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Apr 15, 2020

CSS Composer of the Month for Apr 2020: LEE Jia Yi

The Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) kickstarts 2020 with a new monthly series for our Musings section called Composer of the Month!

The fourth composer to be featured is LEE Jia Yi, a Singaporean composer currently doing her Master’s degree in composition at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland, USA!

LEE Jia Yi

Interviewer: Emily KOH

How did you get into music and composing?

I first started learning the piano at around age 6, then picked up the trumpet when I joined the concert band at Nanyang Girls’ High School. I was enrolled in the Higher Music Programme as well, and that was when I first started composing, initially through small assignments. I continued to take ‘A’ Level Music when I was in Hwa Chong Junior College, and realised that I wanted to pursue music but wasn’t a great performer. At that time I became more interested in composing and enrolled in the composition programme at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, where I completed my Bachelor’s degree. I am now pursuing my Master’s degree at Peabody Conservatory.

How would you describe your music?

I would describe my music as colourful and textural. I am currently very interested in exploring combinations of instrumental timbre, and the elements that make up a sound. My music is also often constructed using a single gesture that is then developed and transformed throughout the piece.


Tell us about the circular motions in orbit and how that manifests in your work Orbit. 

On the larger scale, the form of the piece is circular (A B C B A). The piece moves from quick, circular gestures to slow, oscillating textures, which contrasts the earlier circular motions. I also focused a lot on the shifting of colours through these circular motions, from bright and light to dark and heavy, as well as from harmonic (pure tones) to inharmonic (noisy) sounds.

Tell us about your experience at the Etchings Festival last year.

I participated at the Etchings Festival as a composer in the performance program, and was given the opportunity to write my work orbit, which was performed by Ensemble Linea. I really enjoyed working with such a great ensemble and hearing my piece come to life through the rehearsals and performance. I was also fortunate to be able to meet one of my favourite composers, Kaija Saariaho, and it was also inspiring meeting other composers and faculty and getting to know their work as well.

Your work, susurrus was chosen to represent Singapore at the 2020 ACL Young Composers in New Zealand this year. How does susurrus and orbit compare? 

susurrus was inspired by one gesture of slow, oscillating textures in orbit, which I found really successful and wanted to develop into a new piece. However, susurrus incorporates a lot more noise, which is something I am currently interested in exploring.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, owing to the global COVID-19 situation, ACL 2020 festival in New Zealand has been postponed to 2022.