Composer Interview: Jessica Krash | The Salon Sessions
Jessica Krash hardly needs an introduction. Her recordings have been lauded by reviewers at sources such as The Washington Post and Gramophone, her compositions have been commissioned by institutions such as the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and her teaching has taken her through many D.C. area academic institutions. Featured on The Salon Trio's recently released album, The Salon Sessions, is the world premiere recording of Jessica's composition Hand in Hand. We were fortunate to chat with Jessica about her inspirations for writing the piece, the development process, and her thoughts on hearing Hand in Hand come to life on The Salon Sessions.
You've written for a number of well-known individuals, ensembles, and organizations throughout your career. Could you talk a bit about how this collaboration with The Salon Trio began?
"Robert DiLutis played so beautifully in my Young Vilna piece, so I was thrilled when he asked me if I would write for his trio. He had invited me to lunch in College Park to discuss it—we ate very, very spicy Chinese food! When I showed him an early draft of Hand in Hand, he gave me great suggestions about how to improve it. As I was working on the piece, I listened to recordings of Robert, Noah, and Jeffrey's trio to get a feel for their work together."
Included on The Salon Trio's album is the world premiere recording of your composition Hand in Hand which you wrote after a trip to India. Would you tell us more about how that trip inspired this piece? Were there sounds or experiences that you aimed to emulate and represent in the piece?
"I’d always wanted to go to India, but was scared. I finally decided that I should go before I turned 60—and did, two years ago. I wanted to see the Ganges in the city of Varanasi, but I was worried that I might be overwhelmed, like the character in one of those old British-in-India movies. A tour guide took my husband and me to the evening ceremony at the Ganges. The ceremony, called Aarti, is in praise of the river goddess. As it turned out, the people and the ceremony made me feel peaceful and happy and not at all panicked—many at the ceremony seemed deeply moved to be at the Ganges, which is a very holy place. Also, while walking through the streets on the way to and from the river, I found it crowded but not intimidating or crazy. Things were on a human scale: the buildings were small, it was mostly people on foot, small motorbikes, little cows. And people were kind to us.
The Aarti ceremony involves several priests who stand by the river chanting and moving large torches in circles. All the while, there is music and bells. My piece starts out quietly with some bell-like sounds inspired by the Aarti ceremony, and maybe some slightly raga-influenced scales and harmonies. And then my piece moves to a lot of other places, including a polka! Robert asked that the piece include a polka, as he's part Polish. I am very mindful of the issues of cultural appropriation, and yet I wanted to be able to write about feelings I had and sounds I heard in India. My grandparents were from Eastern Europe, so I'm (probably) not going to be challenged for writing polka and klezmer sounds. I hope my piece sounds like a Jewish-American woman took a trip to India. The end of my piece comes back somewhat to the opening "Aarti" material, with other things added in."
How about the title Hand in Hand? Is that also inspired by your experiences in India? Is there a story behind the title?
"When I got back from India and started working on the commission from Robert, I found myself writing quiet music. I don’t think it was because India was so noisy; the cities are amazingly noisy with cars honking—what can you expect with cows crossing the street on their own? Instead, I think my quiet music was from my experience of seeing so many lives that were different from mine, and yet not so different. I had several interactions with strangers in India who were very connecting and kind to me. There’s something about kindness and personal connection in the midst of all that liveliness that made me want to write quietly, intimately, personally. In the opening of the piece, the saxophone and clarinet "hand" each other phrases—one starts the phrase and the other finishes it, which is part of the reason for the title. Robert and Noah hand each other the phrases so seamlessly and beautifully, like two separate people who finish each other's sentences.
Besides composing award-winning pieces, you are also lauded for your performances and recordings as a pianist in both solo and chamber settings. When writing a piece like Hand in Hand, how much does your experience as a chamber musician influence the development of the piece?
"When I was a student, and after, I learned a little about electronic music. But in the end, I find that I really like phrasing. And I like how musicians respond to each other's phrasing and tone colors. As a pianist myself, it was wonderful to hear Jeffrey take on the piano part, and use it to create a fabric that pulls the piece together. He plays with such range, from the opening bells to the lyrical phrases, and on to Gershwin-like syncopated chords, a low "percussion" solo, a polka, and more. I like to put "too many materials" in my pieces!"
Having your works featured on so many CDs and concert programs throughout your career, you have undoubtedly had many "first-listens" of your works. What were your thoughts about hearing Hand in Hand come to life for the first time?
"Every time I listen to the recording, I notice something different! I am SO pleased with the trio's playing—how beautiful and lively and imaginative they are. I think this CD is terrific; each piece is so different from the others and so many different voices are represented. It was fascinating to me to hear my piece in this context; I imagine it’s akin to looking in the mirror on a day when you don't know how you look. I understood my own voice better, from hearing it next to all these others."
Want to know more about Jessica Krash? Check out her website at www.jessicakrash.com