Arts and Entertainment

Roth opus takes the stage

Ben Roth composes at the piano.  - DEE AXELROD/Staff Photo
Ben Roth composes at the piano.
— image credit: DEE AXELROD/Staff Photo

Composers may write for decades without hearing their music played by a major orchestra, but 12-year-old Ben Roth already has the Seattle Symphony performing his.

The symphony will debut the Woodward seventh grader’s “Reflections of Alhambra,” in Benaroya Hall May 19.

The work is far from Roth’s first composition, however. He won first place in the Washington State Music Teachers Association composition competition in fifth grade and again in sixth.

“I haven’t the faintest glimmer of how I started composing,” Roth said, “ but I know I couldn’t read music yet. My teacher had to write it down.”

Roth, who studies piano with island teacher Claire Marshall, composes at the piano – a good venue for the multiple parts he must work out, he says.

“You can play 10 notes at once on the piano,” he points out.

Roth’s compositions seek a middle path between “minimal” and “lyrical.”

“I can’t stand lyrical music,” Roth said, “but I don’t like super-dissonant music, either.”

The young composer will have a chance to fine-tune the performance of his work in the May 18 rehearsal with the orchestra.

“On Saturday I’ll get to talk to the musicians about how I want them to play,” he said.

Sunday’s performance is the culmination of the four month-long Seattle Symphony Young Composers Workshop, in which Roth wrote the piece.

The workshop, first held in 1992, was led this year by the symphony’s composer-in-residence, Samuel Jones. The nine students, selected for the high quality of scores they submitted for review, were guided through all aspects of the development of chamber works, from theme to scoring and orchestration.

Thee composition students also had a master class with Zhou Long, Seattle Symphony’s composer-in-residence for “Music Alive!”, the national program to encourage new music.

Jones notes that workshop alumni have gone on to study at top conservatories and universities.

Roth, who doesn’t know if he will continue in music, has lots of time to figure out what the future might hold; he is by far the youngest student whose works will be played by the chamber ensemble, the only one not yet in high school.

“I like drawing comics and I like math,” Roth said, “and I’ll be taking an animation class at Bainbridge Island Broadcasting and drama at Bainbridge Performing Arts this summer.

“It’s all really interesting. I can’t wait.”

The performance of the works of young composers is free to the public, 7 p.m. May 19 in Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall. Call 215-4700 for more information.

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