This evening, the Yale School of Music’s New Music New Haven concert series will kick off with a prerecorded virtual performance featuring five student composers’ works.
The NMNH series was founded to provide composition students at the music school with an opportunity to have their work showcased in professional performances. This semester, all three NMNH concerts will be prerecorded. Today’s concert features works by Frances Pollock MUS ’25, Joel Thompson MUS ’26, Linda Dallimore MUS ’21, Soomin Kim MUS ’21 and Samantha Wolf MUS ’21. Several of their compositions reference the pandemic.
“As a composer, it’s quite natural to bring in certain aspects of things that are going on in your life into your music, either consciously or subconsciously,” Dallimore said. “It’s common to be inspired by external sources. A number of us composers link our compositional voices to issues as we see fit.”
Wolf’s piece, titled “Vox Machina,” will be performed by a recorder player and vocalist. It aims to paint a picture of a Zoom meeting — an essential element of the COVID-19 era.
“Vox Machina,” Wolf said, plays into an improvisational relationship between vocalist and instrumentalist. She noted that while writing the piece, she worked with her performers, who were well-versed in experimental work. This summer, they experimented with generating sounds over Zoom and wound up with a somewhat abstract work.
“Imagine that you’re a robot and you’ve been studying humans throughout COVID-19 and how they’ve been living their lives through this platform called Zoom,” Wolf said. “And imagine you’re trying to tell an alien how to run a Zoom meeting. The piece breaks down Zoom meetings into progressive steps the way an alien might understand them.”
Wolf is not the only NMNH composer whose work explores the complexities of the COVID-19 era.
Dallimore, a composer from New Zealand, was not originally planning to write about the pandemic. But, she said the subject matter eventually became unavoidable. Her piece, “Parsed,” written for solo trumpet, is meant to mirror the chaos and anxieties of quarantine.
“It’s about that experience of slightly going crazy during way too many days in a row of being inside, and the anxiety and frustration when you read the news about it every day,” she said. “At the beginning, the headlines were awful. Being an international student, I’d have my family in New Zealand calling me to go home. There was a lot of hype and anxiety, so writing a piece for solo trumpet, it was inevitably reflected in that.”
Pollock’s work, while not directly about her own experience with the pandemic, explores other artists’ experiences with COVID-19. Pollock, named Chautauqua Opera composer-in-residence last year, was tasked by the opera with composing an a cappella song cycle.
When the pandemic hit, she suggested to the opera’s director that they involve the singers-in-residence by writing songs for them. The result was a set of 20 songs based on interviews with the singers about their personal experiences with the pandemic. Pollock chose to write a cappella songs because not every singer had access to an accompanist in isolation.
“These singers are commenting directly on their state of being right now,” Pollock said. “That made it extraordinary, because it felt very authentic.”
Kim’s piece, “The Weight of Wind,” stemmed from a commission by an oboist Amelia Merriman MUS ’21 for a recital scheduled last spring. The recital was canceled, but Merriman had asked Kim to write a song for her — a trio for oboe, bassoon and piano.
The piece, which will be performed as the penultimate piece in the concert, features the three instrumentalists and includes vocal components.
“The bassoon and oboe also sing,” according to Aaron Jay Kernis MUS ’83, NMNH’s artistic director. “And that’s the intention of this group — to explore new pieces for the instruments, but also for singing. So it’s a very interesting and diverse and colorful piece.”
“My Dungeon Shook: Three American Preludes,” which is Thompson’s piece, will also be performed at the concert. Written for solo piano, it comprises three dark, dramatic pieces relating to racial strife in the United States over the past few months, Kernis said.
Of the five pieces on the program, one of them — Dallimore’s “Parsed” for trumpet — was recorded in Sprague Hall, where NMNH concerts are typically held. Kernis said over the course of the series, more performances will be recorded in the hall.
After Friday’s concert, New Music New Haven will next hold a concert on Nov. 6.
Owen Tucker-Smith | email@example.com