act defined by what strings are available, and what fingerings are possible and comfortable for the players. When I arrived at ECI with the finished piece in hand, I found another delicate balancing act: that between the player’s ideas for the music, and my own artistic vision for the work. All in all, the week was an incredible experience learning how to write for professional musicians, and I learned so much about portraying the grand music I was after through both verbal and musical communication with the phenomenal performers.
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It was a great pleasure to be able to work closely with David and Chia Ling throughout ECI. One of the best things that could’ve happened to my piece is connecting with the performers and getting timely feedback. With the many rehearsal opportunities, I was able to get a better sense of their musical energy and character; to which I shaped my piece in an attempt to allow the performers plenty of expressive freedom. My lovely mentors and peers also gave me a wide array of new perspectives and I found various new approaches to my music.
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Rehearsing my piece with the musicians at ECI taught me the importance of anticipating every question a performer might ask before handing them your sheet music. Every second spent in rehearsal deciphering an ambiguous tempo marking is a second that could be spent making the performance better. The musicians at ECI helped me revise the score to make my musical intentions unmistakable. When I give Fantasy Variations to future ensembles, the score will be so clear that the musicians can just focus on the music, instead of wondering what the composer was trying to communicate.
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I consider this one of the best experiences of my life as a musician. Since the admission, I received a lot of help from the organizers to be able to arrive safely, since I traveled for the first time outside my country. There I met composers and performers of the highest level, being the perfect place to deeply reflect on my work, achievements, goals and artistic vision. The beautiful landscapes could not be more inspiring. Definitely, this was not just another festival where I have participated, but a great moment and reason to continue creating music, help others to do so, and improve day by day as a composer and human being.
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This piece is based on a four-note motif from Dvorak's Piano Quartet No.2 in E flat Major. And it is commissioned by ECI. When I first knew I am going to compose a piece echo to Dvorak’s music for hidden valley, I totally freaked out. For the reason that my extreme introverted personality has nothing in common with this passionate music, that not hesitate to give his all in his music. However, after listening to Dvorak’s music, again and again, I did discover my hidden passionate voice of myself. Through this piece, I show you that am a living example of how great music changes the perspective of our lives.I am inspired by Dvorak's musical creativity and free spirit. I wonder what would be in his musical dream.
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Thank you to the virtuosity of performers violinist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu and pianist Drew Petersen, as well as 2022 ECI faculty Nick DiBerardino and Wang Jie, for your investment in this piece and in us as young composers. I hope that you feel enabled to fall as deeply in love with this music as I have. Thank you to The 2022 Emerging Composer’s Institute of Carmel Valley, California for commissioning this work. I feel deeply honored to be able to share my emotions with you through music. Thank you. Finally, thank you to my mentor for this piece, Columbia University Professor Peter Susser, for a thoughtful dialogue on the development of motivic cells (harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, timbral, gestural, and otherwise) towards completion.
Learn more about james here.