S2. EP.7 Connecting to Her Roots: Reena Esmail
December 1, 2021
Reena Esmail joins us to chat about integrating her Western and Hindustani roots in her composition and throughout her work as artistic director of Shastra. We chat about how she prepares listeners with less experience for musical experiences that are new to them. She speaks about her work as composer-in-residence of Street Symphony, a non-profit organization bringing music to Los Angeles-based homeless and incarcerated populations on Skid Row and beyond. And, we talk about her methods for introducing Western musicians to primarily aural traditions.
Indian-American composer Reena Esmail works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music, and brings communities together through the creation of equitable musical spaces.
Esmail’s work has been commissioned by ensembles including the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Kronos Quartet, Imani Winds, Richmond Symphony, Town Music Seattle, Albany Symphony, Chicago Sinfonietta, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, San Francisco Girls Chorus, The Elora Festival, Juilliard415, and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Upcoming seasons include new work for Seattle Symphony, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Amherst College Choir and Orchestra, Santa Fe Pro Musica, and Conspirare.
Esmail is the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2020-2023 Swan Family Artist in Residence, and Seattle Symphony’s 2020-21 Composer-in-Residence. Previously, she was named a 2019 United States Artist Fellow in Music, and the 2019 Grand Prize Winner of the S & R Foundation’s Washington Award. Esmail was also a 2017-18 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow. She was the 2012 Walter Hinrichsen Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (and subsequent publication of a work by C.F. Peters).
Esmail holds degrees in composition from The Juilliard School (BM’05) and the Yale School of Music (MM’11, MMA’14, DMA’18). Her primary teachers have included Susan Botti, Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Theofanidis and Martin Bresnick, Christopher Rouse and Samuel Adler. She received a Fulbright-Nehru grant to study Hindustani music in India. Her Hindustani music teachers include Srimati Lakshmi Shankar and Gaurav Mazundar, and she currently studies and collaborates with Saili Oak. Her doctoral thesis, entitled Finding Common Ground: Uniting Practices in Hindustani and Western Art Musicians explores the methods and challenges of the collaborative process between Hindustani musicians and Western composers.
Esmail was Composer-in-Residence for Street Symphony (2016-18) and is currently an Artistic Director of Shastra, a non-profit organization that promotes cross-cultural music connecting music traditions of India and the West.
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Full Episode on Anchor