The NEC Young Composers Forum is an open space in which young composers from anywhere in the world are invited to present their work not in the context of a performance, but rather in a presentation or lecture format. Eight young composers have been invited to talk about their music as a way for specialized audiences —composers, performers, and theorists— to learn more about what is currently happening in new music composition not only in Boston, but also around the world. Therefore, this entrepreneurial project is outwardly beneficial: not only does it benefit audiences, but it also helps young composers gain valuable skills, increase awareness about their work, and possibly make important personal connections that will help them advance their careers.

Ryan Krause: The Future of the NEC Young Composers Forum

Over the course of the last four months, NEC composer Joan Arnau Pàmies has founded, curated, and overseen the creation and execution of a new student-run organization: the NEC Young Composers Forum, a program made possible thanks to an NEC Entrepreneurial Grant. The forum set out to bring in interesting and relevant composers to introduce themselves to the NEC community and to present their work and topics related to its creation. As Pàmies saw it, this would allow NEC students and composers “the opportunity to not only learn about the transformations that music is going through today, but also to be more familiar with late 20th Century musical, aesthetic, and philosophical terms."

The aim of the forum has been to bring in outside voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard in typical Composition Department master classes, which generally opt for older, more established and conservative composers. Instead, the NEC YCF brought in an array of much more identifiable figures. The age range of the “young” composers Pàmies recruited runs from about 25 to just under 40, and the career status of these musicians is something that an NEC student could aspire to, and achieve, within a few years. They were young, diligent, daring composers, who talked not about their careers, nor life as a successful composer, but talked, quite simply, about their music. Each presenter brought in a number of slides and musical examples, and many brought in sketches and graphs of the pre-compositional process.

The composers involved were a varied group, not of one musical school or particular aesthetic, but all with interesting approaches and techniques that were fascinating to hear about. Harvard composer Trevor Bača has developed his own code to realize complex, multi-dimensional musical processes in small chamber pieces with extramusical, often mystic, poetic aims. Columbia’s Paul Clift brought in an elaborate multimedia work featuring pre-recorded soprano, a dancer triggering sensors, and live audio processing involving highly sensitive microphones being placed inside the instruments. From the younger of the visiting composers like Alec Hall and Diana Soh, we saw a number of skilled and engaging chamber pieces. Regardless of the style, what these musicians had in common was their attention to detail, the level of their craft, and their relevance within the current musical framework.

We have the unique privilege of being able to attend a cultural institution with as much international renown as NEC. The school has had a long history of bringing in relevant and influential composers over the last couple of decades, and the guests who visited the forum in its inaugural year were all thrilled to be presenting in such a setting. It is important for the NEC community to trade on this cachet. Once or twice a year, the Composition Department brings in a composer for a colloquium, but this is not enough. In order that the world of composition at NEC may remain viable, we need to seek out the best of those around us, and the task needn’t fall solely on the Department.

As it was, the Forum was not limited in its appeal to composition majors, but, rather, drew a wide array of attendees from all the school’s disciplines. As Pàmies puts it, “I still think I failed at one of the most important goals of this whole project, which was to attract the majority of the students in the NEC Composition Department—I can recall barely ten students out of over fifty who came to at least one of the lectures. It was surprising to see that more jazz and CI majors than composition students attended the lectures."

Where the forum did succeed, however, was in allowing young minds to interact. The visiting composers, being in the germination stages of their artistic endeavors, are vulnerable, fallible, and still not set in their ways, and, moreover, have as much to benefit from presenting their music as we do from hearing about it. Bringing in successful composers can be a good model for the career-minded among us, but how much more fruitful would it have been to hear these composers hashing out their ideas 30 years ago, when they were still young, when they were first making their creative strides? Theory faculty Stratis Minakakis made a similar observation. “I always imagined how fascinating it might have been to meet the young Xenakis and Stockhausen in Darmstadt at the moment when they were composing ‘Metastasis’ and ‘Gruppen.’ Such festivals were started in the early fifties in Europe to provide a podium to the younger generation for the exchange of new ideas. The NEC Young Composers Forum started from a similar impetus and I hope it is an effort that is seriously undertaken by students next year and in the years to come.”

