Hannah Lash: re-imagining traditional material in highly personal and also non-specific ways

Hannah Lash was born in Alfred, New York, USA on November 22, 1981. She began her studies in music during early childhood, and continued to pursue music throughout her education. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Eastman School of Music in 2004, a performance degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2008, a PhD from Harvard University in 2010, and an Artist Diploma from the Yale School of Music in 2012. Her primary teachers include Martin Bresnick, Bernard Rands, Julian Anderson, Steven Stucky, Augusta Read Thomas, and Robert Morris.

Hailed by The New York Times as “striking and resourceful…handsomely brooding,” Hannah Lash’s music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, Lincoln Center, the Times Center in Manhattan, the Chicago Art Institute, Tanglewood Music Center, Harvard University, The Aspen Music Festival & School, The Chelsea Art Museum, and on the American Opera Project’s stage in New York City. Commissions include The Fromm Foundation, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Chamber Music Northwest, the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, American Composers Orchestra, Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, The Naumburg Foundation, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Arditti Quartet, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, the Colorado Music Festival, and the Aspen Music Festival and School, among many others.

Lash has received numerous honors and prizes, including the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, a Charles Ives Scholarship (2011) and Fellowship (2016) from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Fromm Foundation Commission, a Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Grant, a fellowship from Yaddo Artist Colony, the Naumburg Prize in Composition, the Barnard Rogers Prize in Composition, the Bernard and Rose Sernoffsky Prize in Composition, and numerous academic awards. Her orchestral work Furthermore was selected by the American Composers Orchestra for the 2010 Underwood New Music Readings. Her chamber opera, Blood Rose, was presented by New York City Opera’s VOX in the spring of 2011.

The New York Times music critic Steve Smith praised Lash’s work for the JACK Quartet, Frayed: “Ms. Lash’s compact sequence of pale brush strokes, ghostly keening and punchy outbursts was striking and resourceful; you hoped to hear it again…” Esteemed music critic Bruce Hodges lauded Lash’s piece Stalk for solo harp as being “appealing…florid, and introspective.”

In addition to performances of her music in the USA, Lash’s music is also well known internationally. In April of 2008, her string quartet Four Still was performed in Kiev in the Ukraine’s largest international new music festival, “Musical Premieres of the Season,” curated by Carson Cooman. In the summer of 2010, her piece Unclose was premiered by members of Eighth Blackbird at the MusicX festival in Blonay, Switzerland. In 2016, her chamber orchestra work This Ease saw its German premiere and was selected as “audience favorite” in performances by the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Mainz, conducted by Hermann Bäumer.

Recent premieres include the multi-movement orchestral work The Voynich Symphony by the New Haven Symphony, Form and Postlude for Chamber Music Northwest, a new Requiem for the Yale Choral Artists, How to Remember Seeds for The Calidore String Quartet, Three Shades Without Angles, for flute, viola and harp, by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Two Movements for violin and piano, commissioned by the Library of Congress for Ensemble Intercontemporain, and a new chamber opera, Beowulf, for Guerilla Opera, as well as several new orchestral works: Chaconnes, for the New York Philharmonic’s Biennial, Eating Flowers, for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Nymphs, for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and This Ease, for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, as well as two concerti for harp premiered by the American Composers Orchestra (Concerto No. 1 for Harp and Chamber Orchestra) and the Colorado Music Festival (Concerto No. 2 for Harp and Orchestra), both with Lash as soloist.

Other recent premieres include God Music Bug Music (2011) with the Minnesota Orchestra, the monodrama Stoned Prince (2013) by loadbang, Subtilior Lamento (2012) with the Da Capo Chamber Players at Carnegie Hall, and Glockenliebe (2012), for three glockenspiels, with Talujon Percussion. Her 2011 orchestral work, Hush, was featured on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2013 Brooklyn Festival. In 2016, Lash was honored with a Composer Portrait Concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, which included newly commissioned works for pianist Lisa Moore (Six Etudes and a Dream) and loadbang (Music for Eight Lungs). In the 2017-2018 season, Lash’s piano concerto is given its premiere performances by Jeremy Denk and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra debuts a new orchestral work and tenor Paul Appleby will give the premiere of a new song cycle commissioned by Carnegie Hall. Hannah Lash is currently developing a new chamber opera and a concerto for two harps and orchestra, which will both see premieres in 2019.

THE QUESTIONS
 
What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

At this point I’m not sure it would be so easy to pinpoint just one memory—so I’ll share a few that feel quite formative to me. I remember listening to classical recordings as a very young child (maybe 3?) and wondering how this music had come to be—who had made it. I remember my father telling me that someone wrote it (in this case it was Bach), and I was overwhelmed by the sense that I’d like to do that … I’d like to learn how to write music.

Another memory I have, also as a very young child, was practicing my violin. I was four when I began playing. At that time my mother practiced with me for about an hour a day. I have very vivid memories of those practice times, and how deeply profound the experience of coming into contact with music was for me. I remember noticing patterns in the music, and finding them both deeply logical and unbelievably touching. It was maybe one of my earliest memories of being flooded with emotion, at least in that particular way: being deeply touched by something beautiful. 
 

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

Yes, certainly! And yes, this has changed, but also some stick around for me. Bach has always been deeply important to me. I would also say that many of the late Classical into Romantic composers have also always been tremendously important to me and had a large impact on my musical thinking. Particularly Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, Mahler.

I recently taught a class on Beethoven string quartets and discovered that Beethoven actually probably has had a greater influence on me than I had thought before teaching this music. The development process I am attracted to certainly is informed by a lot of the way in which Beethovenian materials develop and transform throughout a movement or piece.

Other music that has been with me for a while in a very intense way would be vocal polyphony of the 16th century. Josquin in particular. 

Beside that, I’ve been deepening my relationship to jazz lately, and finding that exploration incredibly fruitful to my own music. Jazz voicings, chord substitutions and extensions, and how a more modal approach works—these are all really fascinating and, I find, directly useful to me. Some artists who have been in my ears in the past couple of months are: Jane Ira Bloom, Esperanza Spalding, and McCoy Tyner.
 
How do you approach the question of “form” especially for longer works?

I think that form is defined by repetition—not necessarily literal repetition, but what we perceive as being connected to/transformed from what. I think longer forms are particularly urgently in need of strategy in this regard. I tend to think about aspects of the materials in degrees of transformability and also longevity. If some materials are ultimately quite mutable and keep developing throughout a form, then this allows a drama to unfold whereby contrast of character and trajectory can be played with. The poetry of relationships between and amongst elements is what I find fascinating as a composer. How these relationships need to play out over time is something that needs to be carefully thought about and will be quite different for a 10 minute piece vs. a 45 minute piece. 
 
Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use?

I’m chaotic. I work in bursts which are unbelievably intense. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks without composing, and then am in my studio all day every day until a piece is done. I don’t tend to pace myself. It just has never been the way I’ve worked. At this point in my life, I do not feel that the process changes significantly whether I write on paper first or simply sketch on paper and then notate the piece into the computer from there. I do both, as feels appropriate. 
 
Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.

With my Requiem, I aimed to compose a piece that was at once highly personal and also non-specific. It does not memorialize any one death, but is an expression of sorrow resulting from the understanding of the ephemeral nature of life, and of my deepest pain and fear about losing those dearest to me. It is about our fragility, and our tragic knowledge of this fragility.

The text is a translation of the original Latin Requiem text, which I found necessary to re-imagine in my own secular language, reframing it in ways I could more fully connect to than the original or any existing translation. 

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