Five Questions with Hannah Lash

While at New Music On The Point, I was lucky enough to meet composer and harpist Hannah Lash who currently serves on the composition faculty at Yale University School of Music. Lash has received numerous awards and prizes and written for numerous ensembles including the JACK quartet and the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. Best of all, she has an incredible sense of humor as I discovered with my friend Sully over lunch one day brainstorming the obviously brilliant idea of a dark musical for lemmings who gain a sense of self and must decide whether or not they will take the run off of the cliff to escape their dismal lives. More on that later. Here are the 5 questions that I had for Hannah Lash!
As a composer/performer who works with performers a lot, what are some qualities that make you excited to work with a performer?
One thing would be a collaborative energy happening between me and a performer. Particularly if we are performing together, it’s great when there is a lot of generosity and energy around the rehearsal process. Another thing is that’s really helpful is when a performer understands where I’m coming from musically. My music has so much to do with the vocabulary of the repertoire that forms my background. I like when a performer really feels that connection. I love when someone understands from my language how my music needs to be phrased and shaped. Those things are also very interesting to develop with someone. Oftentimes I’ll have a collaboration where someone doesn’t understand right of the bat where I’m coming from and It’s really cool to clarify that along the way.

Is there anyone in particular who you enjoy working with and what makes them stand out?
One of my favorite current collaborations is with a double bassist named Sam Suggs. We have a duo together of harp and double bass. He’s such a fantastic musician. One of the things I love about about working with him is that he’s very flexible, and he also has so many ideas of his own and brings a lot to the table. Even when we work on my music we have a great give and take where we come up with ideas together and it’s a really giving environment. Those types of qualities are real positives when working with performers.

Can you share some insight on your compositional process?
Well, I don’t consider ideas themselves to be good or bad in an abstract sense. I think of them in a very existential way. An idea can become a good idea in motion. It has to become something interesting as it works along. The brilliance is in the motion of it, which makes sense to me because music is an artform which needs time in order to be perceived. The relationships amongst elements becomes over time, and how these elements move can become beautiful.

What’s it like to be a young female Composition Professor at Yale? Do you have any advice for young female composers?
I am so happy to be in my position because I feel we need more role models for young women in composition. I don’t believe in singling women out because they’re women but I do believe in being influential as a woman and being encouraging by example. I remember that it was hard as a student being one of maybe a couple female students in composition and having so few female teachers. It’s important that there are more women in academic positions. We need to be role models for students; if there are examples, the thought occurs to young girls that they can be composers.

How have you dealt with the composer/performer duality in your life and career?
For me, the two feel so inextricably bound that it doesn’t feel like a duality at all. If people try to make the distinction I will make it clear that my primary identity is as a composer but I’m very much a performing composer and that’s a huge part of how I operate musically. Not only is it important for me personally, because I have an irrepressible desire to make noise on a physical level, but also I feel that being a proficient performer helps your chops as a composer. It is very valuable to me to know exactly how I want to phrase a piece of Bach for example. I know what it is to practice daily and polish a significant repertoire of pieces, and what it means to put together a concerto with an orchestra. Not every composer can do these things, and I find them really useful skills.

To learn more about Hannah Lash visit Hannah's Website

Los-Angeles native Anna Heflin is a classical violist who is passionate about contemporary music. Anna holds a Bachelor of Music and a minor in art history from UCSB, where she studied with Helen Callus and graduated with honors. She is currently studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where she is pursuing her Masters of Music. At SFCM she is studying with Jodi Levitz while working with MaryClare Brzytwa and David Garner. Anna has a passion for contemporary music and composes works for herself in addition to premiering works. She enjoys incorporating electronics into her compositions and has experience working with Max/MSP and Ableton Live. This summer she is attending New Music On The Point and interning for HELLO STAGE in Vienna! When she’s not playing music you can find her drinking coffee, doing yoga or exploring.
Author: Anna Heflin
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