EarShot Aguascalientes Symphony – Composer Spotlight: Emily Koh

Emily Koh (she/her) is a Singaporean composer and double bassist based in Atlanta, whose music is characterized by inventive explorations of the smallest details of sound. In addition to writing acoustic and electronic concert music, she enjoys collaborating with other creatives in projects where sound plays an important role in the creative process.

Described as “the future of composing” (The Straits Times, Singapore), she is the recipient of awards such as the Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize, ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, Prix D’Ete, and PARMA competitions, commissions from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, Composers Conference at Wellesley College, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble and grants from New Music USA, Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy and Paul Abisheganaden Grant for Artistic Excellence. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and Avaloch Farm Music Institute.

Emily’s piece After Igor was selected for the Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings, which takes place August 12-14, 2019 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Emily spoke to us about the readings and her piece.

Composer Emily Koh. Photo by Simon Goodacre

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Aguascalientes EarShot New Music Readings?
Emily Koh: I was surprised, but was excited about working with an orchestra! I was also very worried as this came at a very busy time for me, and I had to pull weeks of late nights to get the scores and parts ready.
ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece since you found out it would be performed by the Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra?
EK: I re-orchestrated the work to fit the instrumentation of the Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra. In doing so, I also thinned out some of the orchestration. In my free time, I am listening to more orchestral works that I usually do.
ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What do you hope to learn from the experience?
EK: I am looking forward to meeting other participants and listening to their music. I am also excited to meet and work with the composer mentors, and the orchestra! I hope to learn to be a more effective composer of orchestral music, and also how to communicate succinctly during rehearsals.
ACO: Your piece After Igor, which was commissioned for the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, is intended to be a post-prequel to the ballet. Can you talk about how much you listened to or studied The Firebird while writing this piece? Were you worried about letting Stravinsky’s voice influence your writing too much?
EK: I studied Stravinsky’s The Firebird, The Rite of Spring, and Petrushka when I first wrote the work. At that time, I had just studied smaller excerpts from The Rite of Spring in school, and was not difficult to assimilate aspects of his fingerprints/voice into my work. At that time, I was also a little obsessed with the sound of Stravinsky during his ‘Russian Period’ since it was what we were studying in school, and this commission came at the perfect time, without compromising my individual tastes (at that time). This sound no longer resonates as strikingly in my current work, but the idea of evoking the sound of one’s homeland and integrating it into the Western tradition is something close to my heart.
ACO: Can you talk about what it means, to you, to be an American composer?
EK: I am from Singapore and I live and work primarily in the US, making me a Singaporean-American composer. Because America is historically diverse and supportive of individualism, living in the US gives me a freedom to explore, experiment, learn and seek–a fitting environment for any creative!

Emily’s piece After Igor will be workshopped and performed at the Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings, which takes place August 12-14, 2019 in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Learn more about Emily Koh at www.emilykoh.net

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