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2023 PREMIERE|Project Festival Composer Fellows Announced

Updated: May 1

Choral Arts Initiative announces the selection of 13 composer fellows from all over the world for their 2023 PREMIERE|Project Festival.

Irvine, CA - After a record number of composer applicants than any year previous, Choral Arts Initiative (CAI) is excited to announce the 13 composer fellows who have been selected to participate in their annual PREMIERE|Project Festival. The festival will feature 13 world premieres by these talented composer fellows, which will be performed by Choral Arts Initiative. The festival will take place at Concordia University Irvine’s newly upgraded Borland-Mankse Center and the Charlie and Ling Zhang Orchestra Hall from June 27-30, 2023, with the concluding performance on the final day. The PREMIERE|Project Festival is a unique opportunity for composers to work with the singers of Choral Arts Initiative, one of Southern California's premier choral ensembles and recipient of the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming. Composers will also receive close mentorship from returning and distinguished composer faculty members, Dale Trumbore, Dominick DiOrio, and Derrick Skye. This year they will be joined by guest faculty members, Jeffrey Derus and Juhi Bansal.

Artistic and Executive Director, Dr. Brandon Elliott conceptualized the PREMIERE|Project Festival as a professional development experience that models the commissioning process, from contact and contract to residency and performance. The festival is geared towards recent graduates, those in career change, and early to mid-career composers. This experience provides a platform for composers to complete their compositions in a workshop setting with a professional chorus, receive guidance from renowned composition faculty, build their network, and gain exposure to the latest music in the choral field. The foundation of the festival is dedicated to the creation and performance of new choral works, and provides emerging composers with the chance to work with professional singers and gain valuable experience in the choral music industry.

Composers selected for the festival can bring in a composition in progress or a completed work to be adjusted during the course of their mentoring through the week. The festival concludes with a live and recorded public premiere of each composer’s work. In addition, Fellows will have the option to establish a distribution deal with MusicSpoke, which is an artist-owned sheet music platform, under the Choral Arts Initiative ICON Series.

The 2023 PREMIERE | Project Fellows were chosen through a blind evaluation process. This years 13 composition fellows come to us from 13 cities all over the world and include: Evan Blaché (San Marcos, TX), Ashi Day (Washington, DC), Marybeth Kurnat (DeKalb, IL), Leah Tracy (Denver, CO), Christian Courage Barda (Indianapolis, IN), Justin Langham (Houston, TX), Tara Mack (London, UK), Leah Curtis (Los Angeles, CA), Scott Senko (Champlin, MN), Charlie Carroll (Tallahassee, FL), Timothy Cunningham (Orange, CA), Kai-Young Chan (Hong Kong), Thomas Yonke (Springfield, MO).

Meet the fellows

Evan Blaché is a choral composer and choral singer based out of San Marcos, Texas.

Never known to mince words, Evan has composed a lot of work combining the classical style with topics of social justice They have been commissioned by various groups, including Inversion Ensemble, Conspirare, Texas Tech’s Scarlet Voce, and Vocem Corids. They are currently in their undergraduate program at Texas State University for their B.M in Music Studies and Composition while singing in the Texas State University Chorale under the direction of Joey Martin and studying composition with Dr. Jack Wilds. While at Texas State, Evan has sung for many Austin based groups including, The Tinsel Singers, Chorus Austin, Inversion Ensemble, Vocem Cordis, and Conspirare.

Ashi Day creates vocally-driven works that explore the intersections between music and theater; how the canon affects performers, especially women; and the strategic use of humor and absurdity. Her art songs, choral pieces, and short operas have been commissioned or performed by ensembles including Juventas New Music Ensemble, Calliope’s Call, Hartford Opera Theater, Fresh Squeezed Opera, Cantate Chamber Singers, Metropolitan Concert Chorale (Los Angeles), New York Treble Singers, and at schools including American University, Washington State, and Holy Cross. She was a festival composer for Opera from Scratch, Women Composer’s Festival of Hartford, Music by Women, NEO Voice Festival, Denison TUTTI, and more. She is a 2021 and 2023 DC Arts and Humanities Fellow and a 2022 winner of Opera America’s Discovery Grants for Women Composers. Ashi also manages education programs for the Washington National Opera and sings as a professional church musician and with the collective Artifice.

Marybeth Kurnat (1987) is an emerging voice in choral music in the Chicago area. Her recent work, "I, Lover," was the 2021-22 Winner of True Concord's Stephen Paulus Emerging Composers’ Competition. Her compositional style, especially her harmonic language, is heavily influenced by her musical foundations as a jazz saxophonist. Her work as a composer and arranger also includes music for jazz ensemble, concert band, chamber music and commercial a cappella.

Marybeth earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Northern Illinois University. She currently teaches middle school and high school instrumental and vocal music in DeKalb, IL, and is a local representative for the Illinois Music Education Association.

In addition to teaching and composing, Marybeth writes poetry, and maintains an active performance schedule as a freelance soprano. She is a member of the St. Charles Singers, Chicago Choral Artists, and the Grant Park Music Festival Chorus.

Leah Tracy (b. 1999) is an emerging composer and soprano based in Denver. Leah draws inspiration from the people and places around her, basing her compositions on current events, childhood recollections, powerful stories, being in nature, and her most meaningful friendships and experiences. Leah has a particular interest in introducing beginner or intermediate singers to contemporary techniques, and often writes with a wide range of ability levels in mind. Her piece “sing to us, cedars” was chosen as a winner of the 2021 HerVoice Competition hosted by Chicago A Cappella, and it was recently performed by Grammy-winning ensemble, Kansas City Chorale conducted by Charles Bruffy. Leah is also an active performer and sings with Denver-based chamber choir, Voices of Light. She earned a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Bowling Green State University in 2021 where she studied with Drs. Elainie Lillios, Christopher Dietz, Mikel Kuehn, and Prof. Myra Merritt-Grant.

