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Composition Students Awarded Prizes

SFCM’s composition department regularly sees prizes awarded to students and newly commissioned works performed around the world. From Ilya Demutsky’s (Class of ’09) collaboration with the San Francisco Ballet to Matt Boehler’s (Class of ’17) NATS Art Song Competition Award, SFCM students are having their works performed regularly and are being recognized for their extraordinary musicianship.

This year, three SFCM composition students—two current and one former—were recent recipients of several different annual prizes. Nicholas Denton ’19, along will collaborators Ashlyn Herd ’18 and Hao Wu ’18, has been awarded the second annual Kristin Pankonin Award. The award, named after Kristin Pankonin, an SFCM alumna and later staff accompanist and vocal coach who passed away in 2014, was established to fund the creation of new vocal music at the Conservatory each year. Denton, Herd, and Wu were collectively awarded $3,000—Denton will compose a setting of “Mountain Trails” based on poetry of Marjorie Allen Seifert.

“I, along with Ashlyn Herd and Hao Wu, were delighted when we heard we had been awarded this year’s Pankonin Commission,” says Denton. “The whole experience feels rather surreal. Ashlyn and I were already planning to collaborate this year on creating a song cycle. Along the way, we found Hao, who was very interested in the project as a collaborative pianist, and we were thrilled to bring him aboard.”

David Garner, Denton’s teacher, commented on his student’s music and its relationship to the material. "Nicholas Denton's use of fractal geometry artfully depicts the ‘mountains’ in Seifert's gorgeous poetry,” he says. “Other process-driven elements pervade this song-cycle with a gentle complexity that does not distract from the beautifully contoured vocal lines.”

SFCM’s composition department has awarded the 2018 Hoefer Prize, an alumni award, to Derek David ’08. The award grants a commission to the recipient as well as a week-long residency and prize money.

Speaking to the award, Composition Chair David Conte said, “Derek David is a genuinely gifted composer who has had wonderful success since leaving SFCM in 2008, both creatively and academically, having earned his DMA with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music, and being appointed to the theory faculty at Harvard University. His String Quartet won the very competitive EAMA Prize in 2012. He will have much to share about his experiences with our current students during his residency.”

“I'm humbled and honored to have been selected to be this year’s recipient of the Hoefer Prize,” says Derek David. “My memories of SFCM are truly some of the most meaningful and formative ones that I have. The thought of returning for a week is incredibly exciting and I can't wait to reconnect with the faculty who have shaped who I am as a musician, and to celebrate music with the current students. Though the orchestration has yet to be set in stone, I plan to write a multi-movement work on drawings by my favorite artist, Francisco Goya. The love, passion, and admiration that I have for his work is the same that I have for Shakespeare and Beethoven. His drawings cut deep within me and seem to express much of what my words cannot. I intend to honor some of these drawings (and the sentiments that they personally inspire within me) through this work.”

And outside of SFCM’s halls, composition students are seeing performances on a national scale. Daniel Zarb-Cousin ’21 was recently selected as one of the winners of the National Young Composers Challenge, a call for new works that awards winners performances and recordings of their submissions. (The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra performed Zarb-Cousin’s Fantasy for Orchestra.) A cash prize of $1,000 also came with the winning submission.

“Winning the National Young Composers Challenge was ultimately an affirmation of my ability to create beauty on the orchestral scale with my naive yet inspired artistic drive,” comments Zarb-Cousin. “It was my second win in a row, the first also being an orchestral piece, Largo for Orchestra. Both pieces were written before coming to the Conservatory or having any formal composition training at all, and so I am excited to see what I can do now with that artistic drive, given my newfound rigorous academic environment and tutelage!

“Hearing and rehearsing the piece was lovely and educational,” he continues. “There is little that gives a composer more joy than hearing their work being enthusiastically played, enthusiastically conducted, and enthusiastically received. Bravo to the Orlando Philharmonic!”

Reflecting on Zarb-Cousin’s winning the Challenge, David Conte noted that he “is a fine example of the more advanced freshman composition students that SFCM has been attracting in recent years.”

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