USC Thornton Symphony: New Music for Orchestra Concert Program
Donald Crockett, chair of the Composition program, leads the USC Thornton Symphony in this annual concert of colorful new works by outstanding Thornton student composers.
i. anchor – ebb – flow
ii. barefoot on the jetty
iii. message in a bottle
Written By A Starling
come on now, narcissist
Mingjia Chen, vocalist, pianist
This piece is a reflection on the various types of limits: self-imposed, physical, perceptual, mental, moral, time, etc… and the dichotomy found in the structure they provide and restraints they place on us. The piece oscillates between tightly constructed processes and grand gestures seeking to take us beyond those restrictions.
In the piece I look at limits as catalysts to struggle against, to contend with, to draw strength from and to ultimately transcend.
I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast, between Nassau Bay and Galveston Island. The water is muddy-brown, the sand is coarse and sticky, and the beach annually houses miles of washed-up seaweed that smells terrible and attracts flies. About once or twice a year growing up, I would go through these phases of romanticizing the beach and satisfy the urge by letting my feet sink into the shore until I nearly step on a syringe and remember why my family doesn’t go to the beach that much.
Why are people so obsessed with the beach? Like, why is this such a hub of American culture? Why do songs about the beach dominate the pop music industry? The beach sucks! —all thoughts that crossed my mind. My first year in LA, I went to Santa Monica on a class field trip and instantly realized, oh, this is why people are so obsessed with the beach. California beaches are universal Meccas of the human spirit, the kind of oases locals and visitors alike want to live, breathe, and bleed. Almost every beach I’ve been to in the Western Hemisphere encapsulates this bliss. Galveston does not.But what does Galveston have that none of these paradises have?
The Seawall Boulevard.
Galveston is a barrier island, a natural (albeit pretty ineffective) defense against hurricanes. The Seawall lives up to its name— it’s a man-made enhancement to the barrier structure; a 17-foot concrete wall emerging from the beachfront, with Galveston’s busiest tourist hotspot resting atop it. The Seawall and its beaches have been home to countless memories of my lifetime, from birthdays, to graduation parties, to senior prom, to an escape from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, to public family arguments, to Mardi Gras parades, to crucial moments in my relationships that shaped me into the person I am today.
Don’t get me wrong, the Seawall is not some kind of cheeky diamond in the rough. One of the things it’s most known for is “The World’s Best Rainforest Café”, which houses a water-raft animatronic jungle ride that looks like Hurricane Ike swept through it and the management just decided to leave it like that. I wouldn’t even say the Seawall has a subtle charm. It’s mundane.
I originally wrote this piece (for chamber orchestra) with the title “chrysaora”, referring to a genus of jellyfish called sea nettles. I wanted the piece to be a summation of my experiences with the Pacific Ocean. In hindsight, I realize what I wrote has nothing to do with the Pacific. I listen to the piece, and I think about the Seawall, the Spirit Airlines of beachfronts, the beach I grew up with, a place where I kissed and played and cried. With this reimagining of “chrysaora”, I have decided to embrace the true subconscious inspiration that guided the original. The chamber orchestra version of this piece was selected for Pacific Chamber Orchestra’s 2022 Dream American Workshop.
Written By A Starling
[Program note intentionally left blank]
“gone wrong?” was written piecemeal over the course of seven years, and, as a result, it could be considered a catalog of my shifting aesthetic within that time. I think these artistic changes came from a general anxiety about life, from a sense that the world as a whole feels out of joint, and from a hunch that the best response to these types of fears is to stop moving, to listen, and to think…
The idea that sparked the creation of Rainbow Planet came to me in early spring of 2020. I had just finished writing a series of pieces that explored nontraditional techniques of performing and listening to music. While illuminating and fascinating in many aspects, these held values of writing ultimately left me with a disconnect between the ideas and emotions I wanted to evoke and the actual effect that those pieces elicited. For the next project, I was determined to relinquish an attempt to sound new or reveal technical ability and rather dig deeper into the elements of music that resonate most with me.
