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5 Questions to Pauline Kim Harris (Executive Director, MATA)

MATA opened their exciting 2023-24 season with a new executive director at the helm. Pauline Kim Harris is an acclaimed violinist, touring artist, collaborator, composer, and tireless advocate for new music in all spaces. She has premiered countless works by dozens of today’s leading composers, moving with ease between the worlds of pop artists and experimental musicians, performing in concert halls, coffee shops, churches, nightclubs, rooftops – anywhere and everywhere. And as a composer, Harris creates sound worlds that probe and challenge the very connections between memory and sound.

A consummate performer, collaborator, and creator, Harris brings a bold commitment to sonic experimentation, fluidity of style, and deep passion to mirror the work of MATA’s co-founders, Philip Glass, Eleonor Sandresky, and Lisa Bielawa, as well as her predecessors in the executive director role. While MATA presents cutting-edge performances of new music throughout the concert season, it is arguably best known for the annual MATA Festival, a sonic feast that presents a diverse selection of new works drawn from submissions to their yearly call for scores. Audiences flock to the MATA Festival each spring to see and hear an electrifying array of works by musicians who are breaking the mold – emerging artists, sound experimentalists, and multimedia creators.

Ahead of the 2024 MATA Festival, taking place at Fotografiska New York, we asked Harris for a look inside the curatorial process, her vision for MATA this year and beyond, and ways to engage with and champion new works.

Pauline Kim Harris -- Photo by Matt Dine

Pauline Kim Harris — Photo by Matt Dine

Congratulations on your recent appointment! As an in-demand performer and composer, what drew you to the role of executive director of MATA?

What drew me to the role was the concept of “possibility.” One of the rewarding things about being an artist is the power of communication through assimilation. There are many facets to what is put forth in order to attain such an accomplishment. In addition to the training that goes into playing an instrument or guidance on how to compose the music that is being imagined, a platform like the MATA Festival – which supports and provides space for artists to meet, be heard, and be discovered – is a key factor.

Feeling stretched thin with all the various projects I was managing, I saw this as an opportunity to bring it all together – people, communities and music. Music at the Anthology (MATA), which was conceived at Anthology Film Archives, carries a legacy rooted in American music. This is where it all began in the early 90s – what Philip Glass, Lisa Bielawa, and Eleonor Sandresky were dreaming about then is what MATA Festival has become. It’s the heartbeat that keeps things alive and happening. They wanted to play “music of their peers” — not even emerging composers, necessarily. The focus was on making music and sharing it with each other and whoever would listen. When something exists for a quarter of a century, long after the founders have moved on with their lives and careers, there is something to take note of; and it is attractive.

I have always enjoyed presenting concerts. Curating interesting programs and bringing talented people together to perform for a curious and engaging audience somehow elevates my existence as an artist. It is an insatiable pursuit of wonder. Composing and performing music, on the other hand, is a continuous road to self discovery and identity. As a child, I was almost always in the company of adults, and performing gave me a sense of possessing a kind of superpower. Connecting through music was my ice-breaker: a mutual entry point for all ages and a variety of people from various walks of life.

Having spent a lot of energy on the artistic side of things, joining MATA Festival as executive director was a call to action. It was a fork in the road that led to bringing my skills, assets, and experiences to an institution that would allow me a foundation to build upon and make the biggest impact.

For this year’s festival, we were motivated to create “a scene” — a sensation that people would be drawn to be a part of and be seen at.

You are part of MATA’s lineage of exceptional composers and musicians who value the spirit of collaboration and experimentation in music. In what ways has the work of MATA’s founders and past executive directors inspired your own thinking about music?

When I look at the lineage of MATA Festival’s founders and past executive directors, I am struck by their individuality and boldness. They had something to say and have gone on to represent and make an impact in the extended music world. Their characteristics in running MATA Festival were inspired and had a unique voice.

I am excited to apply my own imaginative voice and experiences to the role. New York City has shaped me in many ways. Having spent nearly a decade at Juilliard, I watched this city transform and evolve, even as a student. After all this time, I am still in awe of all that this city has to offer. I began organizing my own concerts and curating while still in school. From busking to Broadway to recording jingles, albums, and films, to playing the stages of Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and in the pit at the Metropolitan Opera, to rocking out stadiums, clubs, coal mines, quarries, churches, galleries, museums, and experimental venues such as The Stone, and other rooms that are no longer, I continue to present concerts, run ensembles, produce albums, and curate a new music chamber music series. It is the fabric of this city that boasts opportunities like these, and is, in a way, a big part of what makes MATA Festival special.

