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SYZYGY, SMU’s New Music Ensemble, Releases New Works Composed by Students and Alumni

Hear four tracks from SYZYGY’s album, including "Interruptions and Diversions (2013)," by Jason Edward Platt (MM Composition, '14) and Vince Gover (BM Music Composition, BM French Horn Performance, '14)

Nadia Sirota had an idea. Having just finished the first part of her residency as the 2013 Meadows Prize winner at Meadows School of the Arts, the award-winning violist brought her idea to Matt Albert, Artist-in-Residence and Director of Chamber Music at Meadows. It was an ambitious concept: produce an album of music written by student composers and performed by the student new music ensemble, SYZYGY.

Albert jumped at the idea and, with the help of Meadows Associate Professor of Music Composition and Theory Xi Wang, they got right to work.

Sirota, Albert and Xi invited current and incoming students to submit proposals. After carefully listening to each submission, they curated a list of six composers. Those six spent the summer writing, and by August each of them had created a score that clocked in at around eight minutes.

“We wanted the composers to have the soup to nuts experience of getting a new work recorded,” says Albert. “You know: ‘Write a new piece, work with these players. Re-write where needed. Go to the recording studios. Work on the post-production.’ And they did. To be involved in the project from beginning to end was very exciting and meaningful for all of us.”

Sirota, Albert and Xi wanted the final versions to be faithful to the composers’ vision. Prior to recording the actual album, the composers were able to hear their music live, played by SYZYGY, to see if their ideas were being conveyed, or whether changes needed to be made to the score. Some of the composers made minor tweaks; others moved entire sections around. The musicians, too, got to see how the sausage is made. They were able to interpret fresh scores for the first time and were able to play and record the pieces at January Sound Studio in Dallas.

The result: six pieces ranging from scintillating to darkly mysterious. The first track, Drifting, was written by Michael van der Sloot for Sirota. Van der Sloot, who graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree from Meadows in 2013, wrote the piece after moving to Chicago to attend grad school. According to Albert, he hopes the piece conveys a sense of transition and the feeling of drifting away from one’s original path.

In Mamihlapinatapai on Regionale 2147 we hear a study in serendipity and stillness from composer Guido Arcella (B.M. ’14). (“Mamihlapinatapai” is a Yaghan word that roughly means “a serendipitous occurrence” or “an unspoken, shared moment between two people.”) Arcella drew on his own personal experience of sharing a moment with a traveler while riding on a train, says Albert, describing the premise of the piece. It was recorded by SYZYGY members Sami Eudy (B.M. ‘15), DJ Taylor (M.M. in Music Education, ‘14), Michael Jones (B.M.,’ 14), Lisa Storm (B.M. ’14) and Edwin Streck (M.M., ‘15).

Interruptions and Diversions (2013), by Jason Edward Platt (MM Composition, '14) and featuring performances by Emily Zirlin (MM MM Flute Performance, '13), Michelle Nguyen, (BM Oboe Performance), Hong Liu (PD Bassoon Performance '14), Chelsea Orr (MM Trumpet Performance, '13), Ray Henninger (BM Horn Performance '14), Myles Blakemore (BM Trombone Performance).

Metamorphose I (2013) is by Vince Gover (BM Music Composition, BM French Horn Performance, '14), featuring performances by Boon Ping Tan (MM Clarinet Performance '15), Daniel Hawkins (BM Horn Performance), Rachel Bundy, (MM Violin Performance, '13), Nick Laham (BM Viola Performance, '14), Mandy Milliot (BA in Music, '14), Kevin Cho (MM Percussion Performance, '14) and Dario Martin (PD Piano Performance, '15).

“I was describing this project to colleague at a different institution and she was floored,” says Albert. “She asked, ‘How could this happen?’ I told her we got there by really pushing the students throughout the recording process to make everything better, to get to someplace more excellent. Louder. More exciting. Softer. More intimate ... the process was really clarifying,” he says, “showing the students what the standards are and what you have to do to achieve them.”

SYZYGY will release more tracks in the coming weeks. All tracks were recorded, engineered and mastered by Alex Overington and produced by Nadia Sirota and Matt Albert at January Sound Studio in Dallas in October 2013.

UPDATE 3/27: Listen to all four tracks in our SYZYGY album preview.

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