Q&A with Kay He - by Seattle Symphony
Kay He is the winner of this year’s Celebrate Asia Composition Competition, with her piece Legends of Old Peking. We asked her about her composition process, her inspirations and her life as a composition student. The Seattle Symphony gives the world premiere of Legends of Old Peking during this year’s Celebrate Asia concert on Friday, February 24, at 7:30pm.
Can you describe your composition process? How do you begin writing a new work?
Composition is a type of creation similar to writing in that everyone has their own unique way of expressing themselves. I tend to pull my inspiration to compose directly from my own personality, as I am a very emotional person. Many specific details in my life have a way of touching my heart, such as my love for traveling. Traveling provides me with many unique experiences which then lead to further inspiration during my composition process. These experiences weave a large network of inspirations in my mind that come together as a repository of ideas. I often find myself beginning a new piece when some of my emotions emerge in a way that demands expression. For example, this piece, Legends of Old Peking, best exhibits this.
After having studied in the United States for one year and then returning back to Beijing, many feelings and passions came out due to the environments that had strongly influenced me. Because of this emotional pull that I was experiencing, I then began to compose a piece for my second hometown, Beijing. This led to what instrumentation I thought that could express these feelings better. A chamber orchestra with unusual and limited brasses would be the perfect way since the imprint which Beijing gave to me was complex, but not heavy. Using a chamber orchestra could present this flowery and twinkling memory and the profound culture of Beijing.
Do you have a favorite composer? A composer who influences you most?
Toru Takemitsu and Igor Stravinsky are my favorite composers. Takemitsu’s music is soft, delicate and sophisticated. Stravinsky’s music is straightforward and powerful. Although they wrote in completely different styles, I admire both composers greatly. These differences remind me of the diversity in my own personality!
Do you lean towards composing for a particular instrument?
No. Because of my adventurous spirit and my willingness to try new things, I find that the proper instrument should be based on what best expresses the emotions that I am currently feeling. As a result of this, I have many pieces that use a variety of instrumentations (i.e., solo, duet, string quartet, brass quintet, large and small chamber music, chamber orchestra and big orchestra).
You’re currently doing graduate work in composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Describe a typical day in the life of a composition student.
A: It depends on that student’s specific schedule as everyone’s life is different. For me, besides the courses I need to take, my organ and drum set classes this semester require that I take additional time to better grasp those instruments. I also must prepare for the classes that I teach for undergraduate students. In addition to this, I need to spend my time listening to music, analyzing scores and writing or revising my pieces. I also take electronic music courses, so this requires me to make time to record samples and progress sound. As a composition student at UMKC, every day is a busy day.