July 15, 2023

New Scores: The Cone Institute Concert

New Jersey Symphony Special Presentation

Concert Information

Tom Morrison Bio & Composer Notes

Tom Morrison is a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. Morrison draws his inspiration from the experience of place. He has written for leading new music groups, including the Aizuri Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, Latitude49, Sö Percussion, Contemporaneous, Yarn/Wire and Albany Symphony’s new music chamber orchestra, Dogs of Desire, among others. Recent projects include new electroacoustic works for Theo Van Dyck and Parker Ramsay and a contribution to Han Chen’s “Ligeti Etudes meets 18 Composers” commissioning project. His work has been released on Drifter and Leaving a Room, albums by Eric Huckin and Robert Fleitz, respectively. Recently, Morrison contributed the title track to Red Dog Ensemble’s debut album, Neon and Oak. He won the 2016 Thailand International Composition Festival Competition and first place in the 2021 Symphonia Caritas Competition for first-generation college students. His work can be found at tom-morrison.com.

Morrison is a graduate of The Juilliard School (MM). He is also a graduate of the University of Montana (BM) in Missoula, where he cultivated his love for nature and the environment. He holds an MFA and Ph.D. from Princeton University, where he will be a Post Graduate Researcher in the fall 2023 semester. 

Composer’s Program Note: Messages in the Ground
Messages in the Ground is inspired by Richard Power’s novel The Overstory and the complex nature of trees and humanity’s complex relationship with them. The work is a meditation on the nature of trees and how they communicate with each other. The governing structural idea is simple: the piece begins at the higher end of the orchestra’s register and ends at the lower end—it goes from the leaves to the roots.

Kory Reeder Bio & Composer Notes

Kory Reeder is an American composer and performer whose music draws inspiration from the visual arts and political theory. It is often introspective and atmospheric, investigating ideas of objectivity, place and immediacy while exploring the social implications of musical interaction with pieces ranging from symphonic works to text scores and computer-assisted improvisations.

Described as “one of the most captivating composers in modern classical music” (Dallas Observer), Reeder’s music is performed regularly around the world in concert halls, festivals, academic settings, basements and DIY venues. A dedicated collaborator, he has frequently worked with opera, theater and dance programs, as well as noise, free-improv and new media artists on projects ranging from video collaborations to three-hour performance art works. He has been artist-in-residence at Arts Letters and Numbers, The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and Everglades National Park. Reeder also participated in the Composing in the Wilderness program offered by the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival in collaboration with Alaska Geographic and the National Park Service.

With a catalog of over 100 programmed works, his music has been released on Edition Wandelweiser Records, where one may also find scores of his work, as well as Petrichor Records, Sawyer Editions, Sawyer Spaces, Impulsive Habitat, and Another Timbre, with upcoming releases planned for 2023 on Full Spectrum Records.

Reeder is from Nebraska and currently resides in Texas where he is an active performer. He received his Ph.D. from the University of North Texas and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a Master of Music from Bowling Green State University.

Kory runs and operates Sawyer Editions, a small-batch label specializing in contemporary, experimental, and improvised music, especially of new and unreleased artists. The Sawyer Spaces imprint focuses on field recordings and soundscape composition.

Composer’s Program Note: Walls of Brocade Fields
In Lincoln, Nebraska, there is the International Quilt Museum and while walking through, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of duality: the richly decorated and ornate patterns combine with the somewhat nostalgic quality that can come with the medium. I’m particularly drawn to flowers and brocade fabrics; the fields of intricately designed flowers lining the walls and filling your vision. This piece is full of overlapping, repeated patterns laid across each other, at times interacting and sometimes more exposed. There are moments in the piece where sounds are encompassing and warm, wrapping the listener in a blanket of sound, others are sparse, open and nearly still. The overlapping tones and phrases create subtle, perhaps fleeting cadences and nearly tonal reminisces, but underneath all this harmonic wrapping is a unifying pulse that connects the material and keeps the threads together.

Sam Wu Bio & Composer Notes

Sam Wu's music deals with the beauty in blurred boundaries. Many of his works center around architecture, urban planning, climate science and the search for exoplanets that harbor life.

Wu’s collaborations span five continents, most notably with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Minnesota, Sarasota, Melbourne, Tasmania and Shanghai, the New York City Ballet, the Sydney International Piano Competition, the Lontano, Parker, Argus and ETHEL string quartets, the conductors Osmo Vänskä, Benjamin Northey and Lio Kuokman and sheng virtuoso Wu Wei.

