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Program Notes
Composer Bios
Performer Bios
Staff Bios

Zaka | June 19, 2021 – 6:30 pm

Livestream Event

Nicholas BentzCompressor
Julia Werntz"Home" from Songs of Thumbalina
Roger Zare(Re)Inventions
David Biedenbender"Shell" from Shell and Wing
Clifton CallenderChain Reactions
Paul Novak*Prisms and Mirrors
Jennifer HigdonZaka

* winner of the 8th Annual Commissioning Competition

An evening of high energy music featuring Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon's Zaka.

Presented by the Boston New Music Initiative's core ensemble conducted by Tian Hui Ng and with special guest artist soprano, Stephanie Lamprea.


Program Notes

Compressor is a piece that looks at the way material reacts when parameters become forcefully constricted. The piece revolves around a game of textural upheaval between two gestures. As each gesture develops, it accrues rust and begins to become compressed in one parameter or another until the process ushers in the opposing material. This back-and-forth continues until the piece bucks its own programming and begins to expand, rather than compress. Compressor was written for yMusic.


"Home" from Songs of Thumbalina is a microtonal work which can be broken down into five contrasting sections according to the structure of the poem.


(Re)Inventions was written while I was serving as the composition fellow at the 2016 Bowdoin International Music Festival. The theme of the festival was (Re)Invention, suggesting that everything that we were doing as musicians, even though attached to a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, stays fresh in the present because we are constantly putting new perspectives into our art.

Inspired by this theme, I wrote this series of duos in the form of Baroque inventions using 21st century compositional techniques. The first movement consists mostly of a tight eighth-note canon between the duo, and the leader of the canon is constantly switching between instruments. It is simultaneously an inversion canon with an axis of symmetry around the pitches E and B flat. Towards the end, I slip in a direct quotation from one of J.S. Bach's famous keyboard inventions, only to be raucously interrupted by its mirror image one bar later.

The second movement is slow and more lyrical and significantly less strict in its construction. The two instruments' imitation is freer throughout. A quickly rustling figure that is partially improvised transports the music from calm and sustained to agitated and frenetic before the clarity of the opening returns.

The final movement is a collapsing canon, starting at an interval of four quarter notes. Over the course of the movement, this interval gradually shortens until it is only one quarter note at the end. Highly pointed rhythmic hocketing lends to this movement's groovy nature, and it becomes increasingly jazzy as it goes along. (Notes from the composer).


My sons, Izaak and Declan, have profoundly changed and shaped the way I see the world. I initially set out to write a collection of vignettes about them, about childhood—a way to capture the beautiful, tender, and often silly and hilarious moments of their lives, but, my plans suddenly shifted after yet another all to common incidence of violence against children. In response to this violence, I felt compelled to respond in some way—to respond to my fear of sending my sons out into this violent world. Shell and Wing emerged as a collaboration and a response to these parental impulses with my friend and fellow father, poet Robert Fanning. Robert’s response to our conversation—a poem in two stanzas—gave voice to the ambiguity, the conflict I feel as a parent—this profound longing to protect my children coupled with the knowledge that I must also let them go.

The first poem is in a parent’s voice—my voice. Musically, "Shell" is a sort of fragmented lullaby interwoven with a distorted memory of Robert Schumann’s Träumerei (Dreaming/Reverie) from Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood). Schumann’s harmonies are pulled and stretched until they resemble only a distant echo of the original. (Notes from the composer).


Chain Reactions was commissioned for the 75th Commemoration of Chicago Pile-1, the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction achieved under the supervision of Enrico Fermi. The first movement, Subcriticality, refers to the situation in which neutron losses (due to absorption) exceed neutron production (due to fission) leading to eventual termination of the reaction. Throughout the movement, processes are initiated that inevitably dissipate energy and terminate. The second movement, Criticality, is stable without being static. The rhythms of the movement are determined by a guided probabilistic structure that determines the likelihood of a new note at each pulse in much the same way that the “cross section” of a nucleus characterizes the probability that the nucleus will undergo a nuclear reaction.


