Chris Rogerson finished reviewing the last of 44 scores written for a string quartet and submitted to the Allentown Symphony New Music–Chamber Music Composers Competition. An additional 23 compositions, including one from Japan, had been pulled because they came from outside southeastern Pennsylvania. Rogerson, a composer himself, whose work has been performed by the San Francisco, Atlanta, and Houston symphonies, among others, teaches at the acclaimed Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He has been the composer-in-residence with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra for three years and was charged with judging the competition submissions.
“It was extremely difficult to select from such a strong pool of applicants,” says Rogerson. Finally, he chose eight pieces, including those from a composer-in-residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra, a doctoral candidate in music composition at the Curtis Institute, and two music composition majors from Moravian—Grace Young ’23 and Ryan Anderson ’25.
Their works debuted on March 28, 2023, at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts as part of the Allentown Symphony New Music Chamber Series. The finished compositions were performed brilliantly by the quartet pulled from the Allentown Symphony Orchestra: Eliezer Gutman, violin and concertmaster; Inna Eyzerovich, violin and associate concertmaster; Pamela Jacobsen, viola; and Jameson Platte, cello.
Young and Anderson had listened to their pieces through the composition programs they used to notate their scores, but those renditions sound synthetic and electronic. The concert provided them with the first opportunity to hear their work performed live—and by masterful musicians.
“It was so awesome!” says Young. “It was unreal to hear a piece that I composed being performed by such a high caliber of musicians. I was so honored!”
A year earlier, in the Contemporary Music course taught by Larry Lipkis, professor of music and Moravian’s composer-in-residence, Young had watched a presentation about the art installation The Dinner Party by feminist artist Judy Chicago. In Chicago’s work, three 48-foot lengths combine to form a table in the shape of an equilateral triangle, representing equality for women. The triangle is also an ancient symbol for woman and goddess. On the table, 39 individual place settings (13 per side—think The Last Supper) represent 39 significant women in history. The first side of the table honors women from prehistory to classical Rome; the second side, Christianity through the Reformation; and the third side, the American Revolution through the women’s movement. The names of 999 additional women are inscribed on the Heritage Floor on which the table stands.
Young was captivated. “I thought it was so cool, and I started researching it. I brought it into my composition class and said I wanted to write something about it.” The piece, Dinner Party, celebrates Chicago’s art and earned Young a place among the final eight.
Applying the theme of three, Young composed Dinner Party in three movements performed by three instruments: violin, viola, and cello. The movements correspond to three periods in history: medieval, early modern, and modern. Young modeled each movement after a piece written by a female composer from each of those three historical eras:
Hildegard and Smyth are honored with place settings at Chicago’s table.
“For each movement, I took a very small quote from the melody of the piece and composed around it.”
Young writes out the melody and then sketches the shape of the piece—what the peak should sound like, whether she will follow a storyline. Next she focuses on the harmony and rhythms, combining period and modern musical sensibilities and techniques, working out her piece on the guitar before transitioning to music composition software.
“I match the era but modernize it,” explains Young. The first movement, based on a chant, uses simple harmonies and is full of space. The second incorporates dance rhythms, and the third movement uses repetition to echo a march.
“Grace is a very talented polystylist composer who can write confidently in a variety of styles and genres from classical to Big Band,” says Lipkis. “Here, she taps into her classical roots and spins her own take on the works of three legendary women composers.”
“It was a really imaginative idea—original, interesting, and thoughtfully composed,” says Rogerson, “and the music was compelling.”
Also compelling is Anderson’s winning composition, Apassionata, written in response to the war in Ukraine.
Anderson grew up in Effort, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos. His family has its roots in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine, from which his great-grandparents emigrated to the United States. A powerful connection to Ukraine formed in Anderson through his heritage and his church, St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Allentown, established in the early 1900s largely due to the efforts of his great-grandfather. Anderson has attended mass at St. Mary’s with his family every Sunday since he was a baby. He still does today. The proximity to his church and his family and friends was a factor in his decision to choose Moravian. The quality of the music faculty and the intimate classes confirmed his choice.
Anderson is deeply affected by the war in Ukraine, and his feelings for the events there have fueled his compositions. Apassionata is the second in a three-part series he composed for Ukraine. “It’s not narrative,” says Anderson. “It doesn’t follow a story—the life of a Ukrainian soldier, for example. It’s an overview of the country and what’s happening and my emotions and feelings regarding those events.
“It starts off mourning, almost weeping as expressed by a descending melody that begins with the viola—in a low register—then moves to the cello, which is an even lower register. Next it stacks on violin 2 and violin 1 and expands into this larger complex thing. It’s insanely difficult because of the key signature— there are no open strings.
“It speaks to the complexity of the situation in Ukraine—so many moving parts, so many different things going on, people losing family or homes or both. And there are the beheadings.”
Says Lipkis, “The music is intense and passionate; very challenging to perform, but also very gratifying.”
Anderson’s first piece in the series, And Yet the Sunflower’s Still Standing, a duet between piano and violin, was performed by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra. The third composition, Lament, for string symphony, may be performed in the fall 2023 semester by the Moravian University Orchestra.
“What I’ve been writing recently is in light of everything I’m absorbing from the news about Ukraine, but it’s an outpouring of what I’m feeling,” Anderson says. He compares his approach to that of Gustav Mahler, one of his favorite composers. “We are similar in that we both write music from the heart—emotional, impassioned, and speaking without using words—so when I compose music, I write my emotions, I write what I feel, I write what pours out of me.”
That outpouring can be heard and felt when one listens to Apassionata, and it influenced Rogerson’s selection. “It is a beautiful composition and heartfelt,” he says. “That artistic vulnerability should be celebrated.”
Currently, Anderson is working with Lipkis on a composition for a brass quintet. He will write more music, seek more opportunities with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, and explore additional competitions. He is working toward his ultimate goal of becoming a composer and conductor. “Composing is my thing,” he says. He also plans to continue with his education to earn a doctoral degree so that he can teach at the college level and help young music majors toward their goals.
Young wanted to compose scores for films after seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, but despite her success writing music, she wants to play music. “After composing pieces for a while here at Moravian, I don’t think I can make a career of it—it is exhausting.”
Her alter ego, the bass player, has performed on the upright and electric bass in pit orchestras and pit bands since eighth grade (while at Moravian, she performed with local high school musicals). Bassist Young hopes she can get picked up by a tour. Looking ahead long-term, she wants to become a conductor. “I love conducting and working with ensembles,” she says.
Wherever their journeys take them, Young and Anderson are sure to find success. As Rogerson says confidently, “They have great futures.”