Musical Musings

Inside a Musical Mind: Two EarShot Composers Share Their Creative Processes

Have you ever gotten caught up in Bach’s deftly dancing counterpoint, the detailed texture in Mozart’s sonic tapestries, or the rich emotion in Beethoven’s convention-breaking harmonies, and wondered—how in the world did they come up with that?

EarShot, an initiative to identify and promote young artists on the leading edge of orchestral music composition, lets audiences peek into the inner workings of living composers’ minds. This year, Sarasota Orchestra has been chosen as one of only three host orchestras for EarShot, and four rising stars of composition will be in residence this week to workshop brand new works with Sarasota Orchestra musicians, conductor Christopher Rountree, and award-winning, master composers. The public is invited to share the experience in two public performances.

On March 14, the Orchestra will showcase the music of the EarShot mentors and other accomplished composers of today in a chamber music concert.

On March 16, Sarasota Orchestra gives professional premieres of the works by the four rising composers-in-residence, with conductor Christopher Rountree.

Kitty XiaoTo be sure, each composer’s source of inspiration and creative process are as unique as the soundscapes they craft. EarShot resident Kitty Xiao frequently finds herself drawn deep into visual art, emerging with the urge to translate what she sees into sound. The piece that she brings to EarShot, Ink and Wash, was inspired by the artist Gu Wenda, whose abstract calligraphy deals with themes of cultural identity and unity.

“The piece that I’ve written expresses a lot of the energy, gesture, and intent behind the practice of a tradition,” says Xiao, an Australian born to Chinese parents. “It was really inspiring to see how someone could use his past to question a lot of the things that are going on now in our society, and what would potentially happen in the future as well.”  

Nicky SohnEarShot resident Nicky Sohn also draws inspiration from other artistic media; her work Bird Up borrows musical material from the opening credits of the surreal comedy series The Eric Andre Show, and it’s infused with the show’s frenetic and hilarious energy. Sohn seems to be a magnet for musical inspiration from everyday experiences, such as riding the bus or waiting on a pizza delivery.

“I take notes from everyday life,” Sohn says. “If someone says something funny, I'll write it down. If I see some quote that I like from a book, I'll write that down," Sohn says.

Sohn divides her time between her native Korea, Germany, and New York City, so travel fuels a great deal of her creative output.

“I write a lot about transportation systems, like trains, subways, and airplanes, because I feel like that's the only time that I really am solitary,” Sohn says, “and I can just think about whatever and anything because it's sort of like time in between doing stuff, you know?"

This week, Xiao and Sohn will be joined by Sam Wu and Krists Auznieks as EarShot’s rising composers-in-residence in Sarasota. All four composers will be on hand at the March 16 concert to introduce their works and engage audience members’ questions. Be there to witness and discover how orchestra music comes into the world.

EarShot: Master Composer

March 14, 2019

EarShot: Rising Stars

March 16, 2019

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