Varun Raja is a first-year composition master’s student studying under the tutelage of Susan Botti. He’s a featured composer in the upcoming MSM composer’s concert taking place on December 9 at 7:30 PM in Ades Performance Space.
Varun chats with us about the concert and what it’s like studying at Manhattan School of Music.
Varun is finishing up his first semester at MSM. He enjoys writing for all manner of instrumentations from solo to symphony orchestra. As a composer, he would describe his stylistic aesthetic as a fusion between romantic and contemporary influences.
You are featured in the upcoming MSM composers’ concert. What can you tell us about the piece you wrote for this performance?
Varun: I will be having my piece, Gusts of Wind performed on the upcoming composer’s concert. The piece is for solo flute and explores the strengths of winds from a gentle breeze to a windstorm and everything in between those two extremes. As a character piece, the music uses a combination of rhythmic transformation, texture and harmony to convey my imagination surrounding the various strengths of winds.
Why should people come and see this concert?
Varun: People should come see the composer’s concert on December 9 because a lot of new music will be performed by MSM musicians. It is important for MSM students to support their composer and performer peers, especially at a school-sponsored concert. All of the composers, including myself, would love to see a large audience!
Tell us about your composition process. How do you approach writing music?
Varun: When I write a new piece, I always begin by diving inwards into what I am feeling. I have found that this is one of the most effective means in processing my own feelings. Essentially all of my music is based on my own emotions or characters that I want to convey to listeners. Once I have an emotion or character that I would like to convey, I begin to analyze it and develop musical motifs and characteristics that I associate with it during the pre-composition stage. Following this preliminary stage, I compose the large-scale musical narrative and then fine-tune the smaller melodic and rhythmic gestures once I have a general understanding of the piece.
As a composition major, why do you think it’s important to study in NYC?
Varun: As a composer, studying in NYC is important because of all of the potential connections you could gain through school. Studying at a conservatory so close to the epicenter of contemporary classical composition is such a great advantage for composers and could help propel one’s career. By networking with the conservatory’s alumni and faculty connections, composers can gain access to many opportunities throughout the city. Beyond gaining potential connections, composers can also gain valuable knowledge by attending concerts that various cultural groups put on throughout the city such as the Chinese Music Ensemble of NY. By listening to the music of different cultures, my compositional color palatte has expanded and allowed for greater experimentation in future works.
“I knew that studying at MSM would provide me many opportunities and benefits which other school may not have been able to provide as effectively. Furthermore, I wanted to experience living in the city touted as ‘the greatest city in the world.’”
Why did you choose to study at MSM? How as the semester been going so far?
Varun: I chose to study at MSM mainly because I wanted to study with my current teacher, Susan Botti. I have been greatly interested in writing for the voice lately and Susan Botti is a great composer who specializes in writing for the voice. Alongside the decision of studying with a specific professor at MSM, I knew that studying at MSM would provide me many opportunities and benefits which other school may not have been able to provide as effectively. Furthermore, I wanted to experience living in the city touted as “the greatest city in the world.”
My semester has been pretty productive so far. I have been able to spend much more time composing due to the fact that I am a graduate student with less required classes. Midterms were alright for the most part and I am looking forward to the upcoming break!
What are you excited about this year?
Varun: I am most excited about my new song cycle being performed on my friend’s vocal recital in the Spring. We have had a long-term collaboration from the start of my song cycle and his advice has been illuminating on writing for the tenor voice type. After working together for a few weeks, he offered me a slot on his recital for my song cycle and this provides me the chance to connect with new listeners. As well as my song cycle, my piece for solo flute will also be performed on a composer concert in December. Aside from those performances, I am extremely excited to further develop my compositional voice and to start working on my orchestral thesis.
Listen to Varun’s composition “Lonely as a Cloud”
What are you listening to right now? Any recommendations?
Varun: In terms of what I am listening to, I listen mostly to classical music and pop. For classical music, I am currently studying Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, and Mahler’s 6th Symphony Tragic. I find that listening to these composers greatly stimulates my love for conveying emotions and characters. For pop music, I listen to the Weeknd, Doja Cat and Lady Gaga.