So, returning students, the onus is on you: the NEC YCF needs to and deserves to live on. Now that Pàmies has the ball rolling, all we need is for someone, be it one student or several, to step up and take the reins and reapply this fall for an Entrepreneurial Grant. Continuing the momentum set forth by this successful first year of the forum is an important step towards seeing that NEC remains a relevant institution, at the forefront of contemporary composition, and so that we may continue to witness the future of music in the making.

Ryan Krause is a composer currently finishing his Master of Music at NEC. This article was first published on Issue XXX of NEC's student newspaper "The Penguin".

Ryan Krause on Alec Hall's lecture for the NEC YCF

In the first session of NEC’s Young Composers forum, we met Alec Hall, a Canadian studying at Columbia, who talked in depth about a piece for clarinet and piano, prefacing his description with the caveat that he was currently more involved in electro-acoustic music. While a simple duo between two classical instruments might be seemingly at ends with his electronic aims (Hall currently studies with Tristain Murail, and before with Philippe Manoury), the piece made full use of the variety of timbres available to the two instruments and their combinations, as enveloping shrieks of the clarinet multiphonics and the persistent tinkling at the extreme ends of the piano coalesced into one beautiful whole.

Hall gave a great talk—he talked about his process, his influences, musical or otherwise, and his objectives with the piece. He shared slides of some Philip Guston drawings in particular that had inspired his direction in the piece. Guston, also Canadian, had, in this early drawing, created a very crude, but architecturally conceived arrangement of smeared lines and a few specific angles and relationships that Hall worked into his music. He shared graphs from various stages of his compositional process, in which he had mapped out these lines as contours for various aspects of the piece; he identified three types of motion in the Guston that he would use. The piece, which was a commission from a clarinetist friend, relied heavily on a number of multiphonics worked out with the player. Hall then worked to create progressions between the variety of these, and then worked further to obscure from them the blatant predictability that would result from a simple chorale progression. Though for me, some of the most satisfying sounds were when Hall was able to place a single note from the chalumeau register of the clarinet at the base of a series of oscillating multiphonics while the piano clamored with both hands in its upper register, so that, with the wild swirl of sound above it, the sotto voce tone at the bottom remained virtually indistinguishable as to from which instrument it came.

Featured as he was on the opening session of the NEC YCF, Hall embodied, in a sense, the ideal archetype for what was to come. Unlike the typical talks we see at NEC, involving more established and generally more conservative older composers, in Hall we were able to see a “young composer” who was still grappling with his own stylistic direction, yet in whose process, we witnessed a sort of daring and diligence far surpassing that of the standard stock of visiting composers. But it was this naked honesty, this vulnerability, that I feel had much to offer the attending group of fellow “young composers.”

Ryan Krause is a composition major at NEC currently studying with John Mallia.

Simon Hanes on Trevor Bača's lecture

At the New England Conservatory Young Composer’s Forum on December 13th, 2010, Trevor Bača gave a lecture/presentation about himself and his music. He spent the better part of an hour deftly speaking about his influences, beliefs, compositional practices and techniques. He played his piece Lidércfény (2008), a tense, shimmery 15 minute work that lithely slithered back-and-forth through erratic, sharp colors and steely harmonies. Then he answered some questions.

After hearing Trevor Bača speak for only a short time, it becomes apparent that he has developed a deep capacity for abstract thought, the effect of which shows clearly and beautifully in his music. His relationship to the world around him seems comparable to that of a child in the world’s largest candy emporium; bright-eyed, he explores aisle after aisle, hungrily searching out the most promising morsels and using them, in this case, as inspirations/associations for his work.

