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Meet the 2018-19 Luna Lab Fellows

Watch the World Premieres of the 2019 Fellows' pieces at Merkin Hall.

Tiffany Cuaresma

Tiffany Cuaresma (age 17) has been composing music for two years and is a soprano, flutist and pianist from San Diego, CA. She is a Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Composition Program alumni, a 2019 YoungArts Winner for Classical Music Composition, and the Honorable Mention in the 2018 Emerging Young Composers Competition with the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. Tiffany has also scored award-winning films, including a film for the All-American Film Festival, and has written music for her school’s wind ensemble and orchestra. In February, Tiffany will be conducting the music for her first opera production, which will be premiered by Canyon Crest Academy’s Instrumental and Vocal Conservatories. Tiffany is also a U.S. Figure Skating Association figure skater and loves to coach figure skating. She is involved in the fight against human trafficking, and hopes that she can use her music to raise awareness to crucial civil rights issues. Tiffany Cuaresma is the recipient of the James R. Rosenfield Fellowship.

Composer's Note: Hope
Performed by a piano trio from Mannes Prep at the New School
Watch this performance. Hope is dedicated to oppressed women around the world: to the 62 million girls who are denied education worldwide, to the 750 million girls and women who are married before the age of 18, to the 71 percent of women who are human trafficked globally, to the 70 percent of women who have experienced domestic violence. The piece begins with the "help" theme in the solo violin, a theme that is continuously echoed throughout the piece. The first electronic track is set to Psalms 46:5 “ God is within her; She will not fall” in different languages from all over the world as a symbol of strength and empowerment for women. As the piece continues, Hope captures the cries of oppressed women with microtonal falls in the violin and cello which become harsh, grating overpressure scratch tones layered above dissonant piano triplets and percussive pedal stomps. In the arc of the piece, Hope returns to a singular violin playing the “help” theme but eventually blooms into a warmer, hopeful section. An electronic track plays “Hope” translated in different languages and is layered among echoing ricocheting violin harmonics glissandos, cello seagull effects, and piano echoes of the “help” theme to create a polyphonic atmosphere of “hope” both spoken in the electronic tracks and echoed by the instruments. This represents a universal push towards hope that one day all women will have equal rights. The piece closes with the return of the “help” theme which is layered once again with the third electronic track which repeats Psalms 46:5 to reflect the strength of women and continuous push towards liberation from oppression.

Abby Harris

Abby Harris (age 13) is an eighth grader who lives in New York City and studies classical piano performance and music theory. She won first place in the junior division of the Piano Explorer Composition Competition and a bronze medal in the junior division of the Hal Leonard Composition Competition. This year she was awarded a MATA, Jr. commission. That commission, “Pachyderm,” a musical retelling of the fable of the blind men and the elephant, will be performed in concert in November. Abby also participates in the American Composers Orchestra composition programming.    

Composers's Note: Sheva
Performed by a violin, clarinet and piano trio from Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School High School
Watch this performance. My composition for piano trio is titled Sheva, which means seven. I often think about what the soundtrack to the creation of the world might sound like. So many composers have sought to answer that question. Most famously Haydn, and more recently, Ades and Pintscher. On May 8, I am presenting the first part of Sheva, which musically describes the first three days of the seven days of creation story. Day 1 - when light was created; Day 2 - when the heavens were created; and Day 3 - when land was created.

Yuri Lee

Read a Q&A with Yuri.
Yuri Lee (age 14), an eighth grader at Tuckahoe Middle School in Eastchester, NY, is entering her third year of studying violin, theory, and composition as a composition major student at The Juilliard School Music Advancement Program. Her pieces have won awards twice in a showcase concert hosted by Concordia Conservatory in 2017 and 2018. Her goal in life is to make people happy with music. So, she has founded the “Music Around Us Project” and organized concerts with a variety of young musicians for seniors in an assisted living facility. Her composition “Medusa Tango” is the fifth scene from her first opera “Perseus and Medusa,” based on Greek mythology. Yuri Lee is the recipient of the Patrina Foundation Fellowship.

