Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight – Lembit Beecher

Lembit Beecher strives to create intimate, heartfelt, quirky and dramatically potent musical experiences. Many of Lembit’s projects involve the incorporation of untraditional elements into operatic form, working with baroque instruments, animation, electronics, new technologies, and devised theatre actors. Lembit recently received a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage to develop a new chamber opera with librettist Hannah Moscovitch, featuring soprano, string quartet, and a large music-generating sculpture.

His selected piece for the 25th Annual Underwood New Music Readings (Tuesday, June 14 at 7:30pm Miller Theatre, Columbia University), titled Chopin’s Ocean, takes inspiration from your grandmother’s coming-to-America story.

Composer Lembit Beecher

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Underwood New Music Readings?
Lembit Beecher: I was an outward pillar of calm and an inner dance of joy!

ACO: Your piece, Chopin’s Ocean, takes inspiration from your grandmother’s coming-to-America story, where as a concert pianist she played Chopin on the ship as it made its way across the Atlantic. Will the audience recognize any of Chopin’s melodies in the piece, or will this sentiment be conveyed more stylistically?
LB: I use mostly literal quotes of Chopin’s third Etude in the piece, but with the exception of one very clear moment of quotation, the bits I use are generally quite short or buried in the textures, so they may not be recognizable. I’ll be really curious how clear they seem. (I think these sorts of things are always more clear for the composer as s/he is writing than they end up being for the audience!) But I do think the audience will recognize that there are bits of material floating in the waves of the piece that come from somewhere else. I think of it like bits of plastic in the ocean (hopefully a more poetic form of plastic!) Our plastic waste gets broken up by waves into tiny pieces that have no relation to the original objects, but it is still recognizable as inorganic material.

ACO: What have you done with your piece, score, and parts in preparation for the Underwood New Music Readings?
LB: This is a piece that has gone through a series of revisions – I initially wrote it very quickly, and then revised it before the submission deadline for these readings. But after finding out it was selected for the readings, and after talking with Derek Bermel about the piece over the phone, I did more significant rethinking and re-orchestrating.

ACO: What do you hope to gain from the workshops, and the feedback and guidance of mentor composers Derek Bermel, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Stephen Hartke?
LB: I think I’m most excited for feedback that totally surprises me or catches me off guard. I have always loved those moments when someone with a fresh set of ears will bring up something about my music that I hadn’t thought of at all, perhaps an idea that suggests a totally different way of thinking about a problem, musical moment, or shape for the piece.

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