By Ali Plump
A composition by Avik Sarkar ’19 was performed by the Juventas New Music Ensemble as part of “Emerge: New Music and its Origins,” an event at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) Auditorium on January 30.
The annual concert featured pieces from eight high school composers in front of a crowd of approximately 100 people. The Juventas website calls the students “young prodigies”—musicians between the ages of 14 and 17 whose accomplishments include distinctions like performing at Carnegie Hall or the Metropolitan Opera, collaborating with major orchestras and artists, and winning American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) awards.
Avik heard about Juventas’s call for scores through Alla Cohen, his composition teacher at the New England Conservatory, and in December decided to submit two of his pieces, “A Separate Unity” and “Mirror.” A month later, he received an email informing him that the former had been singled out for performance.
One of the first formal pieces Avik composed in his five years of studying composition, “A Separate Unity” is a 10-minute song for clarinet, viola, and piano that took him all of the summer of 2015 to write.
“The concept of the piece is to place separate sounds and ideas side by side, creating dissonance, but eventually, harmony,” Avik said. “Each movement is completely separate from the other, contrasting in everything from tempo to mood to color, but they share certain motifs and themes that govern the entire piece and bring it together.”
Avik has studied piano for eight years and cello for five. His love for composing began with his interest in the scores and sheet music given him by his piano instructor Niva Fried. These inspired him to compose his own chord progressions and short melodies, which he eventually developed into minute-long musical sketches. At age 10, he commenced formal composition lessons with Ms. Cohen and began to write what he now calls his first “real” pieces.
“Avik has extraordinary musical, creative, and general intellectual abilities,” Ms. Cohen said. “I think Avik has an unlimited potential in the field of musical composition.”
Avik said he found the performance excellent and that his favorite aspect of the event was speaking with the performers after they played his piece.
“They gave me all sorts of advice, like what worked well, what didn’t work well, and that was really great,” he said, referring to the feedback about where the dynamics and articulation of his piece could be more clearly marked. “Music is all about the performers and instruments, so you want to gear your writing towards making something that’s really idiomatic for the instruments.”
Avik said his process of composing a piece begins with inspiration, often from composers like early twentieth-century masters Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, and Béla Bartók, but also from visual art, literature, and nature. He then sketches out musical phrases and develops the piece’s theme. Only after having thought out the concept for a piece does he start writing, one instrument at a time.
Sounds of the ocean during a trip to Mexico inspired Avik to write “Sounds of Cancun”—a three-movement work for piano, cello, and violin—while “Tulips and Chimneys,” a collection of poems by e.e. cummings, inspired his composition for soprano and piano accompaniment of the same name.
“A Separate Unity” was mostly inspired by 20th-century music I was listening to at the time, particularly Schoenberg,” Avik said. “I wanted to capture his idea of the ‘developing variation’—constructing an entire work from a few central motifs, for example—but to also present it in a way that would be new and original.”
Avik’s musical achievements do not end at the Juventas event. Avik recently finished “Purvi,” his first full orchestral work that he began in September. Last year, he won the Carlos Surinach Prize for being the youngest of nine student composers recognized by the Broadcast Music, Inc. Foundation. More than 700 composers up to 28 years old and from all over the Western Hemisphere applied to that contest, according to its website. Avik won distinction with “Mirror,” composed for chamber orchestra.
Having grown up in an Indian family, Avik said he hopes to incorporate Indian culture and instruments, such as the sitar and tabla, into his future compositions. Ultimately, he said, he’d like to complete a musical portfolio with pieces inspired by the country.
He added, “I hope that I can continue to see my music performed and that I can keep getting advice from performers and other composers alike so I can keep on improving my music.”