Wu has been featured in various media outlets and publications, including National Geographic channel, Business Insider, The Houston Chronicle, The Harvard Crimson, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Asahi Shimbun and People's Daily. Wu has also received numerous awards and recognitions.  He was selected for the American Composers Orchestra's EarShot readings and the Tasmanian Symphony's Australian Composers' School. Wu also won an ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, First Prize at the Washington International Competition, Harvard's Robert Levin Prize and Juilliard's Palmer Dixon Prize.

From Melbourne, Australia, Sam holds degrees from Harvard University and The Juilliard School, and is currently a DMA candidate in composition at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. His teachers include Tan Dun, Anthony Brandt, Pierre Jalbert, Chaya Czernowin and Richard Beaudoin.

Composer’s Program Note: Hydrosphere

The water cycle is a macroscopic, planet-wide process that shapes oceans and continents. Water is also the source of life as we know it; eternally cycling between its liquid, solid and gaseous phases, water nourishes generations across the aeons. Despite its ubiquity, water is precious––we must protect Gaia's lifeblood.


Hydrosphere meditates upon these elemental concepts. The piece unfolds as a large-scale arc consisting of five sections: clouds, oceans, mountains, streams and clouds again, ending where the music began, in a haze of water vapor. "Oceans" and "streams" mirror each other, and include melodic swirls suggesting water and wind currents. "Mountains" occupies the center of the work, and is a climactic passage depicting water at its most awe-inspiring, with the power to both create and destroy life. 

Yangfan Xu Bio & Composer Notes

Yangfan Xu is a Chinese-born US-based composer who comes from a musical family in Lanzhou, Gansu province. Xu was the winner of the Society for New Music's 2021 Israel/Pellman Award. She won the 2021 New Juilliard Ensemble (NJE) Composition Competition, and her commissioned work Fantastic Creatures of the Mountains and Seas premiered at the Lincoln Center in a concert by NJE in 2022. Xu also received other major commissions from the New York Choreographic Institute with New York City Ballet, and saxophonist Kenneth Radnofsky. Her compositions have been performed by Friction Quartet, Hauseman Quartet, San Francisco Conservatory of Music New Music Ensemble, Choral Chameleon and Keyed Kontraptions. In October 2023, Xu’s music will be performed by the Sydney Contemporary Orchestra in Australia.

Xu received a bachelor’s degree in composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music studying with Mason Bates. Before her undergraduate studies, she studied musicology at the high school affiliated with the Central Conservatory of Music in China. Xu earned her master’s degree in composition at The Juilliard School, studying under Robert Beaser. She is a current DMA candidate at the New England Conservatory of Music studying under studio teacher Kati Agócs.

Composer’s Program Note: Bya
Bya is from the Tibetan language. It means “birds.” The piece is inspired by my trip to Tibet in 2016. When the pandemic first broke out, the city was put on lockdown, and I started to have recurring dreams about my trip to Tibet. It is the most wonderful land I have ever seen; Tibet is said to be the closest place to heaven on earth. When I saw it with my own eyes, I couldn't agree more. The landscape is so stunning that it feels like a place that is unreal. Yamdrok Lake was the name of the lake I visited. There's a bird island in the middle of the lake where you can see hundreds of different kinds of birds—it was magnificent and mind-blowing. 

Bya’s opening section is about the general shock I felt when I first arrived in Tibet. The middle slow section, where you can hear the trumpet's extended technique imitating a bird's call, depicts the bird's island and the Yamdrok Lake. The final section of the piece is about a Tibetan tradition known as the sky funeral. When people die, their bodies are placed on top of a temple and the birds eat them. I find the ritual very special to me because it represents an eternal bond between humans and nature.

Steven Mackey Bio & Composer Notes

Bright in coloring, ecstatic in inventiveness, lively and profound, Steven Mackey’s music spins the tendrils of his improvisatory riffs into large-scale works of grooving, dramatic coherence.

As a teenager growing up in Northern California obsessed with blues-rock guitar, Mackey was in search of the “right wrong notes,” those heart-wrenching moments that imbue the music with new, unexpected momentum. Today, his pieces play with that tension of being inside or outside of the harmony and flow forward shimmering with prismatic detail.

Signature early works merged his academic training with the free-spirited physicality of his mother-tongue rock guitar music: Troubadour Songs (1991) and Physical Property (1992) for string quartet and electric guitar; and Banana/Dump Truck (1995), an electrified-cello concerto. Later works explored his deepening fascination in transformation and movement of sound through time: Dreamhouse (2003), a rich work for voices and ensemble was nominated for four Grammy awards; A Beautiful Passing (2008) for violin and orchestra on the passing of his mother; and Slide (2011), a Grammy award–winning music theater piece. In 2021, the LA Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel and trumpet soloist Thomas Hooten gave the world premiere of Shivaree, a fantasy for trumpet and orchestra. Mackey further expanded his theatrical catalog with his short chamber opera Moon Tea about the 1969 meeting between the Apollo 11 astronauts and the Royal Family, premiered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2021, as well as with his 2022 music theater work Memoir, based on the pages of his late mother’s memoirs.

