Courtesy of YUCO

With live orchestra performances on hold because of the pandemic, Emery Kerekes ’21 and Jacob Miller ’22, artistic directors of the Yale Undergraduate Chamber Orchestra or YUCO, spearheaded an innovative project pairing student composers with artists.

Kerekes and Miller hope the project will foster new connections through virtual platforms. Composers will write a piece specifically for the artist they were paired with. Together, the composers and artists will prepare pre-recorded performances to be showcased in a live virtual concert in December. 

“We get to have many more composers showcase their music and that’s really exciting to me,” Miller said. “There’s so many people composing in different ways and many different styles on this campus and I’m excited to see what comes up.”

YUCO was originally formed with the goal of uniting composers and musicians at Yale. YUCO typically holds an orchestra concert in Battell Chapel every semester, which premieres new pieces by student composers alongside other classical works. Last semester, YUCO and the dance group, A Different Drum, organized a ballet together, but the pandemic disrupted those plans. 

To enlist students for the project, YUCO members sent out a survey in September. Student composers will write specifically for the performers they are paired with, allowing the two parties to collaborate closely.

“We paired the composers with the performers before a single note was written,” Kerekes said. “The composers are truly writing the pieces for performers that they were paired up with, and that’s the collaborative composition process that we’re looking to have.”

Digital performances, both pre-recorded and live, introduce a new domain for composers and musicians. But they are creatively confronting the challenges posed by the virtual transition.

For example, this project is open to non-musical artists, including visual artists and dancers. Their creations — which include animations and artworks — can supplement composers’ musical recordings. Kerekes said that by pairing composers with artists, he hopes to explore “beyond the bare concert minimum.” 

YUCO board members Maddy Tung ’21 and Jonathan Jalbert ’23 are involved in organizing the concert. Jalbert, who is working on a duet for clarinet and violin, explained that his group will record its performances separately and then compile them into one video. He noted that the project requires composers and musicians to be more communicative.

“You have to be very intentional in advance to putting any of the music together, knowing exactly what you and your group want to do with the music before you record your parts separately,” Jalbert said. “I think that’s actually really helpful.”

Kerekes said this project offers composers and artists the unique opportunity to discuss ideas together, which does not always occur in typical performance seasons. Miller noted that the project preserves a sense of community among YUCO members while highlighting the talents of individual composers and artists.

In addition to giving composers and artists the chance to keep making music, the project aims to provide the concert’s audience with a sense of comfort. 

“Going to an event, even if you’re logging on to the computer, reminds me of the way things kind of used to be in some small way,” Miller said. “And I think music is one of these things that brings people together. It’s especially important right now. Even if it’s not fixing the problems of the world, it’s bringing us together in some small way.”

YUCO was founded in the spring of 2017.

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu