EarShot Sarasota Orchestra – Composer Spotlight: Nicky Sohn

From ballet to opera to Korean traditional-orchestra, the wide-ranging talent of composer Nicky Sohn is sought after across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Characterized by her jazz-inspired, rhythmically driven themes, Sohn’s work has received praise from international press for being “dynamic and full of vitality” (The Korea Defense Daily), having “colorful orchestration” (NewsBrite), and for its “elegant wonder” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), among many others. As a result, Sohn has enjoyed commissions from the world’s preeminent performing arts institutions, including sold-out performances at the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany, The National Orchestra of Korea, and the New York Choreographic Institute at New York City Ballet.

Nicky’s piece Bird Up was selected for the EarShot Sarasota Orchestra New Music Readings, where it will be rehearsed and performed under the direction of conductor Christopher Rountree. A reading session on Saturday, March 16, 8PM is open to the public at Holley Hall. Click here for more information.

We spoke with Nicky about her piece and the EarShot program.

Composer Nicky Sohn

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Sarasota Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings?

Nicky Sohn: I was absolutely thrilled! Bird Up is the first orchestra piece I have written since being out of school, so it meant extra special to me that the piece was selected for this wonderful program. It is always nerve-wracking, but the most exciting experience is to have my orchestra music in front of each member of the orchestra. So, to be given this opportunity to hear my piece played by the Sarasota Orchestra with the great mentors next to me, I felt extremely excited and honored.

I was also really happy to be able to edit and give my piece another go. The piece was read at the Aspen Music Festival in the prior summer, and there were sections I wanted to edit and fix to make the piece better. It is rare to receive a second chance with an orchestra piece as a young composer, and I was sincerely grateful for this opportunity.

ACO: Your piece Bird Up is inspired by the chaos of New York City, as seen through the lens of Adult Swim’s bizarre “anti-talk show” The Eric Andre Show. Do you have any personal experiences with chaos/absurdity in NYC that inspired the piece? Was writing this piece a way to help cope with this aspect of living in NYC, which many people find to be stressful, or are these chaotic moments something that you savor?

NS: Definitely! I lived in New York for 9 years, from the age 15 to 24. Everyday was filled with excitement, but also so much stress and chaos. Now that I look back, I have no idea how I survived through those years. Living in New York gave me so much inspiration and energy, but everyday was also a struggle. Even in my own apartment, which was never really affordable, and extremely tiny, I always felt restless and unsettled. When I moved to Los Angeles, I finally realized laundry and grocery shopping did not have to be such a battle.

Bird Up encapsulates my perspective on the nature of New York City, as seen through the lens of the bizarre humor in The Eric Andre Show. The show reflects the extreme end of the chaos that New Yorkers sometimes encounter with a humorous twist—Eric Andre dresses up in a neon green morph suit and confronts strangers on the street. When planning this work, my goal was to create an orchestra piece that reflect The Eric Andre Show’s prominent attributes—lively, energetic, and most importantly, loud. I wanted to keep the energy up throughout the whole piece, but still have a lot of different orchestral colors and textures. My music tends to be pulse driven and quite rhythmic, and I intended to emphasize and magnify the rhythmic aspect. New York was always dynamic, and full of sounds no matter what time it may have been. I also placed several police whistles and siren in different sections of the orchestra to show the chaotic street scenes of New York.

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece?

NS: During the preparation for the readings with the Sarasota Orchestra, I have been learning so much about how many layers of work one needs to put in in order to get an orchestra piece done. This was the first time someone looked through my parts in depth and gave me constructive criticism in part preparation especially on layouts, fonts, and spacing. I have edited my score and parts a lot appearance-wise. I had to reformat the score and the entire set of parts which brought me many sleepless nights, but I am honestly really happy with the result. Moreover, last I heard the piece read at the Aspen Music Festival, I felt the ending needed a little more build up. I added and extended some of the parts. I also adjusted and re-orchestrated a few sections to try different colors and timbres.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What do you hope to learn from the experience?

NS: Collaborating is one of my favorite aspects of being a composer. Composing tends to be very solitary, and oftentimes I feel limited with what I know, what I feel, what I can hear, and what I can express. Having another brain, set of ears, and heart always has been the best part of my work. I admire the music of the mentor composers very much, and of course, Maestro Christopher Rountree is one of the most exciting and inspiring conductors and I am absolutely thrilled to work with them and hear their reaction and ideas on the piece.

Anytime I hear an orchestra play my music, I always get surprised by the energy and the wide range of expression and intensity that gets delivered through an orchestra. I can only use my imagination to estimate the sound and color of each passage when I’m writing the work, but hearing it live has always made me more curious of the possibilities. Orchestra is, of course, the most effective, compelling, and charming tool for composers to expand their music and themselves. Hearing my piece played live helps me so much to grow my imagination and open up and I always end up having hundreds of things I would like to try in the next orchestra piece.

Nicky Sohn’s piece Bird Up will be performed by the Sarasota Orchestra, led by conductor Christopher Rountree, on Saturday, March 16, 8PM at Holley Hall. Click here for more information.

Learn more about Nicky Sohn at www.nickysohn.com

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