American Composers Orchestra Announces Three Commissions from the 2019 Underwood New Music Readings

Composers Jack Hughs, Jihyun Kim, and Aaron Israel Levin.

Composers Jack Hughs, Jihyun Kim, and Aaron Israel Levin.

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) announces three commissions for emerging composers Jack Hughes, Jihyun Kim, and Aaron Israel Levin. They were chosen from six participants in ACO’s 28th Underwood New Music Readings, one of the most coveted opportunities for emerging composers in the United States. This year’s Underwood Readings were presented in partnership with NYU Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions.

2019 Underwood Commission 

2019 Underwood Commission winner Jack Hughes (b. 1992) is a Chicago-based composer who is interested in exploring the ways in which the inner life of sound interacts with a listener’s mind, body and soul. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, where he studies with Augusta Read Thomas. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in composition and theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music, in the studio of Keith Fitch. Jack served as composer fellow of San Francisco’s Volti choral ensemble in 2017 and of the Canton Symphony Orchestra in 2014. His music has also been performed by eighth blackbird, Quator Bozzini and members of Ensemble Dal Niente, among others. He began his musical studies on trumpet and piano in Reston Virginia and has also studied violin and viola with members of The Spektral Quartet in Chicago.

While Jack avoids being prescriptive in the response his music elicits, one of his core values is for his music be meaningful on some level to all audience members, regardless of their musical knowledge. He seeks to foster musical experiences in which imagination, empathy, and trust flow in all directions among the composer, performers, and listeners.

Of his Underwood piece Needlepoint, Hughes explains, “This piece was inspired by the craft of needlepoint, in which different-colored yarns are stitched onto a stiff canvas to produce a pattern or image. What inspires me about this art form are the contrasts it contains: between the flexible strands of yarn and the rigid canvas and between the small complex patterns that combine to form larger shapes and images. Throughout the work, small melodic threads are stitched onto a slowly-evolving harmonic grid. Dynamic swells produce rapid changes between the foreground and background, while stark tempo changes create a sense of ebb and flow as the music sometimes surges forward and sometimes seems to be held back against its will.”

“Jack Hughes’ music was inventive and meticulously crafted, with a true flair for orchestral color and dynamism,” says ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel. “We are excited to see what Jack does with this opportunity to write a brand-new work for us.”

Jack Hughes says, “I am ecstatic to be writing a new piece for ACO.  Throughout the Underwood New Music Readings, I got to know the orchestra's sound and personality, and I could feel the connection between the players on stage. Working with this ensemble has been a pleasure, and I am so excited to write a piece that makes full use of what these stellar players have to offer.” 

Learn more about Jack Hughes on his Soundcloud website.

Consortium Commission for Emerging Composers

The new Consortium Commission for Emerging Composers – which goes to Jihyun Kim – was created as a way to involve more orchestras in supporting emerging composers and to embed multiple performances into the opportunity.  “While it is common now for established names to receive consortium commissions, composers in earlier stages of their careers do not often get multiple performances for a new orchestral work,” explains ACO President Ed Yim. Kim receives a commission to write a new work to be performed by ACO, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (ASO), and American Youth Symphony (AYS) in Los Angeles.

Carlos Izcaray, Music Director of both ASO and AYS says, “One of the biggest challenges for an emerging composer is getting the opportunity to come back to their pieces, edit them, and hear them again in performance. That is why, as Music Director of both the American Youth Symphony and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, I’m thrilled to partner with ACO to launch our inaugural co-commissioning group. This will provide an amazing platform for a very talented new voice to be discovered.”

The music of Jihyun Kim (b.1989) has been performed in the prestigious venues around the world, including Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center, Seiji Ozawa Hall, Harris Hall in Aspen, DiMenna Center, Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence Italy, and Seoul Arts Center in Korea. His works have been performed by Tanglewood New Fromm Players, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, JACK Quartet, PUBLIQuartet, Asciano Quartet, Karien Ensemble, Switch Ensemble, and were featured at Tanglewood Music Center, Aspen Music Festival, Mayfest, the University of South Florida New Music Festival, among others. Recent honors include the American Prize in Orchestral Music, Libby Larsen Prize, Otto R. Stahl Memorial Award, PUBLIQ Access, Florence String Quartet Call for Scores, Juventas Ensemble Call for Scores, RedNote New Music Composition Competition, among many others.  Jihyun is currently pursuing DMA in Composition at Cornell University as a Sage Fellowship recipient. Jihyun previously earned MM degree in Composition from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University while serving as an Associate Instructor in Music Theory, and BM degree in Composition from Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea.

Of Kim’s Underwood work A Tramp in the Assembly Line, Kim notes, “The movie, Modern Times (1936), is a comedy film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. The “Tramp” character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world. My intention is not about conveying the message of Modern Times. Rather, I wanted to depict the scenes that were left with me with strong impressions: the rotating motion of the conveyor belt; the regular-pulsed machinery sound from the factory; the clown-like walking gesture of the character “Tramp”; and black-and-white scenes without sound. I wanted to create a musical panorama - enumerating it with equal importance and independence, instead of a single plot with a logical flow. As the musical ideas shift from one to another, a sense of discontinuity can be found between the sections.”

Learn more on Jihyun Kim’s website.