Composer’s Note: Ostrich March
Performed by a brass quintet from Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music program
The energy of the brass instruments motivated me to write a lively piece, and when I was trying to decide on the theme, I thought of ostriches and their spirit. Ostriches are fascinating animals: they are the largest birds in the world with long legs and necks and cannot fly. I watched as many ostrich videos as brass quintet repertoires to prepare for this piece. Did you know that ostriches can make no vocal noise? They make “booming” noises by inflating their necks. In Ostrich March, an ostrich takes a wild journey and explores the life of “chaotic happiness.” During the piece, it falls asleep and dreams about flying through the clouds, and later participates in a race, sprinting with its ballerina-like legs as if getting chased by a cheetah. And at the end, the ostrich makes the unique “booming” sound to wrap up its journey.

Joanna McDonald

Joanna McDonald (age 18) is a composer, guitarist, and pianist living in Tulsa, Oklahoma who loves her local music community. She first started writing lyrics at age six and by age twelve was writing full songs with melodies and chord progressions. She has won several awards at the University of Tulsa’s annual Bela Rozsa composition competition since entering her first piece at age 15, a solo guitar piece. She has presented on her music at The University of Oklahoma’s collegiate Composer’s Workshop and has attended composition seminars like the Curtis Summerfest and The University of Tulsa Composition Seminar. Joanna was also a Luna Composition Lab fellow during its 2018‐2019 session. Her piece written during Luna Lab was premiered in NYC by Juilliard Prepatory School students and will be performed and recorded by International Contemporary Ensemble in September of 2019. Joanna currently studies composition with Noam Faingold and Dave Broome through the composition classes at the Barthelmes Conservatory program at The bART Center for Music in Tulsa and plans to major in
Composition in the fall of 2020. Joanna McDonald is the recipient of Luna Lab’s Sydney Striker Fellowship.

Composer’s Note: Peace
Performed by a flute, clarinet, oboe and piano quartet from Juilliard Pre-College
Watch this performance. I was sitting in my car one peaceful morning, waiting to attend my piano lesson, and I felt a gentle breeze blow through the car window as I heard my piano teacher’s wind chimes ring on her front porch. A melody immediately started to develop inside my head and I quickly wrote it down before I left for my piano lesson. For about a year afterwards the melody kept returning to my mind, though I never took the time to further it. Upon my acceptance to Luna Composition Lab, I was asked to write a piece for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano. I felt like this was a perfect opportunity to utilize the melody! With guidance from my composition mentor for this program, Dr. Kristin Kuster, I decided to start my piece with mellow, high-pitched, atmospheric sounds on the wind instruments to represent the way I felt that peaceful morning I heard the melody. As the piece moves along, it starts to change texture and rhythms, morphing into a sound world drastically different from the beginning. I knew that in finding a place of physical or mental repose a struggle would ensue between relaxation and peace, and tension and stress. I wanted to exemplify what that struggle often feels like for me through the use of the drastic sound world differences.

JANE Meenaghan

Read a Q&A with Jane.
Jane Meenaghan (age 18) is a Los Angeles-based composer and incoming freshman to the Columbia-Juilliard Program whose works frequently seek to synthesize, recontextualize, and juxtapose diverse musical aesthetics and techniques in hybrid soundscapes. Jane has studied composition for two years, primarily under the tutelage of Ian Krouse at UCLA, Andrew Norman through the LA Phil Composer Fellowship Program, and Gity Razaz as part of the Luna Composition Lab. She has written works for ensembles including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, International Contemporary Ensemble, Houston Symphony, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, AMF Orchestra, AMF Vocal Institute, Tanglewood Young Artists’ Orchestra, Lyris Quartet, and the Fromme Players, and has received top honors from competitions including ASCAP Morton Gould (Bergen Scholarship), Avalon International, NFMC Junior Composers, NextNotes, and National YoungArts.

