Talented Women Composers Take Centerstage at MATCH For Kinetic — With Nicky Sohn’s Home a Must See
Exploring the Journeys of Graduates of The Women's Home Through Music and DanceBY Adrienne Jones // 02.27.23
Nicky Sohn is Kinetic Ensemble's composer-in-residence (Photo by Julia Gang)
On stage, Kayla Collymore is known for her dynamism and grace. (Photo by Tati Vice)
Solo Violinist Mary Grace Johnson (Photo by Natalie Gaynor)
Choreographer Kayla Collymore (Photo by Mark Henderson)
All of us who love classical music know the practically dizzying possibilities of live performance here in Houston. From the great symphony orchestra to smaller ensembles playing compositions from medieval to contemporary.
Sparkling among these smaller treasures is Kinetic Ensemble, a 16-member string orchestra founded in 2015. An important force on the Houston arts scene, Kinetic gives audiences the chance to hear not only less-often performed pieces in the classical repertoire, but also newly composed works.
Now Kinetic is leading the way in Houston’s celebration of National Women’s History Month with a concert at MATCH featuring female composers this Friday, March 3. A highlight of the program will be the exciting and important world premiere of Home, a violin concerto with dance created by three nationally known Houston artists: composer Nicky Sohn, choreographer Kayla Collymore and violin soloist Mary Grace Johnson.
Home was inspired by the journeys of three graduates of the residential treatment program at The Women’s Home, a rehabilitation center in Houston. Sohn writes in her artistic statement that she was impressed by the women’s “hardships, unique odysseys and perseverance.” To transform their stories into music, Sohn calls on the lifecycle of the Phoenix, a mythological creature swallowed by its own flames and reborn from its ashes.
“Much like the immortal and fearless Phoenix,” she says, “these three women rose from the ashes of their past, reborn with a new hope for the future.”
When composing the piece, Sohn says she “focused on honoring the women’s stories.” Musically, that meant staying true to herself while continuing to challenge her compositional boundaries.
The resulting piece does not shy away from pain or, as Sohn describes it, “the unrelenting cruelty of the world.” However, most importantly, she notes: “Home intends to pay homage to individuals who choose to shoulder a great burden in order to find a brighter path.”
Sohn was born in Seoul in 1992 and holds a Master of Music Diploma from Juilliard, a Bachelor of Music and Diploma of Piano Performance from the Mannes College of Music, and is pursuing a doctoral degree at Rice’s Shepherd School of Music. Despite her relatively young age, she has a lengthy oeuvre of solo, chamber and orchestral works behind her and has completed successful commissions from some of the world’s leading arts institutions, including the Stuttgart Ballet, the National Orchestra of Korea, the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra. It is no wonder she has described herself as a “prolific” composer.
Bringing the Dance to Life
For Home, Sohn says combining the music with dance better expresses the emotions behind the stories and allows it to go deeper, culminating in “a turbulent rhythmic unity, the energy of which quickly melts into a prolonged and quiet sustain.” Translating the dynamism and mood into dance no doubt allows choreographer Kayla Collymore’s creativity to shine and show us a sensitive portrayal of, in her words: “The secret battles many of us face and a journey toward the deep peace of being at home with oneself.”
Collymore tells PaperCity the choreography is influenced by the “state of being a divided self. An inner conflict and outer distancing from what is known and safe.” How will she show that? The dancers will “embody the uncomfortable process of exposing unconscious discontent with an altered architecture of beliefs by means of genuine connection,” she says.
The concept of connection becomes important in the dance because of its place, Collymore observes, in the stories of how the women found their way to recovery. “Whether through other people, a higher power, or a purpose, connection is the end goal and the saving grace,” she says.
When she dances — although it will not be in this performance — Collymore exudes pure fluidity, intention and intelligence. Seeing her move, it’s hardly surprising that she graduated summa cum laude from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University with a BFA in Dance. Or that she has danced with companies in China and New York as well as the MET Dance Company in Texas. Or that she appeared internationally in British choreographer Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and Nutcracker.
Last summer, Collymore was at the Royal Albert Hall to perform in Bourne’s The Car Man, a lively (to understate it) dance interpretation of the opera Carmen.
Violinist Mary Grace Johnson and Sohn have collaborated previously with The Women’s Home through their participation in the DACAMERA Young Artists Program, which emphasizes community advocacy. In 2020, Johnson, a Master of Music Juilliard graduate working toward a doctorate at Shepherd, organized and played in “a night of music” benefit to raise money for the facility.
In 2021, Sohn composed Fresh Breath of Hope for violin and piano. In her introduction to its virtual debut last June, she said her goal was to reflect the moving stories she heard from The Women’s Home residents about their striving to find hope and happiness. The music is truly lovely, indeed reflecting powerful emotions associated with memory, dreams, struggle, striving, aspirations and most definitely hope. Johnson plays the violin, Chelsea de Souza the piano. Both superbly.
Women Who Tell Stories
The March 2023 theme for Women’s History Month is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” It is certainly worth celebrating the team of creative women that worked together to produce Home. And the stories of three women who, like so many other women, have fought through life and courageously danced their way from turbulence to “a prolonged and quiet sustain” as Sohn describes it so beautifully
Kinetic Ensemble will perform at MATCH (3400 Main Street) this Friday, March 3 at 7:30 pm. For more information and tickets, click here.