Musicians racking up competition prizes, grants

Brandeisians tapped by Barlow Endowment, League of Composers

Travis Alford, left, won the 2012 League of Composers Competition for US residents; Emily Koh and Christian Gentry won commissions from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University.

The music department keeps churning out winners – competition winners, that is.

Three graduate students have recently been awarded coveted commissions and prizes from the Barlow Endowment for Music and the League of Composers International Society of Contemporary Music.

Emily Koh, a second-year doctoral student, and Christian Gentry Ph.D. ’12 were recently named Barlow Commission winners for 2012. The Barlow Endowment for Music sponsors significant new musical works that are not yet in progress.

Koh, who played piano as a child but later switched to the double bass as her primary instrument, also earned the ASCAP 2012 Morton Gould Young Composer’s Award as well as the 2012 Param Student Composer Competition. She will compose a work for pierrot ensemble, which includes flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello, with percussion and soprano for the Lunar Ensemble. Koh is already the Lunar Ensemble's composer in residence.

Lunar Ensemble is a Baltimore-based new music group that promotes works for pierrot ensemble by living composers, and Koh says she's excited to work with them. Her piece will premiere in the 2012-2014 season.

Gentry composes for a variety of instruments and genres and previously won a Barlow award in 2009. He received his Ph.D. in the spring and has taught music theory at Brandeis as well as courses like “Music in a World of Words: Popular Music Criticism and Interpretations Since 1967” and “Country Music and Society.” Gentry also worked as programming director for the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studios Marathon Concert and as co-director of the New Music Brandeis concert series and as a teaching fellow at Harvard University.

He will compose a 15-minute piece for the trombone quartet, which he expects to premiere in the fall of 2013.

"I am elated and grateful for being a recipient of a 2012 Barlow Commission. I would like to thank all of my Brandeis mentors who have guided my efforts and supported, even championed, my music,” Gentry said, naming David Rakowski, the Walter W. Naumburg Professor of Composition; Eric Chasalow, the Irving Fine Professor of Music; Yu-Hui Chang, associate professor of music composition; Martin Boykan, professor emeritus of music; and Allan Keiler, professor of music. “Most important is the day-to-day encouragement, support, and advice from my amazing wife, Laci.”

Brandeis students and faculty have done exceptionally well in the competition for Barlow awards in recent years. Prior recipients include Peter van Zandt Lane Ph.D. ’13 and Seung-Ah Oh Ph.D. ‘05, as well as Chang, Chasalow and Rakowski.

Trumpeter Travis Alford Ph.D. ‘13 has won the 2012 Music and the League of Composers International Society of Contemporary Music competition. The national competition doesn’t impose limitations on style, requires submissions that are five and 20 minutes in length which may be written for solo instrument, small ensemble, or any combination.

Alford’s piece, “Self, Analyzed,” was written for chamber ensemble for flute, bass clarinet, guitar, percussion and toy piano. It premiered with the East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, whose artistic director, John Awlward received his Ph.D. from Brandeis in 2008. A recording of that performance was submitted to the competition. Alford will receive a $500 cash prize and his piece will be performed in New York City.

He has also worked as the co-director of the New Music Brandeis concert series, has been a teaching assistant in the music department and currently teaches at Gordon College and is an affiliated artist at Massachusetts Institute of the Arts.

“I wanted to write a piece using toy piano, which my teacher David Rakowski is famous for. I’ve never done that before, but found a toy piano at my parents’ house in North Carolina that I’ve had since I was a kid and thought I’d give it a try,” Alford said. “It’s also the first time I’ve written for guitar. So it was challenging but also pretty fulfilling when you get it right.”

As with the Barlow commissions, Brandeis students have done well in the League of Composers competition previously. Over the past several years, Aylward, Sam Nichols M.A. ’99, Ph.D. ‘06, Mark Berger Ph.D. ’11 and Laurie San Martin Ph.D. ’03 have won.

“I’m honored and humbled,” Alford says. “This competition has a pretty prestigious national profile and I know the people who have won it in the past and others who have applied and they are all very talented.”

The three prize-winners perform together, along with a few other Brandeis doctoral students, in a group called The Gentleman’s Very (Very) High Art Society of South Waltham, which they refer to as the unofficial graduate composers’ ensemble.

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