I’m fascinated by prismatic musical forms: structures that continuously refract and reflect, kaleidoscopically shifting and evolving but at the same time static and unchanging. I imagine a light shined through a series of crystals and mirrors, shimmering into colorful spectra and bouncing in unexpected directions. Similarly, prisms and mirrors maps a single idea through a series of musical refractions and reflections, a set of continuous variations which is by turns textural, rhythmic, and melodic. To me, this concept of musical form resonates with the beautifully collaborative nature of writing music, in which all ideas are continually refracted throughout the course of notation, interpretation, and performance. prisms and mirrors musically enacts this refraction, with all the fragility, intricacy, and color of a prism refracting light. (Notes from the composer).


zaka (verb) to do the following almost simultaneously and with great speed: zap, sock, race, turn, drop, sprint. See also: the Boston New Music Initiative


Composer Bios

Composer-performer Nicholas Bentz seeks to find relationships across time and space through his fascination with historical objects and cultural throughlines. His work has responded to subjects as diverse as anthropology, astrophysics, cinema, neuroscience, and video games. Nicholas has written for the Charleston Symphony, Occasional Symphony, yMusic, and SONAR New Music Ensemble, and has had his music played by the Jacksonville Symphony, USC Symphony, and the Peabody Modern Orchestra. Nicholas is currently a composition teaching artist fellow with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and was a winner of an EarShot New Music Reading through American Composer’s Orchestra, while his most recent orchestra piece, A Cosmos in Stone, Respawning, received the Sadye J. Moss Prize from the University of Southern California. His music has been featured at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, New Music on the Point, and Sounding Now Festival in Singapore. Nicholas currently attends the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a master's degree in composition under Donald Crockett as the graduate assistant to the Thornton Edge new music ensemble. He is currently studying violin with Lina Bahn. Nicholas received his bachelor's degree in composition from the Peabody Institute under Kevin Puts while also completing a bachelor's and master's in violin under the tutelage of Herbert Greenberg. His previous composition teachers include Ted Hearne, Andrew Norman, Yiorgos Vassilandonakis, George Tsontakis, and Felipe Lara, and his previous violin teachers include Yuriy Bekker, Espen Lilleslåtten, and Diana Cohen.


Through her music, her writings, and her teaching, Julia Werntz has become recognized as a leading voice in the field of microtonal music. Her compositions have been performed at concert series, festivals and venues around Europe and the Northeastern United States. Her manual on microtonal ear training and composition, Steps to the Sea: Ear Training and Composing in a Minute Equal Temperament, was published in December 2014 in the German book 1001 Microtones, and subsequently made available as a stand-alone book in the US, with Frog Peak Music. Werntz is currently Professor of music at Berklee College of Music, where she teaches Ear Training, Theory, Microtonal Ear Training and Composition, and she teaches both Microtonal Practice and Understanding Microtonal Music (an analysis course) at the New England Conservatory of Music. She is Artistic Director of the Boston Microtonal Society and co-founder of the BMS chamber ensemble, NotaRiotous.


Roger Zare has been praised for his “enviable grasp of orchestration” (New York Times) and for writing music with “formal clarity and an alluringly mercurial surface.” Often inspired by science, nature, and mythology, his works have been performed across the United States and on five continents by such musicians and ensembles as the American Composers Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Sarasota Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva, the Symphony Orchestra of Minas Gerais, the Akropolis Reed Quintet, the Donald Sinta Quartet, violinist Cho-Liang Lin, and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein. Zare’s awards include the ASCAP Nissim Prize, three BMI Student Composer Awards, an ASCAP Morton Gould award, a New York Youth Symphony First Music Commission, the 2008 American Composers Orchestra Underwood Commission, a Copland House Residency Award, and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has served as composer-in-residence at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, the Salt Bay Chamber Music Festival, the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington and the SONAR new music ensemble. Zare holds degrees from the University of Michigan, the Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Southern California. His teachers include Bright Sheng, Michael Daugherty, Paul Schoenfield, Kristin Kuster, Christopher Theofanidis, Derek Bermel, and Morten Lauridsen. Zare is currently serving as assistant professor of composition and theory at Illinois State University.