Composer’s Note: Somatic
Performed by a string quartet from the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College program
Watch this performance. In some sense, Somatic tells the story of its own construction. Throughout the compositional process, I was burdened by anxiety and trauma that made it difficult for me to compose as usual. To remedy these issues, I engaged in somatic experiencing, a form of therapy that involves resolving trauma by connecting with it through its physical symptoms in the body. Each session, I would focus on this faint, unidentifiable sense of pain in my stomach, and as I became more experienced, I grew increasingly aware of an overwhelming emotion buried there. In Somatic, I set this emotion to the electronics, conjuring massive clusters of manipulated bell samples at pivotal moments throughout the piece. These sound masses begin muffled, as though scratches at the surface of the trauma, and grow louder and clearer with each return. They drive the once light music to grow dark and chaotic, until finally, as in real life, a lasting peace is achieved only as the emotion is endured in its overwhelming entirety.


Olivia Bennett

Olivia Bennett (age 16) is an award-winning composer and musician from Southwest Missouri. She currently studies composition with Dr. Carlyle Sharpe. Over the past few years, she has participated in master classes with Dr. Stefan Freund, Dr. W. Thomas McKenney and Dr. Carolina Heredia. Her work has been performed by various ensembles, including the Columbia Civic Orchestra, Mizzou String Quartet and the Interlochen Philharmonic. Recent awards include 1st place in the 2016 COMP competition, 2nd place in the 2017 & 2018 COMP competitions at the University of Missouri, winner of the 2017 Missouri Composers Orchestra Project and named an Emerging Composer in the 2018 Tribeca New Music Young Composer Competition in New York.

Penina Biddle-Gottesman

Penina Biddle-Gottesman (age 16) is from Berkeley, California and attends Berkeley High School. She has been playing the cello since she was eight, and singing since she was born. At the age of eleven she started composing at the Crowden School of Music. She has studied composition with Arkadi Serper and Matthew Cmiel, and cello with Eugene Sor and Wanda Warkentin. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and watching The Office. Though her future is uncertain, she hopes to further study music composition in college.

Michelle Li

Michelle Li (age 18) is currently a double-degree student at Oberlin College/Conservatory studying composition under the tutelage of Elizabeth Ogonek. In high school, she studied composition with Daniel Temkin and piano with Betty Stoloff. She was an apprentice composer in the New York Youth Symphony’s Composition Program and has participated in the Brevard Music Festival as well as Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute. Her music is heavily influenced by visual arts, and she loves exploring different timbres and textures.

Karina Menchin

Karina Menchin (age 15) has studied piano since she was six. Karina is currently a student at Kaufman Music Center's Special Music School High School and Lucy Moses School, and at the Mannes School of Music. She is an Honor Student at Mannes, studying piano under Genya Paley. She studies composition with Max Grafe at SMS High School. Karina also spent four years studying composition at The Walden Music Summer School in Dublin NH. Karina has performed at the 92nd Street Y, Steinway Hall, Weill Recital Hall, Lucy Moses School, The Telavi Music School Festival in Georgia and The Mannes School of Music. Karina was selected along with one other student to be part of a composition workshop last year with Laura Kaminsky at SMS High School. She also participated in a Master class with Olga Kern in the Recanati-Kaplan Scholarship Program at the 92nd Street Y when she was ten years old. She loves Alfred Schnittke and Samuel Barber.

Jenny Yao

Jenny Yao (age 18) is a composer and pianist from Charleston, SC in her first year at Harvard University. Since starting composition at age fourteen, she has been recognized as a 2018 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award Honorable Mention Recipient, two-time MTNA National Finalist, and 2018 YoungArts Winner in Classical Music. She is also an alumna of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute and Atlantic Music Festival. As an arts education advocate, she founded the Fine Arts Youth Outreach Collective dedicated to engaging K-12 students in the arts through performance to foster the next generation of artists and arts enthusiasts.