Curating an event as sonically diverse as the MATA Festival is no easy task. Take us through the process of creating the festival from reviewing submissions to showtime.

The process of creating the festival involves many layers of planning in maintaining a clear vision. For this year’s festival, we were motivated to create “a scene” — a sensation that people would be drawn to be a part of and be seen at.

Out of nearly 400 submissions during the open call period of six weeks, eight panelists with diverse musical backgrounds brought their top 10-15 selections to the table – each panelist speaking to their choices. Unlike other festivals, the focus of MATA Festival is on these submissions, and eighteen of these works will be presented at the festival this year. A theme was implemented for the submissions, which aligned with Fotografiska’s spring exhibition. Each applicant submitted up to two work samples that engaged with ideas around human connection and interaction, as well as the impact of modern technology on those connections and on our music-making.

Pauline Kim Harris -- Photo by Chris Bradley

Pauline Kim Harris — Photo by Chris Bradley

This year’s festival is entitled “INTEGRATION: Music/Technology + Human/Nature” — each night of the festival fulfilling one or more of these elements. We will be integrating into the program works that fall under the umbrella of MATA Presents, which provides support to projects already in motion. Opening night will feature cellist Yves Dhar, who will guide the audience in Press “1” for Cello, an immersive set of three world premieres for solo cello, electronics, interactive visuals, as a lead-in to the New York premiere of Adam Schoenberg’s AUTOMATION, an AI cello concerto with the Experiential Orchestra, James Blachly (conductor), and holographic AI cellist A.G.N.E.S. (Automatic Generator Network of Excellent Songs).

Nights two and three of the festival will showcase selected submissions to include several world premieres, which will be performed by the MATA Mavens (formerly Friends of MATA) and Bergamot String Quartet. Our closing night will feature a world premiere orchestration of Philip Glass’ Aquas da Amazonia as reimagined by Olivier Glissant and The Brooklyn Orchestra. This evening will also highlight scores for open instrumentation, graphic notation, and a live installation performance of Andean wind instruments from selected submissions.

In addition to the four nights of concerts, there will be special activities that occur during the day, including book signings, coffee/happy hours with invited guest speakers, composers, and authors, and surprise pre- and post-concert events — ALL happening in one building over the course of four days (May 15-18). Tickets to the concerts include access to all events as well as the exhibitions.

Without a doubt, assembling a great team is essential to success. From grant writing to fundraising to artist relations, contracts, tech riders, stage plots, PR, marketing/promotion, ticketing, photographers/videographers… the list goes on. There is a tremendous amount of “behind the scenes” work that is constantly in motion leading up to and during the run, and following the festival.

Cultivating relationships through understanding the past and motivating toward the future is what MATA Festival represents: Tomorrow’s Music Today.

What are some of your musical priorities, interests, and inspirations for MATA programming in the 2024-25 season and beyond?

My priorities include emphasis on connections — building a common place for discovery and interaction, a place to cultivate new collaborations, and spark ideas and conversations. Upon meeting Fotografiska’s director of programming Wendi Weinman and associate director of programming Jordan McClean, a partnership was inevitable. I was blown away by their vision and how it coincided with what MATA Festival stands for. Their mission to be an expression of commitment to local culture and invite the community to gather, discuss, share, and celebrate not only defines the intention, but the purpose of our journey in the discovery of new talent and sounds. Cultivating relationships through understanding the past and motivating toward the future is what MATA Festival represents: Tomorrow’s Music Today. Some exciting new programming is also in the works to include MATA Studios (open rehearsals and workshops), residencies, commissions, project support, and alumni activation, to name a few.

What is your advice to artists, especially those early in their career, who are inspired to create their own works, break the mold, and find other like-minded collaborators and opportunities, but may not have a sense of where to begin?

Be true to yourself and find your unique voice. Pay attention to what is important to you, and find others who share those similar passions. Be open to new ideas and make connections. Create opportunities for yourself and others. Be reliable; respect and deliver on deadlines. Trust your collaborators and allow space for them to do what they do best; amplify and support your peers. Have purpose to your intentions. Face rejection and failure as process, and be realistic about how you attain your goals. Take care of business, and be the brilliance, YOU!


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

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