Student composers collaborate with Boston-based quartet | 2022 | Alumni, friends and families

Student composers collaborate with Boston-based quartet

July 7, 2022

The innovative work of Brandeis student composers was performed by Hub New Music at the annual Henry Lazarof New Music Brandeis Concert 2022

Last spring, a unique collaboration took place on campus when the creative trajectory of three Brandeis graduate student composers reached a whole new level, both in terms of innovation and presentation.

It happened at the inauguration Henri Lazarof New Music Brandeis Annual Concert April 1 to Slosberg Music Centerwhen the Boston-based quartet New Music Hub performed original compositions by Jingmian Gong, GSAS MFA’23, Max Friedman, GSAS MFA’22 and David Girardin ’21, GSAS MA’22.

The concert series is part of the Henri Lazarof Living Legacy at Brandeiswhich celebrates the life and impact of the world-renowned composer, conductor, pianist and teacher who earned his MFA at Brandeis in 1959. The legacy funds residencies for eminent performers of new music who present the works of young composers in the Graduate Program of the Department of Music.

Hub New Music, consisting of cello, clarinet, flute and violin, has been hailed by critics and audiences alike for its decidedly precise and modern musical aesthetic and ability to play outside the box of classical repertoire. Their interpretations of compositions by Gong, Friedman and Girardin were particularly compelling, and the students themselves learned a great deal in the process.

Experiential learning and musicality

As the school year drew to a close, we caught up with two of these talented young musicians to ask them about the experience of having their compositions performed by Hub New Music.

Jingmian Gong, GSAS MFA’23, who was in Seoul when we spoke, is a pianist and composer from China who came to the United States to study theory and composition as an undergraduate at the Boston Conservatory in Berklee. There, Professor Derek Hurst, GSAS MFA’01, PhD’06, encouraged Gong to attend Brandeis graduate school.

The piece she submitted for Hub New Music to perform is titled “In the back it shines», an avant-garde work that includes flute, clarinet and cello. Gong’s collaboration with the quartet was particularly immersive, as she was also involved in the performance itself.

“I added an electronic part,” she said, “although, with a background tape, the end result is still quite romantic. I always write with a bit of romance.

The rehearsal process itself was a new experience for the students, as they worked directly with the musicians throughout.

“It’s hard to be responsible, to pay attention to detail and to know what you’re doing,” Gong said. “The performers were asking questions, so I must have known my intention very well. It was also very freeing to make my own creative decisions. They brought so much life to the music. They asked me what I wanted to bring out, not just the notes on the score but what’s behind the music. Throughout the process, I got to know the performers and saw how they work together to bring out the composer’s intentions. They understand the flow of music and provide audiences with a truly human experience.

Max Friedman, GSAS MFA’22, was equally enthusiastic about working with Hub New Music, who performed a 10-minute movement of his master’s piece, “The Butterflower Meadow.” Drawing inspiration from 20th century Yiddish poets including Rokhl H. Korn, Friedman sought to share Yiddish narratives in a musical medium and was delighted with Hub New Music’s interpretation. At various points in the piece, the musicians lower their instruments and recite the poetry themselves, although in earlier movements the poetry is incorporated into recordings of the Yiddish poets reading their work.

“The last movement takes pieces of text, translates them, fragments them and mixes them. Instead of using a singer, I use music to play with someone reciting poems. The musicians were amazing and I trusted them. It was one of those lucky cases where the performance was better than all the rehearsals. It was wonderful and every piece was performed beautifully – it was eclectic and creative.

Like Gong, Friedman enjoyed the challenge of being in charge throughout the process. “Students are expected to coordinate directly with musicians,” he said, “which is something unusual and a strength of the program.”

The professional point of view

As a teacher, Yu-Hui Chang, Professor of Composition in the Brandeis Music Department, echoes this positive view of the Lazarof Concert Series.

“Playing the music of our student composers professionally has always been an integral part of our education,” she said by email. “Students not only have the opportunity to hear their compositions come to life to their full potential, but they also learn how to interact professionally with the musicians during rehearsals, communications, etc., which sets the stage for their future career development. We are pleased that these resources allow us to enhance this important component of our music composition and theory programs.

Mark Berger, Associate Professor of Music Practice, also wrote to express his gratitude for witnessing the powerful influence this program has on student composers.

“Having experienced first-hand the extraordinary value of working with professional musicians and new music scholars as a PhD student in composition at Brandeis,” he said, “I am very excited about the opportunities that the Henri Lazarof Living Legacy programs offer our students It has been a great joy to see the works of our graduate composers come to life with polished performances from Hub New Music.

“In addition to making connections with the performers,” Berger continued, “our students came away with great recordings that are extremely important for building their portfolios and being able to absorb the auditory feedback of listening to their real-time work.The annual Lazarof New Music Brandeis Concerts will provide this opportunity every year for our gifted students, and Brandeis is extremely fortunate that this is an integral part of the student experience while studying here.

The musical leaders of tomorrow

Both Gong and Friedman have big plans for the future and will continue to reflect on everything they learned during the Henri Lazarof New Music concert series experience.

“I have a background in new and classical music,” Friedman said. “Klezmer and Yiddish are newer to me, but that’s where the momentum is for me right now. One project I’m looking forward to is creating a family klezmer band. My parents and my sister are also wonderful musicians. Mostly weird klezmer, which is fine. I’m going to take some Yiddish classes at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, then go back to Memphis and do some work, try to complete a commission and figure out what it means.

“I want to be an educator,” Gong said, “and train future composers. That’s why this concert meant a lot to me. It showed me another possibility, another way to help future generations of composers. I would like to give back.”

The recipient of the Third Annual Henri Lazarof International Composition Prize is Yotam Haber, an award-winning and critically acclaimed innovator whose works have been commissioned and performed by renowned artists, ensembles and orchestras around the world. The annual prize rewards the composition of an original work for selected instruments, with the specific instrumentation changing each year to complement an existing work by Henri Lazarof. Learn more.

About the Author

Annie is a Senior Development Writer in Progress Communications. Before joining Brandeis in January 2022, she was a writer at Dartmouth College. As a longtime freelance journalist and radio commentator, she has covered art, culture, travel and education for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Art in America, Art New England, NPR and many other media. She is the lucky mother of two grown children.

Comments are closed.