Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sarah Wald in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On September 24, 2022, I will have the pleasure of conducting the world première of Sarah Wald's work "After Brahms", which she wrote for the Camellia Symphony in Sacramento. On the same program we will also perform Brahms' Symphony No. 4, which Sarah knew about when I asked her to write the piece. I had the chance of asking Sarah some questions about her music, and below are the answers:

Christian Baldini: Sarah, it will be a pleasure to bring your music to life once more. Please tell us about "After Brahms". How did you decide to include material from Brahms' 4th Symphony into your new piece?

Sarah Wald: Both of the other pieces on the program, Elgar's Cello Concerto and Brahms' 4th Symphony, are in E minor. So, I decided to compose something in E minor as well—I liked the idea of an E minor extravaganza! Following that, I thought taking material from the end of the Brahms symphony would provide a neat bookend for the concert. So I used a slightly modified version of Brahms' last-movement theme as my repeating bass line. 

CB: What are some tips and pointers about your music, and about this piece in general that people should listen for? What would you say to someone who does not know your music at all?

SW: This particular piece is all about repetition, but repetition that is constantly subjected to three different processes: cycling through different keys, getting passed around different instrumental groups, and increasing in tempo. I was interested in how the same material could take on different characters in these different iterations.

CB: What do you try to communicate with your compositions?

SW: I think that really depends on the piece. Some of my pieces are programmatic, meaning that they're about extra-musical subjects. In my vocal music, I'm trying to support and enhance the text I'm setting. In some cases, I'm simply concerned with crafting beautiful or intriguing sounds (in some kind of logical order). But in most of my pieces, I'm very concerned with affect, or going on some sort of emotional/psychological journey.

CB: You are also a very fine performer (Sarah was for three years principal flute of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra) - can you tell us how being a performer has affected or influenced you as a composer?

SW: Thank you. Well, when I compose an orchestra piece specifically, I suppose I can't help imagining myself sitting in the flute section. What would it feel like? How would I hear my part in relation to the other parts? When playing orchestral repertoire, it's always fun to hear how you fit into the harmony, or to hear something you just played get picked up by another instrument, for example. So I think that perspective makes me think more carefully about how everything fits together.

CB: What advice would you give to young composers starting out? How do we connect with performers? What to do about choosing a good graduate program, or about getting commissions to write pieces? Anything else you would recommend?

SW: If you're in college or grad school, working with your fellow students/musicians can result in ongoing collaborative relationships years down the line. In a similar vein, attending summer music festivals or workshops is really invaluable, in my opinion: They offer additional performance/recording opportunities and broaden your network of potential collaborators. The Composer's Site is a good resource for finding various types of opportunities. And even basic Google searches for opportunities can help: When I was in college in NYC, I found out about the New York Youth Symphony's composition program just via Google search.

As far as choosing a good graduate program goes, I think it's mainly a matter of figuring out what you're looking for—what you want to get out of graduate school. Is there a particular teacher you want to study with? Are you interested in particular kinds of opportunities, like inter-departmental projects? Also, definitely talk to alumni of the programs you're interested in: You'll learn a lot about the program, good and bad, that you can't find out through any other channels.

CB: Thank you for your time, and I look forward to conducting the world première of this very imaginative piece that you have written for us!

SW: Thank you!

Sarah Wald was born in Chicago. She attended Columbia University in the City of New York for her bachelor’s degree in music with a focus in composition. While at Columbia, Sarah studied composition with Tristan Murail and Arthur Kampela, as well as with Robert Lombardo in Chicago. She also studied flute with Sue Ann Kahn.  Sarah then studied with Conrad Susa and David Garner at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for her master’s degree in composition. For her master’s thesis, she composed and produced  Elegy for a Lady: a Music Drama in One Act. As a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, Sarah was awarded a Graduate Scholars Fellowship for her first year. She recently finished her PhD in composition and music theory. Her dissertation advisor was Kurt Rohde.


Over the past several years, Sarah's music has been featured at various festivals and other programs, including the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival, the European American Musical Alliance in Paris, the New York Youth Symphony’s Composition Program, the nief-norf Summer Music Festival, the Brevard Music Center, the TALIS Festival, and the Bowdoin International Music Festival. Her work was also performed at Sävellyspaja in Finland and has been featured on radio stations such as WFMT (Relevant Tones) and CJSR.


Sarah has received several honors, awards, and commissions. She graduated from Columbia magna cum laude and also received Columbia’s Rapaport Prize in 2012. In 2015, she was awarded professional development grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency and Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Her percussion quartet, Pas de Quatre, was selected by the University of Tennessee Knoxville for performance at PASIC 2015's New Literature Showcase Concert. Sarah has also received several individual commissions as well as commissions from Access Contemporary Music, the University of Tennessee at Martin Contemporary Music Group, and the Saint Xavier University Flute Choir. In 2016 and 2017, she was selected in calls for scores from New Music on the Bayou and Vox Musica. She was also a selected composer for North/South Consonance's call for scores in 2018 and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in 2020. In January 2020, Sarah was selected to compose a score for the Sound of Silent Film Festival in Chicago.

Currently, Sarah is a Resident Artist with the concert platform Sparrow Live and a Teaching Artist with the San Francisco Opera Guild.

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