Scale motives, harmonic movement, transformation of orchestral color, and formal structures that emerge through repetition form the core of Rainbow Planet. Just as the paint begins to set on one idea, a new splatter of color and texture obliterates the previous one. Eventually, a lyrical character emerges from the fray and culminates in an expansive outpouring of emotion.
This piece is dedicated to my friends Robert Alexander, Adam Borecki, and Patrick O’Malley. Without their prudent encouragement and motivation, this piece may have become frozen in an endless cycle of rewrites and do-overs.
come on now, narcissist
narcissistic, dramatic, embarrassing behaviour:
to have the audacity to proclaim to the world that you believe in one singular thing so doubtlessly as to dedicate the immense time, energy, & resources to turn whatever that thing is into a piece for full orchestra (because however long you think it took us to write these pieces, i assure you it took way longer… eugh)
to recognize the inherent narcissism of how the title of said piece (“come on now, narcissist”) might then turn into an address to the composer’s own self
to rope 80(??)-something musicians into playing a piece that is, in the end, more-or-less a note-to-self…
to trick all of you fools into coming to school on a friday night to sit through 8 minutes of one’s ego-wrestling match
to “think you can save everyone you love”
to quote one’s own lyrics in one’s own gob dan program note (even though they’re included in full on the next page) (narcissist!)
to believe one has wisdom enough to share as to warrant a program note in the first place
(but since we’re already here,) to lack the maturity / self-assurance to just make a normal program note like a normal person, & instead give you this list of my one’s insufferable list of criticisms
to subject oneself to such a severe line of questioning as a defense against self-doubt (you can’t call someone out for being narcissistic if they already did that to themself!!)
to spend even a second of one’s precious life doubting anything, especially oneself
to fight the inward spiral by going out into the world, searching for meaning, which one hopes to be the true antidote to doubt: a hummingbird (luck), tea (warmth), a phone call (home), the tender green of a new leaf (hope)… a leaf whose function is to photosynthesize & sustain its ecosystem, & not to create fodder for one to wax sentimental in an attempt to self-therapize (narcissist!)
to read & reread the above offenses in search of an at best loving, & at least hopeful interpretation of one’s intention: that maybe the difference between narcissism & celebration is that narcissism seems often an attempt in masking doubt, whereas love is perhaps experienced in spite of or even alongside doubt… doubt that can be smart, intuitive, even sacred. doubt like a new leaf.
to believe that real life angels exist to help one through the world (& some of mine just so happen to be: my mentors chris trapani, frank ticheli, ted hearne, & my colleagues & friends julia moss, jodie landau, tamzin elliott, alex hatzakis, erika poh, ben rempel, daniel allas, aiyana braun, & my family michael, wendy, ethan & anson, who offered me wisdom, support, & love during the creation of this piece. i cannot forgive them as they, in aiding in my narcissistic creation, have also made narcissists of themselves, & so this piece, addressed to a narcissist, then becomes an address, & a dedication, to them.)
For more than thirty years, New Music for Orchestra (NMO) has been an annual concert in the USC Thornton School of Music. New works by Thornton student composers are selected by the composition faculty in an annual competition, and typically four to six new works are chosen to receive world premiere performances on the New Music for Orchestra concert. This opportunity to hear their orchestral ideas realized in rehearsal and performance is an invaluable learning experience for Thornton student composers. A significant number of NMO scores have gone on to win significant national competitions and receive readings and subscription performances by major professional orchestras. USC Thornton is one of very few schools nationally to offer this kind of experience, and it is an aspect of our composition program which is very attractive to prospective students. NMO is also an important experience for the members of the Thornton Symphony as they bring to performance level a program of brand-new works with the challenges inherent in contemporary orchestral music. When they join an orchestra such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as many have, this experience can prove to be most useful. I hope you enjoy the show!
