To commemorate the 25th Annual EarShot Underwood New Music Readings, taking place on Tuesday, July 14, 7:30pm at Miller Theatre, Columbia University, SoundAdvice is catching up with a few of our many notable EarShot alumni. Wang Jie participated in the 18th Underwood Readings and won the $15,000 commission to write a piece for the ACO. Her commission, From the Other Sky, was premiered at Carnegie Hall in December 2010 and was described by The New York Times as “clear, lucid and evocative music.” The piece, a 15-minute concert opera, has since been expanded into a full-length production, which will premiere at Festival Opera in Fall 2017 in collaboration with American Opera Projects!
|Composer and Underwood alumna Wang Jie
American Composers Orchestra What impact did your experience at the Underwood New Music Readings have on your career and voice as a composer?
Wang Jie: Being chosen for the Underwood Reading was like the Greek Gods nodding from behind the big table saying: “yeah kid, you are onto something.” I didn’t know what that “something” was and in the end, it wasn’t as important as what the Underwood experience taught me.
I’ll never forget the magical hour during the debriefing when I was seated inches away from the very Greek Gods who had done me some previous nodding. As a conversation unfolded over the open scores of my music, I immediately recognized myself in them. They are no Gods. These were clearly real people who cared. They heard something in my music that I did not hear myself. Perhaps they recognized themselves in my music. It was humbling. I remember thinking to myself: “Gee, I want to grow up and be just like them!” I walked away knowing it was somehow all possible, and I’ll eventually get there.
ACO: You describe yourself as “part cartoon character, part virtuoso, musical whiz kid” and humor is undoubtedly a prominent element in many of your works. The classical world is perhaps known for taking itself quite seriously – when did you realize your music and performances wouldn’t be conformed by this? Did the Underwood Readings allow you to further flex or develop these comedic muscles?
WJ: According to legend, the last words of tragic acting star Edmund Kean were: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” I share his feeling that comedy is a difficult matter and frequently the best way to make a serious point. The Underwood Reading not only led me to a commission by ACO, it also enabled me to tackle the difficult comedy form. At all times during the process, ACO was hospitable to my eccentric perspectives and took great risks in terms of characterization, scenic design and performance. Since the ACO premiere of my crazy work, it has gained traction from the opera world. The 15-minute concert opera has been expanded into a full evening, slated for a new production by Festival Opera in Fall 2017. The piece may be comedic, but the world of Classical music and opera is taking it as seriously as it does ACO and the Underwood Readings.
ACO: What do you think is most beneficial about the Readings for up-and-coming composers?
WJ: Composition as a profession is a true testament of one’s resilience. While the rest of the music world locks its embarrassing mistakes behind practice rooms doors, young composers risk public humiliation each time they desire a hearing of their creations. Fighter pilots get to safely crash in the flight simulator numerous times before they operate a real aircraft. The Underwood Readings are flight simulators for up and coming composers, complete with the musical equivalent of a real-deal, top-caliber jet. The bad news is….there isn’t any. Even if you discover composing for a large orchestra doesn’t speak to your instinct, finding it out in a labetory environment is in itself good news.
ACO: What advice would you give this year’s seven participants, both for the readings and beyond?
WJ: Know where you have said it clearly. Know where you could have said it more clearly. Start a new piece.