Harlem (A Dream Deferred), is based on the poem of Langston Hughes, and was written for the Astoria Music Project as part of its first call for scores commissioning scheme. Once I was awarded this commission to write a piece based on my own experience as a New Yorker, this work from Hughes immediately stuck out to me, since I was a Harlem resident from 2008-2010. Although I was living in London from 2011-2017, I still always had a nostalgia for the "old world" of New York City, when life was more grittier, creative, vibrant, communal, and at times angry from a sense of yearning for freedom of spirit. The civil rights movement of African Americans has always resonated with me, as today I still witness the struggle and pains that this community fights for from which Hughes addresses in this work, in addition to what I experienced when living in this NYC neighborhood at the time.
As Harlem is famous for the renaissance jazz movement, I resorted back to my years of studying at the Berklee College of Music, where jazz permeated my musical life as a student. Although I am not a jazz composer in the academic sense, the language of this musical aesthetic, combined with the creative spirit in Harlem from the 1920s and 30s, has always made me feel at home, since I have roots in this magical city. By an interesting twist of fate, I finished the majority of this work in West London around the Christmas holidays, in an apartment (flat) building where Ghandi was a law student in Britain before taking on his iconic role as a fighter for civil rights, not only in India, but across the globe.
Harlem (A Dream Deferred) was premiered at the Art House Astoria by the Astoria Music Project on 9 February, 2019.
The Astoria Music Project Harlem (A Dream Deferred) By Langston Hughes
Stefanie Izzo - Soprano What happens to a dream deferred?
Rachel Hauser - Violin
Amanda Lee - Horn in F Does it dry up
David Taubman - Piano like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Harlem (A Dream Deferred)
for small chamber ensemble
commissioned by the
Astoria Music Project
soprano, violin, horn in F, piano
for clarinet quintet
commissioned by the
10th & Broadway Ensemble
eb clarinet, 3 clarinets in Bb, bass clarinet
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and
understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever
will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein
Several Circles is a piece for clarinet quintet (eb clarinet, 3 clarinets in Bb, and bass clarinet) that was commissioned by Andrew Hudson in association with the 10th & Broadway Ensemble. Andrew had requested a piece from myself after meeting him at the 2016 Bang on a Can Festival. As I was also a clarinet player from high school and my later years as a musician, I naturally thought of the multi dimensional character of this woodwind instrument that I am quite accustomed to: the versatility of the technical possibilities, the vast range spanning over 3 octaves, the expanded warmth and richness this instrument is known for, and most importantly, the natural effects of arpeggios, rolls, trills, interval jumps and improvisation that makes the clarinet so fun to play on. Because of the natural orbital round effects of the clarinet family, I decided to write this work based on Wassily Kandinsky’s “Several Circles”, one of a set of 3 paintings that I had wanted to set a piece since viewing them on exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in 2006. Kandinsky’s abstract world of form not being connected to an external reality was a concept I was trying to depict in this work: the sequence of various sections and certain motific repeating textures dove tailing into one another represents the cosmos of the musical spheres that pertains to Kandinsky’s “Several Circles.” Most importantly, the colors of the various idiosyncratic performance techniques are loosely imitative of the endless circles and celestial pull that Kandinsky paints in his work. Moreover, my time writing Several Circles enabled me to circle around in my own limitless imaginative motion of wonder and discovery. Several Circles was premiered at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois on 28 January, 2017.
Finalist: The American Prize in Composition Chamber Music Division (2019)
We Interrupt this Broadcast: 1936-69’
small chamber ensemble, recorded
narration, sound design
commissioned by the i=u Festival
flute/alto flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, piano
We Interrupt this Broadcast: 1936-69’ was commissioned by the “i equals u” Festival, and premiered at Guests Projects Residency on 13 September, 2013. It calls for flute, clarinet in Bb, piano, violin, electronic sound design, and pre-recorded narration. The requested commission was an improvised type of work set to narration. From the announcement of King Edward VIII’s abdication speech to the Woodstock news footages, I decided to combine various historical US and UK broadcasts, along with other documented recordings from Argentina, India, and Germany. Each section weaves into another as vintage artifacts from earlier generations, somewhat representing the recorded verbatim text art that looms through hollow walls of contemporary museum exhibits. Combined with word painting and music quotation techniques, the ensemble and sound design creates atmospheric “Ivesian” textures of haunted iconic voices, which has shaped societies perception of the world, all based on the various news broadcasts from its time. This commission is also dedicated to composer, colleague, and friend Alex Temple. The video installation of this work was premiered at the London Symphony Orchestra’s Soundhub Associate Concert at LSO St. Luke’s on 27 May, 2017, featuring members of the LSO and conducted by Darren Bloom.
We Interrupt this Broadcast: 1936-69′ was very highly commended for the 2016 Alan Bush Prize.