USC Thornton School of Music
Chair – Composition; Professor; Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs
About the Artists
Donald Crockett is professor and chair of the composition department and director of Thornton Edge at the USC Thornton School of Music, and senior composer-in-residence with the Bennington Chamber Music Conference. He has received commissions from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (Composer-in-Residence (1991-97), Kronos Quartet, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hilliard Ensemble, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and the California EAR Unit, among many others.
Recent projects include commissions from the Harvard Musical Association for violist Kate Vincent and Firebird Ensemble, the San Francisco-based chamber choir, Volti, for its 30th anniversary season, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Claremont Trio, and a chamber opera, The Face, based on a novella in verse by poet David St. John.
The recipient in 2013 of an Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for outstanding artistic achievement, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006, Donald Crockett has also received grants and prizes from the Barlow Endowment, Bogliasco Foundation, Copland Fund, Copland House, Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards, Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA and many others.
His music is published by Keiser Classical and Doberman/Yppan and recorded on the Albany, CRI, Doberman/Yppan, ECM, innova, Laurel, New World, Orion and Pro Arte/Fanfare labels. Two all-Crockett recordings were released in 2011, on New World Records with Firebird Ensemble and on Albany Records with Xtet. Active as a conductor of new music, Crockett has presented many world, national and regional premieres with the Los Angeles-based new music ensemble Xtet, the USC Thornton Contemporary Music Ensemble, and as a guest conductor with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Hilliard Ensemble, California EAR Unit, Firebird Ensemble and Ensemble X.
As conductor of the USC Thornton Symphony’s annual New Music for Orchestra concert, Donald Crockett has premiered well over a hundred orchestral works by outstanding Thornton student composers. He has also been very active over the years as a composer and conductor with the venerable and famed Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles. His recordings as a conductor can be found on the Albany, CRI, Doberman/Yppan, ECM and New World labels.
Hunter Long is an active California-based composer, performer and sound artist. His work focuses on creating immersive multimedia experiences through experimentation with many artistic mediums. He founded Black House Collective, an experimental new music laboratory which curates performances and collaborations between artists of diverse disciplines, in Kansas City in 2008. Long’s primary instrument is the Paetzold contrabass recorder, for which he is currently developing a North and South American repertoire. Long has been awarded residencies at the Banff Centre, Bang on a Can Summer Festival, Nief-Norf, the Luminary, and Signal Culture, has participated in international festivals including the Montreal Contemporary Music Lab, Darmstadt International Courses for New Music, and Musiikin aika in Finland, and has received grants from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, and the Arts Council of Kansas City.
Emerging composer Ella Kaale [Kah-lee] (b. 2003) writes music interested in critical lenses, geography, nature, and her personal relationships to these topics, described as “subtle and elegant, at times abrupt and wrenching”. Kaale is an alumna of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America’s Composer Apprenticeship, where she was mentored by Sean Shepherd. Her music has been performed by Hub New Music, Pacific Chamber Orchestra, Dolce Suono Ensemble, the New York Youth Symphony Jazz Ensemble, the Bergamot Quartet, Schroeder Umansky Duo, harpist Bridget Kibbey, and flautist Mimi Stillman. Additionally, Kaale has interned for Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra and the American Festival for the Arts and continues to pursue professional arts non-profit development. She is currently a sophomore in the B.M. Composition program at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where her pedagogues include Christopher Trapani and Ted Hearne.
When eight year old Elliott Herbst was dragged out of the office after discovering that his father’s documentaries didn’t grow music naturally, he determined to be the scientist. Narrative drives Herbst to create music above all else, and he strives to impart that pre-credits simmer in every work. Herbst juggles grand ensemble sounds and small, minimalist ensembles with burning conclusions that he often performs himself, usually deploying his skill as a writer to rearrange spoken text snippets in combinations that uniquely unravel setting and character. His compositions and orchestrations have already appeared on nation-wide television and a streaming service, and he has written sizable educational materials that reshape film composition technique according to the foundations of acting. An LA native, he studies at the University of Southern California with Camae Ayewa, professionally known as Moor Mother. He shares two tabby cats with his immediate family and grows out his hair to make his eighty year old self envious yet proud.
