Jordan Kuspa MUS ’10 found inspiration for the title of his new composition in a second-grade science project. He demonstrated on-stage at the premier in Sprague Hall last Thursday: Kuspa cut slits in the skins of two lemons, inserted coins in the slits and created an electric current between the fruits — a lemonade battery.
The Yale School of Music’s “New Music New Haven” concert series kicked off Thursday with the debut of works by two student composers: Jordan Kuspa’s “Lemonade Battery” for chamber orchestra and Polina Nazaykinskaya’s MUS ’10 “Underground” and “Real April” for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and chamber ensemble, based on poetry by Laura Marris ’10 and Jordan Jacks ’09. The concert also presented two pieces by Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning composer Bernard Rands: “Concertino for Oboe and Ensemble” with oboist Alexandra Detyniecki MUS ’11 and “now again,” set to fragments of poetry by Sappho.
“I’m known for having kind of kooky titles,” Kuspa said in an interview. “I have also written a piece called ‘Wild and Ferocious Plants.’ The title is important because it is the first thing that the audience sees. It is their way into the piece.”
Kuspa emphasized the color, vitality, and prominent rhythmic pulse of “Lemonade Battery.”
“It’s bright and has such driving energy,” he said. “It has an electricity to it, and that’s what drove this piece. It’s about fun. The piece came before the title, though that’s not always the case.”
“Lemonade Battery” experiments with instruments: The piece includes both a rainstick and an instrument filled with coconut shells which Kuspa himself found in a San Diego souvenir shop. These give the piece a unique texture and an unexpected playfulness. The unconventional instruments punctuate the traditional sound of the orchestra with renewed energy.
“Something I was constantly thinking about when I was writing it was how to find ways to make things pop our of the texture — flashes of color and light and brightness, things that aren’t quite expected that have a pop to them,” he said.
And the audience responded well to the surprise.
“I loved its originality,” New Haven resident Toni Thompson said of Kuspa’s composition. “I thought it was very exciting and fresh and new.”
Next, the orchestra performed Nazaykinskaya’s “Underground” and “Real April.” Nazaykinskaya wrote the pieces for an assignment at the Norfolk New Music Workshop. She was given six poems written by Yale students and chose two, “Underground” by Laura Marris and “Real April” by Jordan Jacks, as an inspiration for her compositions.
“The task seemed difficult — an unusual combination of instruments and contemporary American poetry,” Nazaykinskaya wrote in the concert program. “But it ended up being a very inspirational work of mine.”
Although Nazaykinskaya said in an interview that she is reluctant to dictate the message of her compositions — “I like to give people freedom, everyone will feel differently,” she said — she did offer up interpretations of the two poems that accompanied her compositions.
“In ‘Real April,’ the idea is that people sometimes are embarrassed to show their feelings, even to themselves,” she said. “My music is unbearably romantic. I’m trying to argue that people shouldn’t be afraid to show their feelings, to be more open, to feel and not be ashamed about it.”
Both pieces are dramatic and grandiose. “Underground,” Nazaykinskaya said, is about love in the big city.
“[It’about] how you can’t trust anyone,” she said. “But you should trust; you shouldn’t lose those feelings. You shouldn’t be ashamed to be a romantic because without that, there’s no sense.”
The student composer described her musical style as musically and intellectually accessible, romantic and influenced by her Russian roots.
“It’s very easy to understand, easy to listen to, not very complicated music at all,” she said. “I have a very strong native background. In terms of harmony, my music is not European; it’s Russian.”
The night’s program ended with “Concertino for Oboe and Ensemble” and “now again” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Bernard Rands.
“It’s been a pleasure to see bright, sparkling, young composers who will change everything,” Rands said at the performance. “And they will!”
The next New Music New Haven concert will be on Nov. 19.