David Biedenbender (b. 1984, Waukesha, Wisconsin) is a composer, conductor, performer, educator, and interdisciplinary collaborator. David’s music has been described as “simply beautiful” [twincities.com], “striking” and “brilliantly crafted” [Times Argus] and is noted for its “rhythmic intensity” [NewMusicBox] and “stirring harmonies” [Boston Classical Review]. “Modern, venturesome, and inexorable…The excitement, intensity, and freshness that characterizes Biedenbender’s music hung in the [air] long after the last note was played” [Examiner.com]. He has written music for the concert stage as well as for dance and multimedia collaborations, and his work is often influenced by his diverse musical experiences in rock and jazz bands as an electric bassist, in wind, jazz, and New Orleans-style brass bands as a euphonium, bass trombone, and tuba player, and by his study of Indian Carnatic music. His creative interests include working with everyone from classically trained musicians to improvisers, acoustic chamber music to large ensembles, and interactive electronic interfaces to live brain data.

In addition to composing, David is a dedicated teacher. He is Assistant Professor of Composition in the College of Music at Michigan State University, and he previously taught composition and theory at Boise State University, Eastern Michigan University, Oakland University, Madonna University, the Music in the Mountains Conservatory, and the Interlochen Arts Camp. He has also taught an interdisciplinary course in creativity and collaboration in the Living Arts program at the University of Michigan. His composition students have achieved regional and national recognition for their creative work, including numerous awards and acceptance into renowned summer music festivals and undergraduate and graduate composition programs.

He received the Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees in composition from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the Bachelor of Music degree in composition and theory from Central Michigan University. His primary musical mentors include Evan Chambers, Kristin Kuster, Stephen Rush, Michael Daugherty, Bright Sheng, Christopher Lees, David R. Gillingham, José Luis-Maurtúa, and John Williamson. He has also studied at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala, Sweden with Anders Hillborg and Steven Stucky, the Aspen Music Festival and School with Syd Hodkinson, and in Mysore, India where he studied South Indian Carnatic music, focusing on the mridangam with Vidwan G.S. Ramanujan.


Clifton Callender is Professor of Composition at Florida State University, teaching composition, music theory, and music programming and computation. He holds degrees from the University of Chicago, Peabody Conservatory, and Tulane University. In Fall of 2018 he was in residence at the Copland House. His works, which often draw on mathematics, are recorded on the Capstone, New Ariel, and Navona labels. Recent commissions include Chain Reactions, for the 75th commemoration of Chicago Pile 1 (the first nuclear reactor), Canonic Offerings and Hungarian Jazz, for the Bridges Conference on the Arts and Mathematics, gegenschein, for Piotr Szewczyk’s Violin Futura project, and Reasons to Learne to Sing, for the 50th Anniversary of the College Music Society. His music has been recognized by and performed at the Spark Festival, the American Composers Orchestra, SEAMUS, Forecast Music, Composers Inc., Studio 300, the Florida Electracoustic Music Festival, the International Festival of Electroacoustic Music “Primavera en La Habana,” NACUSA Young Composers Competition, the Northern Arizona University Centennial Composition, the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conferences, the World Harp Congress in Copenhagen and the ppIANISSIMO festival in Bulgaria. He is currently working a setting of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s poem for the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit, Dear Matafele Peinam. Also active in music theory, Callender has published in Science, Perspectives of New Music, Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Online, and Intégral and serves on the editorial boards of Perspectives of New Music and the Journal of Mathematics and Music, for which he served as Co-Editor-in-Chief (2015 – 2017).


"Rejecting grandiose narratives, the music of Chicago-based composer Paul Novak is driven by a love of small things: miniature forms, delicate soundscapes, and condensed ideas. His compositions, which explore the subtleties of instrumental color and draw influence from literature, art, and poetry, have been performed throughout the United States and abroad. Novak’s recent collaborators include the Austin Symphony, Orlando Symphony, Reno Philharmonic, NYO-USA, American Composers Orchestra, the Amaranth and Rosco Quartets, Nunc, Hear&Now Ensemble, Texas New Music Ensemble, LIGAMENT Duo, So Percussion, NODUS Ensemble, MotoContrario Ensemble, Tribeca New Music, Blackbox Ensemble, and Luna Nova Ensemble.