Audience Choice Commission

In addition, for the tenth year, audience members at the Underwood New Music Readings had a chance to make their voices heard through the Audience Choice Commission. The selected composer this year is Aaron Israel Levin, for his piece In Between. As the recipient, Levin also receives a commission from ACO for a composition to be premiered in a future season.

Yim says about the Audience Choice, “I’m delighted that we have begun giving the audience a voice in picking composers with whom ACO will work. There is a crucial energy and balance between listener, performer and composer that should be celebrated, and the Audience Choice commission allows listeners to participate actively in the creation of new musical works. Of course, we feel that all six of the Underwood composers are special and deserve support, but I am not surprised that Aaron’s work had a special place in the hearts of the audience.”

"It was such an incredible and informative experience to take part in the Underwood New Music Readings,” adds Aaron Israel Levin. “I'm honored to have the chance to work with the amazing musicians of ACO once again. Can't wait to get back to work!”

Aaron Israel Levin (b. 1995) writes music that is guided by the emotional dynamism of storytelling and drama. He draws from a variety of musical and non-musical influences – including film, theater, and performance art – to create compositions that are both personal and wide-ranging. Aaron’s music has been performed by the Bent Frequency Duo, Fifth House Ensemble, loadbang, Pavia Winds, the Yale Philharmonia, mezzo-sopranos Kayleigh Butcher and Lisa Neher, and percussionists Dmitrii Nilov and Sam Um. Passionate about collaboration, Aaron frequently works with artists from different mediums. He has collaborated with playwright Christopher Gabriel Nuñéz; developed projects with projection designer Johnny Moreno; and choreographers Celeste Miller and Mary Gwin. Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Aaron earned his BA in music from Grinnell College in Iowa, where he studied composition with Eric McIntyre and John Rommereim. He will receive his MM in composition from the Yale School of Music in May 2019, where his teachers included Martin Bresnick, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Hannah Lash, and Christopher Theofanidis.

Of his Underwood piece, Levin says, “In Between takes its inspiration from movies about making movies, like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, or Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. In these films, the lives of fictitious filmmakers ‘off-set’ often become intermingled with the film they’re attempting to make. In Between takes this premise as a jumping-off point, and approaches the orchestra like a crew of filmmakers. Specifically, the whip – a percussion instrument that makes a distinctive whack – stands in for the director’s clapperboard. Every time the whip is sounded, it signifies an ‘action’ for the filming to begin, or a ‘cut’ for the filming to stop. The musical characters that take place during the ‘action’ and ‘cut’ sequences come into conflict with each other, evoking the tension and inner turmoil that frequently accompany the artistic process. The title refers to what happens in between ‘takes,’ and the inevitable merging of off- and on-set.”

Learn more on Aaron Israel Levin’s website

About the Underwood New Music Readings

The 28th Annual Underwood New Music Readings were under the direction of ACO’s Artistic Director, composer Derek Bermel, and were conducted by Ludovic Morlot, with Bermel, Anthony Cheung, and Tania León as mentor composers. The conductor, mentor composers, and principal players from ACO provided critical feedback to each of the participants during and after the sessions. In addition to the Readings, the composer participants took part in Career Development Workshops with industry professionals. This year's New Music Readings attracted over 200 submissions from emerging composers around the country.

The Underwood Commission was chosen by the mentor composers and the conductor. The Consortium Commission was chosen by ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel and Alabama Symphony Orchestra/American Youth Symphony music director Carlos Izcaray. The Audience Choice Commission was determined by paper ballot at the run-through performance.

For over a generation, ACO's Underwood New Music Readings have provided all-important career development and public exposure to the country's most promising emerging composers, with over 150 composers participating. Readings alumni have won every major composition award, including the Pulitzer, Grammy, Grawemeyer, American Academy of Arts & Letters, and Rome Prizes. Orchestras around the globe have commissioned ACO Readings alumni.

2019 mentor composer Anthony Cheung says of the Readings, “I’m rather astonished at how much ground was covered over such a short amount of time, from talking nuts and bolts of a score to various panels on career advice to the readings themselves and feedback. The sessions were a vivid snapshot into the world of orchestral composition in America today, but more importantly, they introduced six distinctive voices whom I’ll look forward to hearing for years to come.”

Jihyun Kim echoes, “The Underwood New Music Readings with ACO provided the best environment for young composers with the orchestra being so fearless and open-minded to new ideas and aesthetics. All three days were filled with valuable learning experiences, inspiring discussions, and the pure joy of sharing music!

About American Composers Orchestra

Founded in 1977, American Composers Orchestra is dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promotion of music by American composers. ACO makes the creation of new opportunities for American composers and new American orchestral music its central purpose. Through concerts at Carnegie Hall and other venues, recordings, internet and radio broadcasts, educational programs, New Music Readings, and commissions, ACO identifies today’s brightest emerging composers, champions prominent established composers as well as those lesser-known, and increases regional, national, and international awareness of the infinite variety of American orchestral music, reflecting geographic, stylistic, and temporal diversity. ACO also serves as an incubator of ideas, research, and talent, as a catalyst for growth and change among orchestras, and as an advocate for American composers and their music. ACO programs seek to innovate and experiment, educate students and the public, and open the orchestra to diverse new influences and audiences. For more information, visit the American Composers Orchestra website.