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22 for ’22: Composers and performers to watch this year

How Carlos Simon, Kamala Sankaram, the Living Earth Show and 19 more artists are changing the classical landscape

Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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It’s a new year, which means another new class of composers and performers worth keeping an ear on for 2022. This sophomore class is a mix of happy discoveries and several dozen enthusiastic nominations from last year’s inaugural list of 21 for ’21” artists, which included such breakthrough creators as Randall Goosby, Angélica Negrón and Christopher Cerrone. This year’s selection represents a diverse variety of composers, performers and artists hitting their stride with work that resonates with the right now.

Carlos Simon

The trope of the cloistered composer is a tried and true archetype — the solitary soul flanked by stacks of scores in the dark study of a secluded home, squinting at notation while sitting at a keyboard dusted with spent erasers. As a cliche, it’s got its charms.

But Carlos Simon, the Kennedy Center’s composer-in-residence, just hits different. Simon, 35, strikes me as the very model of a modern major composer: an artist whose windows are thrown wide open to the world, and whose musical scope of late lands like a grand panorama of American life.

“I feel like art should be a living, breathing organism,” Carlos says on a Zoom call from his Kensington, Md., home. “There’s a quote from Nina Simone where she says art should reflect the times in which you live. There’s so many things happening today, and it’s hard for me to turn that off, put on the blinders. Art can be a platform for change, and I think of my music as a platform.”

I’ve been encountering Simon’s works in Washington for many months. “Between Worlds,” a trio of solo string pieces inspired by the art of Bill Traylor, was a highlight of the 21st Century Consort’s pandemic-inspired “Spaced Out” program in 2020. And the National Symphony Orchestra has featured several Simon thrillers on its programs, including his 2018 piece “The Block,” another ecstatic art-inspired excursion, this time in homage to the 20th-century Harlem painter Romare Bearden. He’s also worked with the Washington National Opera and children’s book author/illustrator Mo Willems on “Slopera!,” an operatic adaptation of Willems’s “Elephant and Piggie” series.

From March 3-5, the NSO will premiere Simon’s “Tales — A Folklore Symphony.” Also in March, Simon will be one of four composers contributing short operas to the Washington National Opera’s “Written in Stone” program (March 5-25).

Teamed with librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph — a poet, playwright and educator who is the Kennedy Center’s vice president and artistic director of social impact — Simon composed the short opera “It All Falls Down,” exploring the fraught relationship of a father and son on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate.

Simon was raised in Atlanta, the progeny of three generations of preachers — clips of sermons from his great-grandfather, grandfather and father surface within the music of his stylistically rich 2018 album “My Ancestor’s Gift.”

Although Simon didn’t follow in their footsteps, he did make his way toward music, starting on piano in high school and working his way into a musical realm that felt far removed from his experience and the realities of his community. If Simon has inherited any mission from his lineage, it appears to be a desire to build bridges between worlds, and use music to illuminate them.

My dad, he always gets on me. He wants me to be a preacher,” Simon says with a laugh. “But I always tell him, ‘Music is my pulpit. That’s where I preach.’ ” coliversimon.com.

Kedrick Armstrong

The 27-year-old Boulder, Colo.-based conductor has recently taken the podium as a guest with Chicago Opera Theater (for Matthew Recio’s “The Puppy Episode”), Knox-Galesburg Symphony (“Messiah”) in Illinois, Chicago Sinfonietta (for Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed”) and the debut of the all-Black, Chicago-based RIZE Orchestra. But Armstrong also has taken a lead role in confronting issues of diversity (or the lack thereof) in classical conservatory curriculum: An open letter he penned in 2020 to the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music in Illinois gathered nearly 1,000 signatories and led to sweeping changes to concert repertoire. This June, Armstrong will lead DePaul Opera Theatre’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.” kedrickarmstrong.com.

Marcos Balter

Nominator Nadia Sirota describes the San Diego-based Balter, 47, as a composer with an “uncanny ear for timbre and [who] makes music that really doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.” Case in point would be “Pan,” a scintillating evening-length work for flutist Claire Chase, electronics and ensemble. Or “Omulu,” a beguiling work for solo harp performed by Parker Ramsay. Or the delicate sextet “Bladed Stance,” commissioned by yMusic and recently performed by the L.A. Chamber Orchestra. On March 20, Balter is slated to premiere a 25-minute work performed by the Shanghai Quartet and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo at the Phillips Collection, and through 2022 he’ll have premieres with New World Symphony, the Crossing and São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. marcosbalter.com.