What is most inspiring about Bača is his awareness of and aptness in exploiting the resources of our time that were not available to artists of previous generations, such as open source notation and editing software that allow a composer to do the “drudge work” in a fraction of the time it would take by hand, allowing him/her to focus extensively on the inventive, generative aspects of writing music. This, when combined with an up-to-date, reflective and thoughtful relationship to the history of modern/experimental music, accounts for a compositional practice that feels completely new, a development in the syntax of art music spurred by technology, science, and individuality.

Simon Hanes is a Contemporary Improvisation Major at NEC.

NEC YCF FINAL SESSION: Derek Beckvold & Stratis Minakakis

The NEC YCF is proud to present visiting artists Derek Beckvold and Stratis Minakakis.

Derek Beckvold has made music throughout North America and Europe. He has performed many styles of music, including classical music, new music, old music, improvised music, jazz music, north indian music and west african music. He plays saxophones, clarinets and tabla. He is also a composer and conductor. He is also a very bad flute player. He is an even worse banjo player. He has worked with many internationally recognized composers, performers and ensembles. He graduated from the New England Conservatory in 2009 with a BA in saxophone, studying with Ken Radnofsky and Allan Chase, Indian music with Peter Row and Jerry Leake, and composition with Lyle Davidson, Anthony Coleman and Gunther Schuller.

Stratis Minakakis (b. 1979) studied composition, theory and piano performance in his native Greece, the United States and France. His output includes work for solo, chamber and orchestral ensembles. His music has been performed and commissioned by leading institutions and ensembles, such as the PRISM saxophone quartet, Tosiya Suzuki and the Next Mushroom Promotion ensemble, the Arditti String Quartet, the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet, Ensemble Counter)induction, the Second Instrumental Unit, Ensemble I/O, the Contemporary Music Ensemble in Athens and Princeton University. A recipient of numerous academic and artistic awards, most recently his work Aggeloi II received the 2010 Takefu International Composition Prize in the Takefu International Festival in Japan (Toshio Hosokawa, director). Also active in the field of music theory, he has lectured in Europe and the U.S. as well as published articles on the music of Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, György Ligeti and the Greek avant-garde. As a conductor, he has premiered several new works by contemporary composers for chamber and symphony ensembles. Stratis Minakakis is currently a faculty member at the New England Conservatory Music Theory Department in Boston, Massachusetts.
Friday, January 21, 2011
NEC Pierce Hall
241 St. Botolph Street
Boston, MA 02115

Vanessa Wheeler on Paul Clift's "With My Limbs in the Dark"

In the weeks following the inaugural lectures of the New England Conservatory Young Composers Forum (NEC YCF), it is apt to consider how seemingly familiar concepts, such as feedback, can be new again. Paul Clift's demonstration on November 15th, 2010 to a small audience in Pierce Hall how he -- with the help of a choreographer and several IRCAM engineers -- can exploit electro-acoustic concepts in his multimedia work, With My Limbs in the Dark.
Clift addresses questions of spacialization by fitting a mixed ensemble of acoustic instruments with speakers and microphones. He also outfits a dancer with two small speakers and a microphone on either hand. As a sort of meta-musician, the dancer’s carefully choreographed movements interact in rotation with each instrument, adding rich feedback and other effects to an otherwise conventional instrumental texture. Initially bewildering sonorities begin to solidify with each repeated exchange, constructing a loose, internal form, which perpetually entices the ear.

The piece reaches a bold peak when acoustic and electronic sounds arrive at a satisfying amalgamation of extended, pure, buttery noise. The climax, although dependent on conventional instrumentation, utilizes the complex timbres born from these live electronic interactions, which shape this peak that is simultaneously static yet infinitely variable.
Paul Clift’s highly inventive ensemble yields results that are at times lush and familiar, yet often illusive in execution. His path towards spacial exploration undoubtedly connotes Spectralist interest while also discovering the experience of resonating bodies set in motion -- a sentiment closely akin to that of the New York School of composers. Clift’s careful consideration of these disciplines allow the events within With My Limbs in the Dark to speak through the science -- not in spite of it.


Vanessa Wheeler is a composition major at NEC currently studying with Lyle Davidson and Kati Agócs.