On Tuesday, Yale School of Music composition professor Hannah Lash MUS ’12 and New York City–based new music chamber ensemble loadbang performed two of Lash’s works in Morse Recital Hall — “Music for Eight Lungs” and “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.” Lash is the recipient of the Naumburg Prize, a Fromm Foundation Commission and the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award. Her works have been performed by ensembles such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Da Capo Chamber Players at venues including Carnegie Hall and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep” was a semi-staged production, in which the musicians played and danced on stage. A trumpet player and bass clarinetist physically tied together portrayed a grotesque villain character named “Goatlegs.” A trombonist portrayed an old man named “Grandfather,” while a vocalist played the role of “Chimney Sweep.” A harpist, Lash herself, was the “Shepherdess.”
Loadbang comprises of trumpet player Andy Kozar, bass clarinetist Adrian Sandi, baritone Jeff Gavett and trombonist William Lang. While most standard chamber ensembles combine instrumentalists or vocalists of the same instrument family — such as string quartets, brass quintets and small vocal ensembles — loadbang uniquely combines musicians of “different families,” according to Lang.
“[Our instrumentation] has this whole unexplored territory of timbre that hasn’t really ever been put together in classical music before,” said Lang. “It’s undefined or unexplored territory and there’s a lot of ground to break within that.”
Lash has collaborated with loadbang for almost a decade. Both of the pieces on the program were written for and premiered by the quartet, in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
Lash initially composed the first piece on the program, “Music for Eight Lungs,” for a performance at Miller Theatre at Columbia University. The piece is based on the idea that each of the four players use their two lungs to create music.
“The piece is abstract, expressive, contrapuntal and harmonic,” said Lash. “It is a little bit disconcerting in some ways because we recognize the ghosts of certain gestures that belong to different historical periods than our own.”
According to Lang, because the group has studied the work for three years, they are “finally getting to a place of trust with it.”
“It’s a very delicate piece and it’s taken some time to really get in our fingers and slide and voice,” Lang added.
The second piece, “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep,” is a more recent composition that differs from other works loadbang has performed because it features staged elements.
“We memorize lines and act, and I have to keep switching brains between the trumpet brain and the acting brain, which I don’t access often,” said Kozar. “It’s [a combination of] trusting that you know the lines and are doing it and also remembering you also have to play trumpet — that’s the challenge.”
Lash based the piece on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, which she described as a story “about a psychological stuckness that humans experience when they’re in bad situations.”
“They’re not just children’s fairy tales,” said Lash. “They’re incredibly dark, poignant and about larger human issues.”
Lash chose Andersen’s story for her work because of its ability to tell a meaningful story in the simplest of terms. According to Lash, his writing appeals to her because “in choosing to write in such a way that’s ostensibly aimed at a large and innocent audience, he was able to say something more poignantly than if he was dealing with fully fleshed-out adult characters.”
Another unconventional element of “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep” is its assignment of characters to the instrumentalists even though they do not often speak or sing in concert, with the exception of the vocalist.
“It’s very rare that we get asked to be characters in a piece,” said Lang. “Normally there’s just character suggestions for the voice part and we just get to color it.”
In assigning characters to the performers, Lash considered the sound possibilities of each instrument.
“One of the characters is a bobble head that nods, so the analogy was to use the trombone slide,” said Lash. “And what better way is there to create the kind of scary grotesque goatlegs character than to physically tie two of the instrumentalists together?”
The two musicians’ parts are “often rhythmic unison as a unit, which makes sense because we exist in the show as a unit,” said Kozar. “The story really influences the way she’s writing music.”
Lang added that performing with Lash was also interesting not only because they were performing with the composer, but also because loadbang does not often play with additional musicians.
“What a pleasure it is to work with such wonderful people,” said Lash. “[Loadbang’s] openness to experimentation and play is always very inspiring.”
Phoebe Liu | email@example.com