The Composer Gabriella Smith’s Music Marvels at Nature

In 2014, composer Gabriella Smith hiked Northern California’s Lost Coast. Home to bears, mountain lions and Roosevelt elk, the area is so rugged that scenic Highway 1, which runs along the water, has to be detoured far inland. She kept tide records on her hand for some of the trails along the coast. “You have to be careful not to get carried away,” she said.

Her wildness surprised her. “It was very awe-inspiring to be there,” Smith said. And she liked the sound of her name. A poem where the words “lost” and “coast” come together, the multiple meanings it suggests. As one of her mentors, John Adams, put it, it was the title she sought after her work.

She wrote a cello solo using looping electronics for her friend and former classmate at Curtis College of Music, Gabriel Cabezas. The song was inspired by an image of a repeating road. Then her work changed as follows. More complex layered recordings, 2021 release. And now “Lost Coast” takes on new life, the most spectacular cello concerto ever, thursday premiere He has performed with Cabezas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

This work and its trajectory are very similar to Smith’s career. The 31-year-old, despite receiving increasingly high-profile commissions, prefers to write for people she cares about. Here and elsewhere, her music, in addition to the charm of the natural world, evokes an approachable character, energy, a torrent of joy, and exudes originality, not to mention infectious grooves.

“I always think that anyone who listens to her music will be the next big fan after her,” Cabezas said.

Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Smith learned piano and violin, and at the age of eight — much earlier, according to his mother — began writing his own songs to understand how everything worked. rice field. But she was convinced that what she was doing was strange and embarrassing, and she kept it a secret. She didn’t know anyone else like her.

I needed encouragement and music theory lessons from my teacher at the time to continue. Smith was inspired by the works of the composers she studied with, including Mozart, Bach, and Haydn. But she said her own work didn’t look like theirs, and the reason was simply, “I didn’t know how it could sound like that.”

Once she wrote what she thought was a Mozart duo for violin and piano, and heard two of her classmates perform it. “But that encouraged me because it was this puzzle of figuring out how to match ideas with results,” Smith said.

Other influences entered her brain, mainly Bartok and Joni Mitchell. And she got a boost from Adams. He recalled a quiet teenager who came to his home with a “wonderful” number of polished pieces, all with plastic spiral bindings. “I was impressed by her incredible determination from a young age,” he said.

Music wasn’t the only thing Smith was determined to do. She also loved nature and from the beginning of her composition she became interested in environmental issues. At age 12, she began volunteering at the Point Reyes research station. People there told her it was the first time she had been approached by someone this young, but she decided to try. For the next five years she tagged birds and bonded with local biologists. She brought her mother along as well.

At 17, she started working for Curtis in Philadelphia, but missed the West Coast. “I got very homesick,” she said. I put all of that into the music, and that’s when my music started to sound like me. “

Mr. Smith has a soft demeanor. But as a composer, “she fills her whole room,” says violist Nadia Sirota. She performs her music and collaborates with her and Cabezas as a producer on her album Lost Coast. “She knows exactly what she’s talking about, and if someone has a clear idea, she just makes it happen.”

As Smith continued to write songs, Adams found his sound maturing rapidly. He felt that his sensitivity to the natural world “draws back to the ‘Pastoral’ symphony”. And he could tell it would be fun, both for the performers and the audience. Cabezas certainly felt the same way. “It doesn’t lose its sense of what music should be, but it also has optimism, quirkiness and humor.”

of “Tumblebird Contrail” Commissioned by Adams and his wife Deborah O’Grady through the Pacific Harmony Foundation, the Point Reyes hike is transformed into music of strength, wonder and joy. Similar adjectives come to mind for other musical scores, such as the quartet Carrot His Revolution, which is instantly engrossing with sheer excitement.

These feelings are natural, says Smith. It’s the joy I experience from the natural world and, honestly, the joy of making music. “

Smith’s titles tend to be playful. Sometimes it seems nonsense, like the piano solo “Imaginary Pancake” written for Timo Andrés. But it was inspired by memories of a summer music show as a kid, impressed by an older boy playing something with his arms outstretched across the keyboard. When she asked what it was, he said it was Beethoven.

Growing up, she tried to find the music, but couldn’t find it. She realized that her own memory had exaggerated it until it became something else. So she took inspiration from her imaginary works to compose. And “pancakes”? It’s an image of a player leaning over a keyboard with their arms spread out flat like a pancake.

Smith, who now lives in Seattle, remains involved in environmental activism. Instead of a car, she rides a bicycle and works on the environmental restoration of a former naval airfield. Her music is filled with anger at the current state of climate change. “Wasteland Bard” But still, the rhythm suggests an underlying optimism. “It’s so easy to fall into despair,” she said. “But there are people around us who are incredibly happy working on this issue. We should feel what we should feel and grieve what we should grieve. .”

“Lost Coast” is both awe-inspiring and determined. Her album version was produced in Iceland over multiple sessions, layering Sirota’s contribution and Smith’s singing over Cabezas’s playing, based on her compositional method of recording herself in Ableton software. “She’s creating music in space,” Shirota said. “She’s like molding clay,” she said.

For the concerto version, Smith arranged her song into more traditional wind and brass lines. But it wasn’t her one-on-one transfer. Many sections have been significantly changed and cadenzas have also been added. “There are some wild parts that she rewrote,” Cabezas said. “It fits the orchestral aesthetic a bit more, and she’s found a few places where it works even better.”

Smith wants to further integrate the environmental and musical aspects of her life. her next work Kronos QuartetTo commemorate the 50th anniversary of . . But she’s still figuring out what to do further.

“I can write music, but it feels like the first step,” she said. “A lot of it feels like uncharted territory. But everyone in every field needs to do this.”

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