Composer Julia Seeholzer writes music that is lyrical and gently offbeat. She graduated last year with her MM from The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) and is currently a 2015-2016 Fulbright Scholar in Poland. Our February concert will feature the world premiere of her new song cycle Portraits of Disquiet by pianist Ivan Moscotta and soprano Jackie Stevens.
CSB: You have a great deal of experience in writing for chorus and are currently doing a Fulbright in Warsaw on this very subject. How does your approach differ in setting solo vocal works? What is it that draws you to writing for voice?
JS: There’s a type of intimacy when writing for solo voice that differs from writing for choir. The latter is limited in the agility and scope of a single line, but choral music isn’t about a single line, so it’s a nonissue. I’ve certainly enjoyed constructing some difficult passages (although that is in part thanks to Jackie Stevens, the lovely and talented soprano for whom I’m writing) that wouldn’t work very well in a choral setting. I can’t say I prefer one medium above the other – this is actually my first work for solo voice and accompaniment, and has presented its own set of challenges and rewards. I’m quite interested in writing music that captures a glimpse of narrative, whether or not it’s a standalone story. The human voice resonates (ha) with me as a direct link between composer, musician, and audience, and some of my truest musical expression is a result of this idea. I also strongly believe in the practice of interdisciplinary collaboration between fields and hope to work more with other artists in the future.
CSB: Could you tell us a little about the poetry you’ve chosen for this piece? How does the poetry you work with influence your process?
JS: Kendall’s [Kendall A.] poetry is something special. I first encountered her writing when looking over the libretto for Rachel C. Walker’s chamber opera, Difficulty on Re-entry. Kendall’s vivid language and lyrical sense of timing stood out immediately, as did her honest and universally relatable – yet sometimes unusual – choice of subject matter. I asked Kendall if I might set some poems sometime, and she sent me a few from which to choose. The three I selected, though topically different, all share an incredibly human sense of yearning to connect, to be understood. Whenever I’m choosing a poem to set, I read it out loud to get a feeling for the rhythm of each spoken line. I want to ensure that any music I have in mind will attach itself naturally to the poem’s form and message.
CSB: What role does narrative play in these songs and in your work in general?
JS: As I mentioned earlier, when writing vocal music I like to create a small window into the author’s chosen plane of existence. I don’t wish to express the “right” meaning, but rather my emotional and intellectual response to the text.
CSB: What are your impressions of the arts scene in Cincinnati? [Or the waffle scene. Priorities].
JS: Oh gosh. Waffles aside (hello, Taste of Belgium), the arts scene in Cincinnati is continuing to expand. There were quite a few regular events happening while I was there for my master’s degree (Constella Festival, Cincinnati Opera’s Opera Fusion, Classical Revolution, etc.), and, even in the seven months since I’ve left, more and more has started happening (including this lovely concert series). I quite often see opportunities for grants, workshops, concerts, and other arts events posted by my musical colleagues in the area, and I’m sure there are more to come.
CSB: Who are other Cincinnati artists and composers whose work inspires and interests you? Are there specific works you could point our readers to?
JS: I spent three out of my four semesters at CCM studying with Dr. Joel Hoffman, who until recently was a long-time Cincinnati-based composer, so I can’t go without mentioning his influence. Outside of his teaching, his diverse body of work and desire to collaborate with a variety of musicians are two things that inspire me greatly. His Partenze for solo violin, and ChiaSsO for orchestra, are two that I’d highly recommend exploring (if there are recordings available). In terms of vocal works, Laura Harrison has a striking song cycle called Though This Be Madness that I also love. Dr. Douglas Knehans has a superb command over the voice in his own works – I suggest listening to his Two Looks at Silence for SATB choir.
CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects on your radar?
JS: I’m currently finishing up a commission for the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, which will be premiered next month, and am working on a Miserere for women’s choir, string quartet, and organ, which will be premiered at the Gaude Mater Festival in Warsaw in May.