A national organization that recognizes outstanding student artists aged 15–18 recently distinguished Avik Sarkar ’19 with a merit award in the Classical Music category of its 2017 competition.
Avik garnered his honor from The National YoungArts Foundation in November alongside 20 other young composers in the third of the contest’s three tiers of winners. A panel of artists and musicians chose 691 national winners across 10 disciplines through a blind judging process of nearly 8,000 students from 42 states—the largest applicant pool in YoungArts’ 36-year history, according to its website.
Two months before the news, Avik had submitted a music portfolio of four scores: “Purvi,” for a large orchestra; “A Separate Unity,” for a clarinet, viola, and piano trio; “Mirror,” for chamber orchestra; and “Polarity,” for string quartet.
Avik said he had heard about the competition through friends at his music camp this past summer at Tanglewood, and he had not expected to win.
“I was surprised when I got the call since the compositions that I submitted weren’t very cohesive in terms of the general style, and the pieces are judged as a portfolio,” Avik said.
In honor of his achievement, Avik played recordings of “Purvi” and “Polarity”—performed by the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra and students of the New England Conservatory, respectively—during an open forum in the Orchestra Room on January 31. There, he spoke about his experience as a composer to a group of about 40 community members.
“It was interesting because he keeps his music [life] private. I had known he was really good, but I didn’t know he had composed,” Julia McCauley ’19 said. “I especially liked how he combined the Indian classic and the traditional classic. I haven’t heard anything like that before.”
Chamber and Orchestra Teacher Brian Reasoner, who drummed up support for the event over What’s Happening, wrote in an email to the US community that having a composer of such merit in the student body is rare.
“He has a fully formed musical vocabulary,” Mr. Reasoner said later. “His music has a richness and immediacy that is complex yet accessible.”
Avik kickstarted his musical career at age 8 when he began taking piano lessons. Two years afterward, he began writing his own piano melodies and taking composition classes at the New England Conservatory. At age 11, Avik picked up the cello, which he has played in the school orchestra since freshman year.
Avik called the composing process long and slow and said that writing for wind and brass instruments is the hardest for him since those instruments greatly differ from the more familiar piano and cello. His pieces last 10 to 15 minutes because that’s how long music can hold his attention, he said.
“When I first began composing, I was very focused on the notation, structure, and general rules of composition,” Avik said. “‘A Separate Unity’ is an example of my earlier style, inspired by Bartok, but ‘Purvi’ is the kind of composition that I would like to continue to move toward in the future.”
Named after an Indian music scale, “Purvi” was inspired by the sounds and structure of Indian music and includes the tabla, an Indian instrument similar to a snare drum, in its instrumentation.
Avik said he wants to keep fusing western traditions with Indian instruments, as he did in “Purvi,” as well as expand his repertoire.