ListN Up: Niloufar Nourbakhsh (May 8, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. This series is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Described as “stark” by WNPR and “darkly lyrical” by the New York Times, a winner of the Second International Hildegard competition, and a 2019 recipient of OPERA America’s Discovery Grant, Niloufar Nourbakhsh’s music has been performed at numerous festivals and venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center. A founding member and co-director of Iranian Female Composers Association and a co-curator of Emruz Festival, Nourbakhsh is a strong advocate of music education and equal opportunities. She is currently a piano instructor at Brooklyn Music School while finishing her doctorate at Stony Brook University.

Here is my letter to you. Admiring my beautiful friends through their music and their hidden messages that communicate only through sound. These pieces are gathered through friendship. In the era of COVID-19, the only thing that is keeping me grounded day and night is love and friendship. I have gotten to know these composers over the years in different occasions, and this was the best opportunity for me to get to know them even further by rediscovering their music through vocal works. After compiling this playlist, I feel so much privilege to have all these composers as my colleagues and friends.

Bear by Jessica Mays

Jessica is my supervisor at the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers program. I have had the honor to work with her over the years, but never had the chance to get to know her outside of the organization until recently when I heard her striking piece performed by Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra. Her music is relentless, a driving rhythm that keeps coming back at you stronger each time. 

Mary Motorhead by Emma O’Halloran

I first (e)met Emma on Facebook, and then of course we met in person at a concert. To my ears, Emma is a wizard in bringing electronics and acoustic instruments together in the most rewarding and organic ways that I have never heard before. I’m eagerly awaiting her upcoming opera, commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, and this excerpt from her last opera is a wonderful window into her unique sound world.

We Were Warned About This by Samuel Beebe

I have definitely lost count of how many after-school rides Sam and I have shared through the darkness of the Grand Central Parkway and the Long Island Expressway. Our conversations through these rides have shaped and deepened my understanding of opera. We Were Warned About This, featuring a compelling performance by mezzo soprano Natasha Nelson, is a door into Sam’s upcoming opera. I love the Debussy-esque sound world of this aria, as it contemplates the loss of water in an environmental disaster. 

I Enjoy Being a Girl by brin solomon

I got to know brin on Twitter and had the opportunity to meet them in person on a few occasions. “I Enjoy Being a Girl” is a movement of their song cycle about transfeminine existence, and I especially find the dark comedy in this piece very compelling. brin is successful in communicating various emotions in such a simple form that becomes increasingly hysterical and dissonant. 

Seven Impressions by Anahita Abbasi

Through our journey with Iranian Female Composers Association, Anahita has become one of my closest friends and allies. To my ears, the experience of her music becomes a spiritual path within; a psychological unraveling of the unconscious that is sonified. “Seven Impressions” is no exception, and the magnificent performance by International Contemporary Ensemble elevates the experience even further.

This Living Hand by Chelsea Loew

I have grown with Chelsea musically and generally as a person over the past three years at Stony Brook University through many classes together and playing in SynthBeats Laptop ensemble. Chelsea’s music is surreal to me; listening to her music, the harmonies and dissonances melt in my ears in a satisfactory disorienting way. This Living Hand also highlights her masterful orchestration and the stunning performance of our mutual friend, soprano Alina Tamborini.

Upallay by inti figgis-vizueta

inti and I crossed paths five years ago at a summer festival, and the Hildegard Competition brought us closer. inti actually practices her ethics within the structures of her music, and that is such a revolution to me. One example would be her conscious avoidance of notational complexity that allows the music to be much more accessible to musicians from all kinds of backgrounds and education. Upallay was commissioned by Quorum, a Boston-based LGBTQ choir, and it “has the goal of using vowels, words, and phonemes to deconstruct the idea of gatekeeping through language access.”

Portrait by Aida Shirazi

I have known Aida for almost a decade now, and through our mutual work with IFCA, I have had the honor to appreciate not only her music but also her wonderful presence as a human being. I find Aida’s music ceremonial and mysterious, as if she is communicating through codes that have the capacity to transport us to our ancestors. Portrait is a recent piece by Aida written for Quince Ensemble, exploring concepts of love, loneliness, anger, and emptiness that she considered very similar to one another, “as they require some sort of profound fulfillment.” 

We Wear the Mask by Brian Raphael Nabors

I was so lucky to meet Brian at Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s composer lab, and very quickly admired not only his music and his incredible craft, but also his character. There was an element of transcendence in his symphonic work Pulse that is also apparent in We Wear the Mask. I appreciate the duality of the themes portraying the conflict of the text, and Brian is successful in bringing the piece to a point of hope, being able to dream otherwise.

Perhaps a Glimpse by Jamie Leidwinger

I connect to Perhaps a Glimpse on such a personal level, as my own mother had to co-exist with her sedentary medications for as long as I could remember. It was only towards the end of her life that I truly saw her for who she really was. Jamie reflects on the contradictory sweetness and bitterness of the circumstances by a variety of harmonies and textures in a single form, allowing us to contemplate the possibility of adjusting the aperture of our life camera in order to see the picture in a more clear context. I too mourn the moments: sweet and all too few. 

Want more from Niloufar Nourbakhsh?

Read Rebecca’s Lentjes interview with Niloufar about the Iranian Female Composers Association on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Learn more about her work-in-progress opera We the Innumerable.

Watch the video for My Body My Choice from trumpeter Kate Amrine’s recent innova release, This is My Letter to the World.