Monday, January 27

Cultural harmony found in concert with Russian String Orchestra, UCLA composers

The Russian String Orchestra will play a composition in Schoenberg Hall by doctoral student Shahab Paranj. The orchestra performed the student-composed works in Moscow, but will bring them to the West Coast for their Monday performance. (Joe Akira/Daily Bruin)

Russian String Orchestra: U.S. Premiere of Six Student Compositions

Schoenberg Hall



Six chosen UCLA student composers will finally hear their works performed live after traveling on a full tour in Moscow.

UCLA music professor Richard Danielpour, along with other members of the composition faculty, recently sifted through 30 submitted works by student composers and chose six of them they believed would be worthy of being played by the Russian String Orchestra across Russia. The six chosen compositions, along with two works by Danielpour, will be played in Schoenberg Hall on Monday. Danielpour, who has been in communication with Russian String Orchestra conductor Misha Rachlevsky, said they hope to showcase the students’ compositions to a broader audience after touring with the pieces in Moscow. They are working toward that goal with the orchestra’s residency at the UCLA School of Music and their tour of the United States.

“I’ve always felt that the priority is always to help train these … composers to become practicing artists in their field,” Danielpour said. “So bringing a professional group like (the Russian String Orchestra) to interact with and ultimately perform the works of some of our best student composers creates that simulated professional experience so that when they go out into the world, they understand what it is like to interact with and write for a professional ensemble.”

In choosing the six composers to present to the Russian String Orchestra, Danielpour said the UCLA composition faculty searched for pieces that each possessed an individual voice. And although he said it was difficult to choose only six, it was necessary to limit the number because the orchestra wanted to perform each piece twice to get the best recording possible for the composers.

Danielpour said he reached out to conductor Rachlevsky, which facilitated the connection between UCLA and the globe-traveling orchestra. This allowed student composers such as 2018 UCLA alumnus Dante Luna – who was the only undergraduate student to have his piece selected to find a place to project their own musical pieces on a larger stage.

“Listen To Me” is a piece Luna said he spent only two weeks composing before the submission deadline, compared to the months many other composers took. He said the piece works on two different levels and plays with concepts of tonality and atonality. This makes it a whimsical and carefree coming-of-age piece with a precise intention that reflects feelings of being emotionally numb upon the end of a serious relationship, Luna said.

“I hope that people can take away or can understand that it’s a very playful piece,” Luna said. “On the outer ends, it’s very whimsical, but then there’s (a) climax to it, where you really see the vulnerable side of myself. So it’s like opening up a diary.”

Shahab Paranj, a PhD student and teacher of Musicology M6A: “Introduction to Musicianship,” was also chosen for his musical composition. Paranj said working with conductor Rachlevsky and a dedicated ensemble allowed him to feel free to do whatever he wanted musically and this freedom allowed him to share his story with his audience through his music. Paranj said his music has seen a lot of influence from both Western and Eastern classical styles as a result of his being raised in and living in Iran and eventually moving to the United States.

It is through the contrast between these styles that Paranj said he hopes to use his showcased work “Lost In Lut” to bridge the two influences in his music by combining Western-style microtonal harmony with Persian classical music, which has more progressions meant to imitate Persian instruments and sounds like dance music.

“Sometimes I’d rather have a long effect (with my music) rather than just having the effect that night where people get excited about it, and then forget about it,” Paranj said. “I try to introduce some technique and some music that (audiences) are not familiar with so maybe this (can) give them the chance to explore the other music from other parts of the world.”

By merging the different cultures of the Russian String Orchestra and the student composers at UCLA, the performance highlights the positive relationship that can be formed between countries through art, Danielpour said. It is this underlying concept and his desire to display UCLA students’ musical pieces which he credits as inspiration for the event, bringing together the Russian String Orchestra with the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. And it is through these collaborations that Danielpour said UCLA students are able to simulate a professional experience and work towards becoming practicing artists in their field.

“What (the Russian String Orchestra is) doing is they are extending themselves as artists from another country, and melding, merging and amalgamating their energies with American musicians and American artists,” said Danielpour. “We can all, on both sides, become richer and deeper as artists for that collaboration.”

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