Contemporary Brilliance

Harpist-composer Hannah Lash will perform Feb. 9 at Stetson in DeLand. Photo: Ron Cohen Mann

Some fans of classical music “are actually excited to hear composers who aren’t all in their graves,” said Hannah Lash, a harpist, composer and assistant professor of composition at Yale University.

Music aficionados will get that chance when Lash performs Sounds New XVIII, a solo harp concert on Friday, Feb. 9 at Lee Chapel in Elizabeth Hall on the Stetson campus in DeLand. Admission is free and open to the public.

During her Stetson visit, Lash also will lead a seminar for composition students, speak with music majors and talk about one of her string compositions with the university’s chamber orchestra.

The 36-year-old Lash admitted “it can be difficult” for contemporary composers to get their works performed by orchestras or music ensembles, because the heavy hitters of the classical world – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Stravinsky and on and on – can be entrenched there.

“But a lot of orchestras now are fortunately recognizing that they need to perform and commission living composers because otherwise, of course, those organizations will die if they only play dead composers,” Lash said. “So, it’s kind of a necessary thing. But I also feel audiences are very curious, actually. Once they hear a contemporary piece that they like, then it’s wonderful how engaged they can be. And it’s wonderful for the composers, too, because you get the sense the audience is very interested in what you’re going to do next.”

Lash: “I just have to write what I write and have faith that it will find its place, and if I put all the heart I have into it and find it beautiful, then it will hopefully resonate with other people as well.”

That was the case with New York Times music critic Steve Smith, who praised “Frayed,” one of Lash’s string quartet works, by saying its “compact sequence of pale brush strokes, ghostly keening and punchy outbursts was striking and resourceful. You hoped to hear it again.”

Lash’s music has been performed at the Times Center in Manhattan, the Chicago Art Institute, Tanglewood Music Center, Harvard University and other venues. Also, she has received commissions to create new works by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Orchestra, the Naumburg Foundation and other organizations.

Lash was first attracted to play harp at age 1 – yes, age 1 – when her aunt, a harpist, visited her home.

“I don’t remember the story, but my mom and aunt tell it this way: I saw the harp and couldn’t take my eyes off it,” Lash said.

Lash’s youth was further enhanced musically: One of her uncles played cello, and her father was an avid fan of classical music recordings.

And so, at 4, “I actually begged my parents for music lessons,” Lash said. She took up violin at age 4, switched to piano a few years later, “and a couple of years after that I was big enough to start learning harp.”

Lash’s desire to become a composer also sprouted early.

“I remember when I was pretty small, I was sitting with my dad and we were listening to a recording of a Bach cantata, and I said to him, ‘How did this come to be?’ He explained to me that there was a composer who composed it. That was my ‘a-ha moment.’ I just felt ‘That’s definitely what I want to do with my life – I want to make music,’” she recounted.

Lash is unconcerned music fans may be comparing her works to Mozart and Bach, among the other legendary masters.

“I’ve been doing this for so long,” she said. “I’ve kind of gotten to the point that I make no bones about being juxtaposed to my idols and the composers that I consider to be a part of my lineage. It would be destructive to the creative impulse for me to worry too much about what the audience is going to think. I just have to write what I write and have faith that it will find its place, and if I put all the heart I have into it and find it beautiful, then it will hopefully resonate with other people as well.”

Lash’s Stetson concert will feature her original works, as well as pieces by Schumann, Fauré and Rota.

-Rick de Yampert


Sounds New XVIII Concert

Featuring harpist and composer Hannah Lash.

Admission is free and open to the public.

Friday, Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Lee Chapel, Elizabeth Hall, Stetson University

More information: or (386) 822-8950.