Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight – Sarah Gibson

Los Angeles-based composer, pianist, and educator Sarah Gibson has received the Victor Herbert ASCAP award, NFMC Marion Richter American Music Composition Award, and first place in the 2010 Percussive Arts Society Composition Contest. eighth blackbird, the What’s Next? Ensemble, the University of Southern California (USC) Symphony, and USC Thornton Edge, and many other groups have performed her music. She is a lecturer at the University of Southern California and is the Teaching Artist for the esteemed Composer Fellowship Program and Associate Composer Program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Artistic Director, Andrew Norman.

Sarah will participate in 25th Annual Underwood New Music Readings (Tuesday, June 14 at 7:30pm Miller Theatre, Columbia University) with her piece Talking to the Time, inspired by the way her grandmother tells stories.

Composer Sarah Gibson

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Underwood New Music Readings?
Sarah Gibson: ACO and Underwood have such a strong and positive reputation in our field; I was so honored to learn I would get to work with them this June. I’ve had a couple friends who have participated in the Underwood New Music Readings and the feedback and mentorship they received was invaluable. Working with an orchestra and conductor, George Manahan, who have their thumb on the pulse of modern orchestral music is a one-of-a-kind experience. Combined with the incredible mentors and workshops we will be involved with, I know it will help shape how I think about my compositional voice and technique moving forward. I cannot wait to hear my piece come to life and to learn from the expertise of this orchestra and these mentors.

ACO: Your piece Talking to the Time reflects the way your grandmother would use each antique, trinket, or piece of furniture in her home to tell the story of her life. Are there any particular objects from your life or hers that are represented in the piece? If so, how?
SG: I approached this piece more from visualizing my grandmother walking around her house, telling stories that dovetailed and built on each other and less about particular pieces of furniture. It really was the technique by which she wove her stories that I was drawn to in the form of my piece. That being said, one of her favorite antiques in her home is her grandfather clock. When I heard the Punch Brothers’ song “Julep” which references a grandfather clock and the passing of time, I derived the title of my piece from its lyrics: “You and me rocking, grandfather clock is tick tick talking to the time we used to wind it.”

ACO: What have you done with your piece, score, and parts in preparation for the Underwood New Music Readings?
SG: I’ve gone through the piece very carefully and reworked voicings, orchestrational colors, and amped up important melodies that I want to come through more strongly in performance. I’ve also notated a fair amount of passages differently and played with different meters in order to depict what I’m after most effectively. I’m excited to see how these alterations affect the reading!

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?
SG: I’ve already learned so much about making my orchestrational argument clearer after a phone conversation with Derek Bermel. All three of these composers – Bermel, Snider, and Hartke – are such powerhouses in their field. I’m looking forward to hearing their feedback not only on my own piece, but also on the six other young composers’ pieces. Constantly, I am inspired by what my colleagues are doing and it will be such a treat to get to watch the other young composers in the rehearsal process and to see what these phenomenal mentors will offer each of us. We all have different voices and it will be so exciting to see the different techniques each of these mentors use with all seven of us. It will be thrilling to learn from these reading sessions and see how the composers, mentors, conductor, and orchestra respond to various aspects of our compositions.

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