Rohan Chander, a.k.a. AIYYER

Nominator Yaz Lancaster pointed me toward this L.A.-based Indian American composer’s “glitchy hyperpop, avant-garde, alternative hip-hop, and choreography inspired by video game playing.” Chander, 23, has worked with So Percussion on the first phase of his multipart seriesMy Prayers Are Made of Silicon,” which uses light-sensitive proximity sensors to generate sound and tell the story of a future that “worships digital energy.” This week, Cantaloupe Music will release Chander’s “The Tragedy of Hikikomori Loveless,” a hypersensory lead single exploring “body dysmorphia, synthetic identity, and fascination with biotechnology,” performed by pianist Vicky Chow. rohanchander.com.

James Diaz

The 31-year-old Colombian composer, who is based in Philadelphia, creates works of stark, haunting elegance. Diaz can construct a skeletal string quartet (see “Infrastructures”) or conjure lush symphonic textures (see “Azul,” for orchestra and electronics), but no matter the scale, his pieces bring the tone and texture of sound into sharp, intimate focus. This month, La Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia will premiere his “B-Sides” and So Percussion will release a video performance of his “Enero, Not Snow.” jamesdiaz.co.

Anthony R. Green

A prolific composer and multidisciplinary artist, Green, 37, is also co-founder (with Ashleigh Gordon) and associate artistic director of Castle of our Skins, a Boston-based concert and education organization centered on Black artistry. A dynamic and unpredictable composer (see “Solution,” his 2019 piano concerto), Green also uses music to investigate art and history (2019′s “ … Conduct Thy Footsteps …") and challenge existing models (“Connections,” his 2021 collaboration with artist/composer Forbes Graham). In February, Artaria String Quartet will premiere his “Joy Diptych,” based on paintings by Faith Ringgold and William H. Johnson, and in March, pianist Jason Hardink will premiere Green’s “The Baldwin Sonata,” inspired by the life and legacy of James Baldwin. anthonyrgreen.com.

Sarah Hennies

The 42-year-old New York-based composer appeared on several nominators’ shortlists for her wide-ranging musical practice, which extends into film, performance art and psychoacoustics (the study of sound perception). It’s easy to lose yourself in works like “Spectral Malsconcities” (ably performed by the exciting young trio Bearthoven), but other pieces marshal extreme focus, such as the beautifully disintegrating loops of “Clock Dies” for seven musicians, recently performed by Talea Ensemble. Recently, Hennies premiered “A Kind of Ache,” a multimedia collaboration with the Living Earth Show and sculptor Terry Berlier, created to imagine a world with a queer majority. sarah-hennies.com.

Raquel Acevedo Klein

Nominator Angélica Negrón calls this Brooklyn-based conductor, vocalist, instrumentalist and visual artist a “force to be reckoned with.” Klein, 27, is interested in engagement and moving musical experiences outside of their conventional milieus — later this year she’ll be the lead vocalist in a recorded opera that will play on a perpetual loop at the MIT Museum. Her “Polyphonic Interlace” is an “audience-interactive vocal symphony” made from 40 recorded layers of her voice that audiences can play with their phones. In 2021, Klein conducted the premiere of “No One Is Forgotten,” an immersive radio opera from Paola Prestini, Sxip Shirey and Winter Miller. As a vocalist, Klein has recorded and performed with a variety of acts — from Arcade Fire and the National to the Knights and the New York Philharmonic. In 2022, she’ll premiere “Wisteria,” a song cycle in collaboration with Caroline Shaw and Angélica Negrón. raquelacevedoklein.com.

Eddy Kwon

Kwon, 32, is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, violinist, violist, composer and performer whose trans and Korean American identities inform compositions about transformation, ritual and mythology. Nominator Wang Lu admires the “naturally musical” quality of Kwon’s works: “They don’t make me feel that they are too much ‘carved,' ” she wrote. Recently, Kwon has had stunning collaborations with Carla Kihlstedt’s Necessary Monsters, the Susan Alcorn Quintet and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In 2022, Kwon will be developing a full ensemble version of “UMMA-YA,” a feature-length interdisciplinary work about “a boy who learns he will be a mother.” “I don’t know where Eddy’s work is going,” Lu said. “Which I think is really valuable.” eddykwon.net.

