Kerwin Young Completes 7th Symphony
24 Apr 2019
Kerwin Young

History was made on April 22nd, 2019, when Kerwin Young penned the last note of his Symphony No. 7. Few American composers can make claim to such an accomplishment, and Young now joins an elite group of living composers with seven symphonies or more. Congratulations Maestro!

NA: Kerwin, you continue to shock and amaze us through your relentless output. What has inspired you to compose seven symphonies? What challenges are you currently faced with?

KY: Thanks Namhiya. My teacher, Chen Yi, would always tell me to continue writing. And, since I don’t make distinctions between different styles of music, I just continue to create. Sometime around 1999 and 2000, I made an assessment of the landscape as to what composers were not doing, and I decided to fill that void and to not stop.

As for challenges, it’s the same ol’ thing of composers not having their works performed, and not being commissioned to write new works. I’ve never been commissioned to compose an orchestral work. Never ever; not yet. Aside from recent performances and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra reading, I’m invisible. No one’s paying any attention to my work or career achievement. I’ve been doing this for 30+ years, and there’s a type of sophisticated; yet purposeful rejection at play, making it quite difficult to earn a decent living.

NA: Are there any orchestras interested in performing your work(s)? Any conductors? What orchestras or conductors would you love to collaborate with?

KY: The only orchestra at the moment who has taken any interest in my work is the University City Symphony under the baton of Leon Burke III. If there are other interested orchestras out there, it’s their little secret. No one has expressed any interest in me or my work yet. I would love to have my music performed by the L.A. Phil (Dudamel), the Berlin Phil, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the NY Phil.

Tirelessly, I’ve solicited my music to all the college orchestras and lower tier orchestras, and they’re all unresponsive and exclusive; just as the majors. So, I don’t bother myself with any of them. Instead, I focus on the big guys. I’ve earned the right.

NA: When I think of living composers of color who possess a large body of work, I immediately think of you and Wynton Marsalis. How long is your latest symphony, and is it a multi-movement work or in one movement?

KY: You just compared me with Wynton Marsalis?! Whoa…I dig that Namhiya! This is why I love you! Symphony No. 7 is seventy-five minutes long. It’s in D minor, and its got four movements. There’s no choir in this one, and unlike the previous six symphonies, it’s without a subtitle. As with my favorite saying, “Music speaks louder than words”; I will allow the listeners imagination to determine a subject. Oh…, that might take years to happen, lol!

Before I began my initial sketches, I listened to a lot of seventh symphonies by my favorite composers. And, then I said to myself, keep the music personal and true to ME. A lot of people expect a symphonic composer to write in a European tradition, but I’m not European. I’m Kerwin, and I decided long ago to write Kerwin’s music. When I’m producing an artist and writing music for an artist, I have to cater to the artist. When I’m composing a film score, I have to satisfy the producers, the directors, and the film. But, when it comes to concert music; there’s a lot of music that I want to hear that I haven’t heard yet; so I’m writing it.

NA: You mentioned your UMKC Conservatory days with your professors. What else from those times has found its way into your sound palette? 

KY: Well, without Bobby Watson, I would have NO proper knowledge on the function of harmony. Originally, after the Paris Conservatory rejected me on account that I was too old at 32, I only intended to return to school to brush up on harmony and orchestration. I’d been writing songs, producing, and transcribing music for years; but I lacked the applicative sense of how to handle harmony over a long span of time. What my music theory classes were wasting whole semesters on, Bobby Watson covered with me in one day at the piano! Bobby made everything click, and when I got it, I was off and running! In fact, and for the record, Bobby Watson and Chen Yi were my main teachers while at UMKC, and I also learned quite a lot from Zhou Long. I had other classes like Ear Training and Piano which are necessary essentials. But for the rest of it; regurgitating useless information for the sake of passing an exam, there’s nothing I held onto from any of it.

NA: Now with seven symphonies forever attached to your list of concert works, have you prepared any plans for future symphonies or other large works?

KY: Yes. There are approximately eight orchestral works that I’ve begun sketches for. Those particular works are massive undertakings. These do include future symphonies. I don’t plan to compose another symphony as long as my seventh; so, I’ll be sure to keep them under an hour.

I think if I were scoring major motion pictures; which I’ve been pushing to do since 1994, I wouldn’t be writing so many large orchestral works. But, since I’m not in demand for neither, I’m writing until I can’t write anymore.

NA: Kerwin, It’s always a pleasure interviewing you. Is there anything you would like to add?

KY: Thank You Namhiya; the pleasure is all mine. I would like to add that I want a residency with a major orchestra. I want all of my symphonies programmed; including my Kasuf Tetralogy. And, if any filmmakers catch wind of this, 2019 is my 25th year trying to score my first feature film. I want to score feature films with great stories, and I’m looking to collaborate with any serious filmmaker that would bring me on board.

Namhiya Ati

Senior Editor, EOK Times

<July 2020>

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