Special thanks to Danny Feng for assisting with the recording, and Robert Ford for mixing this project.
the 12 other Disciples
for small chamber ensemble and
digital delay processing pedal
written for the twelve 12 12 project
viola, accordion, piano, percussion
“the 12 other Disciples” was written for the twelve 12 12 project at The Forge Camden, London on 12 December, 2012, directed by Nikki Franklin. I had chosen the title, based on the Last Supper from the Christian Faith, since the project focused on the number twelve, as the date is 12 days before the Christmas holiday. “the 12 other Disciples” quotes three familiar Roman Catholic liturgical chants throughout the piece: Kyrie XI, (A Modo I), Christus Factus est pro nobis (gradual in Mode 5), and ordinary Alleluia. The piece is not based on any of the individual apostles per se, but more of a celebrative spirit of the holiday for all the twelve artists involved in this project, as we are all “disciples” on our own spiritual journey. I decided to quote these particular chants, since I wanted to juxtapose its monophonic historical background into a modern contrapuntal setting, as this concert features all artistic styles and genres on the programme. I also added the delay pedal at certain parts of the piece, in order to exhibit a sense of this ancient ritual combined in a contemporary composition. Moreover, “the 12 other Disciples” is a musical communal collaboration, embracing the vernacular folk-like aspect of composition with its sophisticated style of listening.
Night with her Train of Stars
small chamber ensemble
commissioned by Michelle Gott
harp, clarinet, violin, percussion
Night with her Train of Stars was commissioned by Michelle Gott, and is written for harp, clarinet, violin, and percussion. It is based on the painting by Edward Robert Hughes. As I have written a few pieces based on art paintings in the past, I have always wanted to write a piece based on this work, and Michelle’s choice of instrumentation was the perfect fit for Hughes’ vision in this canvas. Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914) was a well-known English painter who worked in a style influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism. Although it was not my intention to structure the piece coinciding with this movement in art history, I attempted to capture the overall tone, color, and spiritual image that Mr. Hughes was trying to depict.
Night with her Train of Stars is more or less an augmented sonata-allegro form. The main melody, or the “voice” of the mother angel in the painting, is the ‘unanswered’ theme prominent in the exposition and the recapitulation of the piece, as the structure of the canvas creates many mystical visions and ‘unanswered questions’ for the audience to interpret on their own. The introduction and the ostinato like coda depicts the swirling birds and flying angels in the painting, combined with the simple development section that sheds light of the Mother calming the baby in her arms, which is juxtaposed by the surrounding activity in the middle-ground and background of the painting. While I chose this painting from the periods of Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism to write this composition, I am using elements of late-romanticism, impressionism, minimalism, a touch of film music, and contemporary techniques to make the soundscape more universal. Night with her Train of Stars was premiered at the Juilliard School of Music Morse Recital Hall on May 19, 2009.
Sirens was premiered at the Bowdoin International Music Festival on August 2nd, 2007. I had written this piece under the influence of the “Doppler Effect,” which is based on “the change in frequency and wavelength of a sound wave as perceived by an observer moving relative to the source of the waves.” When visiting Paris, I was deeply seduced by the police’s siren that changed in frequency as it went of in its distance. Many composers in the twentieth century have always experimented with “microtones,” which is a quarter-tone interval between a half step (or “semitone”), loosely based on the equal temperament application in music. In Sirens, the sequential falling thirds, tone clusters, and the descending chromatic voice leading through quarter tones is my very attempt to give homage to the “Doppler effect” that reminded me of the serene sounds of Paris. The piece is labeled a trio based on its instrumentation, and the contribution to the earlier structural rondo form that was popular during the Classical era.
Sirens was also performed by the Juventas New Music Ensemble at the Juventas Kammermusik Concert Series in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 5 and 7, 2008. A repeated performance by Juventas had taken place at Middlebury College in Vermont on April 12, 2010. In addition, the Brave New Works Ensemble performed Sirens at the 2011 Denison University Tutti New Music Festival on March 5, 2011, and had its UK premiere at The Forge, Camden, London in March of 2012.
String Quartet No. 2
written for the
2005 California Summer
for string quartet
2 violins, viola, violoncello
String Quartet No. 2 was written at the 2005 California Summer Music Festival in Pebble Beach, California. It was premiered at the “Sounds from Creative Minds” Composition Department Recital at the San Francisco Conservatory on November 12, 2005. The first movement (Untitled) is energetic and agitated since at that time I was looking forward to write a string quartet for a summer music festival. The second movement (San Francisco Fog) mysteriously depicts the many shades of San Francisco life, notably the Outer Richmond district that is known to be foggy and dreary most of the time of the year. San Francisco Fog also makes a reference to the Bay area foghorns that echoes throughout the Richmond district of the city. The last movement (Dance) is an animated closing dance piece for the quartet.
2. San Francisco Fog