Catherine Lamb

In 2020, the Berlin-based composer and violist, 39, took home the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Composers’ Prize for her deep exploration of pure tonal interaction and what she calls “the architecture of the liminal.” Lamb is something like a sculptor, allowing the physicality of sound to escape the linear and become more like an environment you exist within for a while. She’s lately collaborated to hypnotic effect with JACK Quartet, Ensemble Dedalus, Ensemble neoN and JACK Quartet cellist Jay Campbell. On Jan. 30, pianist Conrad Tao and Campbell will have the D.C. premiere of Lamb’s “The Additive Arrow” (inspired by the artwork of Paul Klee) at the Phillips Collection. sacredrealism.org.

Charmaine Lee

The New York City-based Lee, 30, leaves no doubt that, yes, this thing is on. With her arsenal of microphones — strapped to her throat, rubbed across her clothing, feeding back in her mouth — the vocal improviser edges into ASMR territory when going solo. But in combination with others — as in “Smoke, Airs,” with Wet Ink Ensemble — Lee’s voice becomes a bubbling spring of humanity (or some glitched-out approximation thereof). As nominator Inti Figgis-Vizueta puts it, “[Lee’s] physical vocabularies of trills, whispers, murmurs and melodic fragments are in an ever-evolving dialogue with her technological interfacing,” leading to “astoundingly complex, yet emotionally intimate music.” Lee’s debut LP, “KNVF,” was released last March. charmainelee.com.

The Living Earth Show

The duo of percussionist Andy Meyerson, 35, and guitarist Travis Andrews, 37, can expand into large-scale works (see Raven Chacon’s “Tremble Staves”) or compress into intimate studies of sound (see “Music for Hard Times,” their set of lockdown-inspired “calming strategies” with composer Danny Clay). This year, their in-house Earthy Records label will premiere works written for TLES by Clay, Zachary James Watkins, Sarah Hennies and Samuel Adams — whose “Lyra” (with choreographer Vanessa Thiessen and filmmaker Ben Tarquin) arrives in February. “No other new music group out there is doing projects of the scale and ambition they are,” says nominator (and 21 for ’21 alum) Timo Andres. “They might be my generation’s Kronos Quartet.” thelivingearthshow.com.

Allison Loggins-Hull

I first heard the work of powerhouse flutist/composer Loggins-Hull, 39, as part of the Library of Congress’s 2020 pandemic-padding Boccaccio Project. She’s also half of the adventurous duo Flutronix, with Nathalie Joachim. And with composers Paola Prestini, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Jessica Meyer, mezzo-soprano and composer Alicia Hall Moran and pianist Gabriela Martinez, Loggins-Hull has created Diametrically Composed, a project commissioning works exploring art and motherhood. In February, Flutronix will premiere “Discourse,” a site-specific work to be staged in Chapel Hill, N.C., and later this year, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will perform an expanded evening-length version of the duo’s “Black Being.” allisonloggins.com.

New Library of Congress commissions provide hard-hit artists with a creative spark

Raven McMillion

The powerful rising soprano and Baltimore native, 25, was named a grand finals winner in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2021 National Council Auditions, and is now in her second year as a studio artist at Houston Grand Opera. In late April, she’ll make her role debut as Gilda in Opera Philadelphia’s staging of director Lindy Hume’s vision of “Rigoletto.” Later this summer, McMillon will sing her role debut as Musetta in “La Bohème” with the Cincinnati Opera, as well as the role of Ruthie in the world premiere of composer Gregory Spears and librettist Tracy K. Smith’s “Castor and Patience.” ravenmcmillon.com.

Rob Moose

The violinist and co-founder of the reliably exciting contemporary sextet yMusic has hit something of a stride recently in the pop lane with such artists as Bon Iver, Taylor Swift, John Legend, Sara Bareilles and Phoebe Bridgers. You may have recently spotted Moose, 39, appearing (in a spacesuit) with Bridgers on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” or as a sextet of himself on “Late Night With James Corden.” Over the pandemic, Moose also created orchestrations for Laura Marling and 12 Ensemble’s BBC Proms performance at Royal Albert Hall. robmoose.com.