Each of Novak’s pieces immerses listeners in a shimmering and subtly crafted musical world, guided by a sensitive ear for harmony and texture and a deep sense of empathy for the performers playing his music. He has received commissions from the American Composers Orchestra, ASCAP and Society of Composers, Inc, Boston New Music Initiative, Kinetic Ensemble, and Texas New Music Ensemble, among others. His music has been selected for numerous awards, including recent honors from the ASCAP Foundation, League of Composers/ISCM, the SCI/ASCAP Commission Competition, Tribeca New Music, Webster University, the Texas Young Composer Competition, and the YoungArts Foundation. He was the recipient of the American Composers Orchestra’s 2020 Underwood Commission for a new orchestral work that the ACO will premiere in Carnegie Hall, after being named one of the six emerging composers selected to participate in the Underwood New Music Readings.

Novak was recently named one of six Fellows in the Copland House CULTIVATE Program, where will he be commissioned for a new work by Music at Copland House. He will spend a month in the summer of 2021 as an artist-in-residence at the I-Park Foundation. In 2018, he was a participant in the Thai Experimental Laboratory for Young Composers in Burapha, Thailand, where he collaborated with Thai musicians in a workshop setting and composed a new piece for Thai traditional instruments. In 2016, he was selected as one of two composers to participate in the first-ever National Youth Orchestra of the United States Composer Apprenticeship Program, where he had a new orchestral work performed by NYO-USA. Novak has participated in residencies and festivals across the country, including at Bowdoin Music Festival, New Music on the Point, Fresh Inc Festival, Atlantic Music Festival, and MATA Jr. Festival.

Collaboration is at the center of Novak’s creative practice, and in recent years his projects have frequently included interdisciplinary elements. In 2018, he organized Synesthesia, a project that paired 5 composers from the Shepherd School of Music with writers and poets from the Rice Literary Review and culminated in a performance of 5 new collaborative works. He has worked on interdisciplinary projects with Rice Dance Theatre, spoken word poet Ming Li Wu, poet Erica Cheung, and the Bowdoin Museum. Novak is currently working in collaboration with award-winning poet Ira Goga on reflected tides, a new song cycle commissioned by Blackbox Ensemble for their 21/22 season.

Novak’s other current and upcoming projects include chamber commissions from the Boston New Music Initiative, Kinetic Ensemble, and the Willinger Duo; an orchestral commission from the American Composers Orchestra; new works for Quince Ensemble, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Quatour Diotima, and Ekmeles with Sandbox Percussion; and dialogues in color, a new work for string orchestra and percussion for Rice’s Hear&Now Ensemble inspired by the artwork of Ellsworth Kelly. Originally from Reno, NV, Novak completed his undergraduate studies at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he studied with Kurt Stallmann, Pierre Jalbert, Anthony Brandt, and Karim Al-Zand. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Chicago, where he studies with Sam Pluta and Augusta Read Thomas. "


Pulitzer Prize and three-time Grammy-winner Jennifer Higdon (b. Brooklyn, NY, December 31, 1962) taught herself to play flute at the age of 15 and began formal musical studies at 18, with an even later start in composition at the age of 21. Despite these obstacles, Jennifer has become a major figure in contemporary Classical music. Her works represent a wide range of genres, from orchestral to chamber, to wind ensemble, as well as vocal, choral and opera. Her music has been hailed by Fanfare Magazine as having "the distinction of being at once complex, sophisticated but readily accessible emotionally", with the Times of London citing it as "...traditionally rooted, yet imbued with integrity and freshness." The League of American Orchestras reports that she is one of America's most frequently performed composers.

Higdon received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing the work as "a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity." She has also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, The Independence Foundation, the NEA, and ASCAP. In 2018, Higdon received the Eddie Medora King Award from the University of Texas at Austin.

Higdon enjoys more than 200 performances a year of her works. Her orchestral work, blue cathedral, is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral works in the repertoire, more than 650 performances since its premiere in 2000.

Her works have been recorded on over 60 CDs. Higdon has won three GRAMMY awards for Best Contemporary Classical Composition: first for her Percussion Concerto in 2010, in 2018 for her Viola Concerto, and in 2020 for her Harp Concerto. In 2020, Higdon's Percussion Concerto recording was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.

Dr. Higdon currently holds the Rock Chair in Composition at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press.


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