Daniel Allas makes and performs instrumental and electronic music. His recent work researches intermedial forms of performance, critical theory (particularly in relation to colonial studies), and collaborative composition processes. He has collaborated with classical music groups including wasteLAnd, the LA Philharmonic, ensemble mosaik, Peter Evans and the International Contemporary Ensemble, wild Up, and the Lydian String Quartet, among others. His music has been performed at the Green Umbrella concert series, the Next on Grand festival, Indexical, Kalvfestivalen, UpToThree Festival Berlin, and the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts. He was born in Boston, MA and now lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he teaches aural skills and music composition.
Danny Leo has established himself as a composer and educator. His musical life began with the violin at age 5 and entered the world of composition at 12. Recent projects include a collaboration with yMusic and the Kaufman School of Dance and an orchestral commission by the Grand Rapids Symphony. Danny has taught a variety of subjects in music including Classic Rock of the 1960s, classical music theory, composition, and violin. He participated in the American Composers Orchestra EarShot program and is a recipient of the Carl Kanter Prize in Orchestral Composition, Presser Foundation Scholarship, Jean Schneider Goberman Award, and winner of the CIRCE (Composer-in-Residence Chamber Ensemble) competition. Danny earned his Bachelor of Music degree at Mannes College, his Master of Music at Manhattan School of Music, and is pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts at the University of Southern California.
mingjia chen sings, composes, improvises, writes songs, writes words, curates, draws, animates, hangs out in LA & toronto, was born in beijing, tours with roomful of teeth, leads the bands uoou & tortoise orchestra, makes records as mingjia (3 in the world, 1 in the oven), occasionally does stuff with the queer songbook orchestra & wild up, learns & teaches at the university of southern california, calls a lot, cooks poorly, owes everything to nina simone, admits to forgetting, lets things get to her, is having a great time, thanks you for being here <3
Text & Translations
come on now, narcissist
take me out for lunch, saturday is fine
lately things feel misaligned, but i’m sure i’ll find the time
i thought i’d read the books, that i knew every line
turned the page, bent the spine,
bound the sheets, wrote the right, kind of rhyme,
write the note, cue the band,
sign the name, play the hand,
-hang me to dry i don’t mind waiting
up in the night, i won’t be late
o, come on now, narcissist, don’t be smug
to think you can save everyone you love
don’t be smug, don’t be smug…
show me off like a horse, ride me into town
when the judgement sets in, at least we can tell ‘em
that we tried to go to church laughing with a frown
me in my “fairest gown”, leather soles
button down, city-bound
you in two points of view,
sunday blues, hard to keep, hard to lose,
linen sheets, shiny shoes,
sing the songs, sign the name,
day to night, night to day,
use me like medicine:
drink me up, take me in!
crashing from the sides!
vying for the wheel!
(lying just to feel…)
long since you’ve gone i’m still wandering through
the field of the house where you grew into
the shape of a man who i thought i knew
o, come on now, narcissist, foolish you’d think
that water would wash what is etched in ink
still, in the night, i am scared to blink
‘cause waiting for me on the eastern coast—
there is the one who i loved the most
o, come on now, narcissist
it’s foolish to think
& frankly quite futile so i’ll just sink—
let me sink—into my drink…
for waiting for me on the eastern coast
there is a life that i thought i’d boast
shining, inviting me (so i’d hoped)
o, come on now, narcissist, don’t be brave
you can’t leave everyone you can’t save
the path that you walk is the path you’ve paved
you wait for a signal to walk on home
i bite down my teeth & i let it go
which way it was we were meant to go
maybe this time next year i will know
i will know
Yue Qian, concertmaster
Sarah Beth Overcash
Anna Renton, principal
Jenny Sung, principal
Quenton Blache, principal
Ji Sun Jung
Avery Weeks, principal
Victor Martinez Jara
*denotes principal on Long
^denotes principal on Kaale
+denotes principal on Herbst
**denotes principal on Allas
^^denotes principal on Leo
++denotes principal on Chen