Emma O’Halloran

The Irish composer and vocalist, 36, makes intensely beautiful (or beautifully intense?) works that scatter the boundary between acoustic and electronic music. I’m currently hooked on “SHELL” (for “reverb-drenched marimba quartet”), inspired by photojournalist Seph Lawless’s documentation of abandoned shopping malls, but O’Halloran’s operatic work — such as “The Wait” — shows the true breadth of her talents. In March, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in Dublin will premiere her “To Come Back to Earth.” (The postponement of this year’s Prototype Festival has indefinitely delayed the premiere of O’Halloran’s new opera, “Trade,” based on the book by her uncle Mark O’Halloran.) emma-ohalloran.com.

Tarik O’Regan

Now composer-in-residence at the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and a visiting artist at Stanford University, O’Regan, 44, creates music that draws generously from the multiplicity of his Irish and North African heritage. He’s already making fine work with PBO (check out “What Language to Speak” sung by bass-baritone Davóne Tines) and is working on a major opera project as well a concerto for oud. In May, O’Regan will premiere a fanfare with Pacific Chorale (with poet Marcus Omari), and the Jacksonville Symphony will premiere “Trances” in June. tarikoregan.com.

Kamala Sankaram

The Bronx-based Sankaram, 36, is one of the most exciting opera composers in the country — and a formidable soprano. Last year, she premiered “The Last Stand,” a 10-hour opera “for the trees of Prospect Park.” In March, her short opera “Rise” — written with author A.M. Homes, will premiere as part of the Washington National Opera’s “Written in Stone.” This summer, Glimmerglass Festival will present an updated version of “Taking Up Serpents” — Sankaram’s gripping opera (first commissioned by the Washington National Opera) about a sect of Pentecostals in the Appalachian South, written with librettist Jerre Dye. kamalasankaram.com.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate

A pianist, composer and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Tate, 53, was named a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department in the 2021-2022 season as part of its American Music Abroad program. His work blends Chickasaw and classical traditions, but it also extends beyond the pit and onto the stage. His eight-scene “Lowak Shoppala’ (Fire & Light)” combines orchestra, storytellers, dancers and a children’s chorus, and his “Shell Shaker: A Chickasaw Opera,” a commission for Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra, marks the first installment of his “Native Opera Trilogy.” In April, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic will perform “Ghost of the White Deer,” a concerto for bassoon and orchestra. jerodtate.com.

Dale Trumbore

The Los Angeles-based choral composer, 34, came recommended by composer Reena Esmail, who praised Trumbore’s facility with the difficult, calling her a “world-class” composer who “writes about many of the deeply personal feelings that we might be experiencing at this moment.” Trumbore’s devastatingly beautiful “Breathe in Hope,” for instance, began as a pair of Facebook posts by writer Maya Jackson in response to the violent deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Her eight-movement 2016 work “How to Go On” is a crushingly deep dive into grief that feels unbearably light. Trumbore also is the author of “Staying Composed: Overcoming Anxiety and Self-Doubt Within a Creative Life.” daletrumbore.com.

Dai Wei

The Princeton-based composer, 32, collapses perceptions between East and West, electronic and acoustic, fundament and future. An experimental vocalist with a creative range that reaches from Mandopop to Khoomei throat singing, Dai’s singular voice imbues each piece with a striking humanity — see “Lo-Re-Lei” performed with Zorá String Quartet or the stunning “Partial Men” performed with Aizuri String Quartet. On March 25, Marin Alsop will lead the American Composers Orchestra in the premiere of a work by Dai for chamber orchestra and live electronics at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. daiweicomposer.com.

Paul Wiancko

The Brooklyn-based cellist/composer Wiancko, 38, is a restless and multifaceted talent who plays well with others. A member of the quartet/collective Owls, the duo Ayane & Paul (with violist Ayane Kozasa) and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Wiancko has worked with artists as diverse as Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, Nico Muhly, Chick Corea, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Norah Jones. Even with this chronically collaborative spirit, Wiancko maintains a singular voice as a composer, on full display in his stirring string quartet “LIFT” and his seven-movement “X Suite for Solo Violin,” composed for violinist Alexi Kenney — a movement of which is available in VR. paulwiancko.com.

correction

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Flutronix, a duo of Allison Loggins-Hull and Nathalie Joachim, would perform at Arts Club Chicago later this year. The performance already took place. It also incorrectly credited Loggins-Hull with the work “Black Being," which is actually by both Loggins-Hull and Joachim. This article has been corrected.

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