The 2022–23 season sees three world premieres: Concerto for Curved Space with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons; Red Wood, a new environmentally concerned work for The Soraya’s Treelogy Project; and RIOT with mezzo-soprano Alicia Olatuja, Mackey on electric guitar, New Jersey Symphony, Princeton University Glee Club and conductor Xian Zhang.

Today, Steven Mackey writes for chamber ensemble, orchestra, dance and opera—commissioned by the greatest orchestras around the world. He has served as professor of music at Princeton University for the past 35 years, and in fall 2022, he joined the composition faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music. He has won several awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award. He continues to explore an ever-widening world of timbres befitting a complex, 21st-century culture, while always striving to make music that unites the head and heart, that is visceral, that gets us moving.

Composer’s Program Note: Concerto for Curved Space
My work over the past 40 years has bounced between two sources of inspiration, the personal and the cosmological; the drama of life, love and loss on the one hand and the awe and wonder of the universe (or more recently, the multiverse) on the other hand. I’ve been inspired by watching my parents die and my children grow and also moved to create by pondering the mysteries of the cosmos.

Concerto For Curved Space is in the latter category. There is something about the orchestra - the power, the variety of color, the potential for multiple threads, the grandeur - that makes it an apt medium for grand musings. The first orchestra piece I ever wrote was called “The Big Bang and Beyond.”

The title was suggested by a book titled “Sphereland: a fantasy on curved space and an expanding universe.” A central theme of the book is the difficulty in accepting a possible reality that lies outside of our perception. When the citizens of flatland – a two-dimensional kingdom – are visited by a sphere they see a dot which magically expands to a circle as the sphere passes through their two-dimensional plane. The sphere is unable to convince the flatlanders of the simpler reality of that event because they cannot fathom a third dimension. Later a four-dimensional being visits the Sphere who, in spite of that experience with the flatlanders, is committed to a complicated three-dimensional explanation of the visitor and can’t accept a four-dimensional reality.

Concerto For Curved Space is a fantasy that revels in the space for imagination that lies between our curiosity and perceptual limitations. I have to admit that, pondering space, curved or otherwise, is like being asked a Zen Koan like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Concerto For Curved Space is my response I suppose – a psychedelic and kaleidoscopic journey — a “trip” which attempts to fuse the childhood wonder of lying on my back staring up at the stars, majoring in physics in college, and a lifetime of developing my craft as an orchestra composer. There is nothing scientific about this music; “Curved Space” is merely a prompt to explore non-straight continuities, other worldly textures and to invent laws of nature that are both palpable and inscrutable. Perhaps there is a sympathy for the flatlanders as I tend toward the magical rather than the logical.

Concerto For Curved Space celebrates the orchestra. In fact, before I had a more specific governing metaphor, the working title was “Concerto For Orchestra.” Speaking of koans and puzzles, that handle is itself a contradiction since the term “concerto” usually refers to a piece featuring a solo or small group set against the backdrop of an orchestra. Most symphonies usually highlight soloists within the orchestra, pit sections against each other, and generally celebrate the orchestra, so what’s the difference?

I don’t know … and I decided not to worry about it. However, I do think my compositional process leaned into the concerto idea. I cultivated material inspired at the outset by the constituent instruments and sections of the orchestra instead of working in abstract musical figures that I would later assign to an instrument. The latter would be a more likely approach in a non-concerto symphonic work.

The piece is in Four parts, each more expansive than the preceding – with rough timings of 3’+5’+8’+13’ respectively, (the similarity to the Fibonacci series is entirely coincidental). There will be pauses between movements – a chance to reflect and refresh – and the first two parts behave like traditional movements in that they create a single narrative arc created by the conversation between a few characters. The last two parts behave differently, moving ever farther away on a one-way journey. Vivid topographies emerge, loom large, and recede into the past without returning and without leaving fingerprints on what precedes or follows. There is a motivic tightness that delineates each section but then continues off to something new. The exception, the one batch of material that does return and return frequently, is the music which begins the piece. This music is the most literally “curved” because of the microtonal inflections in and out of a symmetrical harmony. In my mind it is a portal to another (musical) dimension … or maybe it is the hum of the universe.


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The Symphony presents the Institute in collaboration with Princeton University Department of Music.

Major underwriting support for the New Jersey Symphony Edward T. Cone Institute is generously provided by the Edward T. Cone Foundation and Princeton University.

Programs and artists are subject to change.