At 25, most people are just starting to build their careers. But Garth Neustadter MUS ’12, who is working toward a master’s degree in music at the Yale School of Music, is already well on his way: earlier this month, Neustadter won an Emmy — one of television’s highest honors.
Neustadter won the award in the “Outstanding Music Composition for a Series” category for the score he composed for “John Muir in the New World,” a PBS documentary. The documentary aired as part of the “American Masters” series, which highlighted the work of important American writers, actors and artists.
Previous to this work, Neustadter had been composing original scores for silent films. Tatge happened to come upon some of these pieces and decided to commission Neustadter for the PBS documentary.
“Usually the composers are contacted at the end of the filming process and post-production,” Neustadter said. “It was a little bit different because they wanted me on board with the process from the beginning, so I’d work a lot with the editor and throw ideas back and forth with the music.”
By connecting with Neustadter early in the documentary’s production, the film was much more strongly integrated with its music. A good example of the integration between the series’ production and its music, he added, was that editors were sometimes cutting the film to fit the music, rather than the composer writing to fit the edited footage, which is more common today.
For this project, the team also decided against using synthetic scores and computer-generated sounds — which are more popular and budget-friendly nowadays — and instead went for a more symphonic approach.
“We both felt that a lot of documentaries were being done with more synthetic scores, but we had a form of a special working idea that we could record with a full orchestra — a little bit more classically influenced.”
Neustadter was contacted by the production team some time before starting at the School of Music, but he composed most of the score while at Yale. Members of the Yale Philharmonia, Yale Symphony Orchestra and the Linden String Quartet — the current graduate quartet-in-residence at the Music School — participated in the recording of the score.
“Our part in the collaboration was brief and we did all of the takes in one session,” Eric Wong MUS ’12, the violist of the Linden String Quartet, wrote in an email to the News. “We didn’t get to hear or interact with the other ensembles on the recording during the process, so I was surprised and amazed by the scope and depth of the final product.”
At Yale, Neustadter said the curriculum emphasizes composition of concert pieces — works performed either by orchestras or chamber ensembles — but he said he likes to write film music outside of his studies. At Yale, Neustadter has also studied under Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Theofanidis and Martin Bresnick, all of whom have written film scores in the past.
Neustadter added that although there is often a stigma against writing film scores in academia, his professors and fellow students were supportive of his film work.
“He’s unusual as a composer because he’s also and exceptionally gifted multi-instrumentalist.” said Bresnick, Neustadter’s professor. “He plays the violin, the French horn and the piano and he’s a very impressive baritone — when he opens his mouth he sounds like an opera singer.”
Neustadter said he was both surprised and humbled by his win, adding that the four other nominated composers in his category were all people he had grown up admiring — such as Jeff Richmond and Alf Clausen, senior composers who record with live orchestras on a weekly basis. Neustadter noted that he felt “honored” to have been named among them for the category.
“[Neustadter] is very generous and soft-spoken,” said Kernis, “His teachers and colleagues are incredibly proud of him, and he’s the first composer at the Yale School of Music that’s won an Emmy while still a grad student.”
Neustadter received his statuette at the Creative Arts Awards and Ball on Sept. 10.