Dr. Lauren Bernofsky is a professional composer whose favorite genre to write is opera. Her coming opera, The Mensch, tells the story of Anton Schmid who saved many Jewish people from the ghetto during the Second World War. In this interview, Lauren tells us about her operas and her inspiration for writing music.
Hi Lauren, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers? What is your first instrument?
Hi, everyone! I am a professional composer, and I’ve been at it for about 25 years. My first experience playing music was in an early childhood music class at Yamaha Music School (which was a very basic introduction to music), and when I turned 8, my parents started me on violin lessons. That has been my primary instrument, and I even did a performance degree on violin in college. Being an instrumentalist has had a profound impact on my attitude as a composer.
WILD RIDE ON A BROOMSTICK by Lauren Bernofsky
Your composition includes a wide variety of genres and instrumentations. Do you have one or two genres or instrumentations that you enjoy writing the most?
That’s an easy one – I love writing for voice, and I love stories, so my favorite genre to write in is opera (which is what I’m doing right now – I am composing a full-length opera called THE MENSCH.)
The Last Letter (from THE MENSCH)
What and where do you find inspiration for writing music?
It depends on the kind of piece – if I’m writing a solo piece commissioned by a performer, I derive inspiration from their requests for what kind of a piece and also their personality. The opera I’m writing is inspired by a story from history; I am writing the libretto (the story and lyrics), and the emotion I am trying to convey in an aria will determine the mood of the music I write. And lyrics have, of course, distinct rhythms implied by the words, so this inspires the actual rhythmical aspect of the music.
Lauren Bernofsky: The Secret Philosopher
I am interested in knowing more about two of your operas, Boom and Mooch the Magnificent. Both of them seem to target younger audiences. Can you please tell us a little bit about both works?
I really enjoy writing for audiences of all ages. In the case of BOOM, the commission was for a piece singable by untrained children’s voices, children who didn’t read music (and would therefore learn the music by rote.) I used catchy, easy-to-memorize, repetitive tunes for the kids to sing, and I used the instrumental parts to add more complexity to the piece. I made easy-to-follow musical cues so the kids would know when to enter (since it was a staged musical with no conductor.) MOOCH THE MAGNIFICENT was actually written for adult voices. It, too, is intended for young audiences, but I add enough sophisticated elements that make the show appealing to adults as well. MOOCH THE MAGNIFICENT was recently translated into Spanish for performances in Ecuador! It was a real hoot hearing it in a different language and hearing the reactions of the kids — the Ecuadorean kids were extremely vocal, calling out a collective “ahhh” when the lighting changed on stage, or loudly laughing at some of the antics of the characters – it was a thoroughly delightful experience to sit in the audience for those performances!
Highlights from Lauren Bernofsky and Scott Russell Sanders’ “Mooch the Magnificent”
What were the inspirations that you wanted to write works performed by children? How was your experience working with them on preparing for the performance?
Especially after I became a parent myself, I developed a concern for good music that makes a child WANT to play. One of my own kids was a bit stubborn about practicing, so I tried to find music that would make him excited about playing. A few of my pieces that I wrote for him or his cello class I later made into string orchestra pieces, for instance, my Double Trouble.
As I started getting a reputation for writing this sort of music, I got more and more commissions and requests from my publishers. Because I’d taught violin lessons, I had a pretty good understanding of the various levels of technical development of young string players, so I was well-positioned to write pieces that would work well for players at various technical levels (and getting your pieces published is ALL about staying consistent to a certain difficulty level of that piece. And writing a piece that’s musically satisfying, too, of course.) I get a special kind of joy from working with students – I find that they are often exuberant, and I really appreciate that they are honest! I can tell if they’re bored with a piece or excited about it. And I often learn from THEM! Sometimes they will show me techniques I can use in a piece, or the suggestion of a title. And their feedback directly relates to how I write. Once a high school bass player came up to me after a rehearsal and thanked me for the interesting bass part. From then on I kept in mind that my string orchestra pieces should always have fun and rewarding bass parts!
Lauren Bernofsky: The New Colossus
Are there any performances of your works that are coming up?
I have around 300 performances a year of my works (performances I know about, anyway!) The one I’m most excited about is coming up on September 6, 2023 – a performance of Act 1 of THE MENSCH (the opera I mentioned earlier.) I’m bringing in Joshua Horsch, a conductor from Maryland, and Angelo Pollak, a tenor from Vienna, and ten other wonderful singers. I haven’t heard the music sung by actual performers yet, and there’s nothing like the excitement of a first run-through!
Besides composing and music making, can you tell us three things that you love in life?
Just three, eh? Okay: my family, my cats and dog (I’ll count them together), and chocolate.
I wish Lauren all the success in the premiere of The Mensch. If you want to learn more about Lauren and the performance of her works, please visit her website.
The Mensch will be premiered on September 6th, 2023, find the details here!
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