Christian Courage Barda is a composer, avant-folk and Baroque vocalist, and performance artist from Indianapolis, Indiana. He is entering his second year of pursuing Bachelor’s degrees in Composition and Historical Performance - Voice at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He studies composition with Don Freund and historical voice performance practice with Judith Malafronte. Barda composes music to raise awareness of the physically-disabled human condition. He also creates choreography and performs his own music through dance. A versatile composer, Barda has written for the accordion, hurdy-gurdy, and even a child’s bicycle. As a vocalist, Barda incorporates his practice of light language to explore the less-commonly explored corners of the human voice. Additionally, he has a special interest in reviving the haute-contre voice, mostly performing music from late Baroque French composers.

Dr. Justin Langham is a composer, conductor, performer, and teacher based in Houston, Texas.

Originally from Mobile, Alabama, he earned a double bachelor’s degree in performance and composition from the University of Alabama, followed by his master's degree and Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Houston.

Dr. Langham’s music has been commissioned and performed across the United States and beyond in countries such as Italy, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, from intimate solo and chamber works, to art songs and choral works, to marching bands. He has also composed, arranged, commissioned, performed, and recorded many new works as a member of renowned trumpet & organ duo, Deux Voix (“two voices”).

A devoted educator, Dr. Langham maintains an active private studio and is on faculty at Lone Star College. He also serves as Director of Traditional Music at First United Methodist Church in Missouri City, Texas.

Tara Mack has sung in classical choirs for many years and is currently a soprano in the London Oriana Choir. A few years ago, inspired by the Oriana’s five-year project to promote women composers, she began doing some choral composition of her own.

Since then she has been busy writing, studying and encouraging other choir members to write music. Her work has been performed by the Oriana at Queen Elizabeth Hall and Opera Holland Park, by the Brown University Chorus in Providence and by the New Amsterdam Singers in New York. This spring she will be performed by Vox Urbane, a professional choir in London, BRACE, a new music choir in Louisiana, and she has been commissioned to write for the New York City Master Chorale. By day she is Director of Programmes at Pembroke House, a community center in London, where she lives with her partner and two children.

Leah Curtis composes contemporary classical music, scores for international cinema, and for fine art installation. Described as ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘deeply human’ (Limelight), her music explores lush, immersive textural worlds, weaving and anchoring nuanced orchestrations with glimmering solo threads.

Curtis orchestrated for Heil, Klimek (Sophie Schöll) and Wurman (Something Borrowed), before taking the lead on her own commissions, including the ‘first-rate score’ (Variety) for Sundance thriller Killing Ground. Her music has been played at marquee festivals, including Dubai, Sundance and the Aspen Music Festival, and garnered nominations and awards for Best Original Score, Song and World Music.

Recent performance highlights include the major orchestral commission Infinite Possibilities for conductor Jessica Cottis and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.

Curtis was a Fulbright Scholar and visiting composer at the University of Southern California and holds a MAHons from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. She works internationally out of Los Angeles, writing, orchestrating, and recording.

Scott Senko (b. 1992) is a composer and singer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He completed undergraduate studies at Luther College in 2015 where he studied composition with Brooke Joyce and Steve Smith, and voice with Andrew Whitfield.

He has received commissions from The Esoterics, the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, and the Source Song Festival. He served as Composer-In-Residence with Magnum Chorum 2016-2017 and was selected as winner of Cantus’ 2021 Young & Emerging Composers Competition for his tenor-bass piece “grip.”

As a tenor, Scott has sung with a number of vocal ensembles in the Twin Cities. Currently, he sings with The Singers ~ Minnesota Choral Artists, MPLS (imPulse), and the parish choir at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Minneapolis where he serves as Tenor Section Leader.

Charlie Carroll is a composer of vocal, chamber, and orchestral music whose desire is to reach deeply into the listener’s soul. A lifelong musician and Texas native, he currently resides with his lovely wife in Tallahassee, Florida where he works as a composer and teacher of music theory. Every measure mirroring the human experience, Mr. Carroll’s music has been performed across North America.

Deeply rooted in meditative melodies and rich harmonies, Timothy Cunningham (b. 1999) has works that span several genres, with pieces written for orchestra, choir, chamber ensembles, soloists, and electronic music. Through his compositions, Timothy seeks to provide a sense of comfort and restoration for both performer and audience member, creating a space for all to listen and reflect. With a strong influence from his Greek heritage, Timothy’s works feature compositional techniques drawn from the beautiful melodic content of Byzantine chant and the unique texture of Greek folk music. Timothy is a recent graduate from the University of Redlands (B.M. in Composition, B.S. in Mathematics), where he studied composition with Anthony Suter and Andre Myers. He received many awards and honors during his time at Redlands, including the Presser Undergraduate Scholars Award, J. William Jones Endowed Scholarship, and SAI Composer’s Award.

A Hong Kong-born composer, Kai-Young Chan focuses on the integration of nuance, relevance, and resonance in music that converses with society. His creative practice centers on transforming constraints into creativity, often turning the tone-melody mapping restrictions in Cantonese into an algorithmic procedure. His works have been performed by renowned ensembles such as Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Albany Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Daedalus Quartet, and Mivos Quartet, among others. His works can be found on recording labels such as PARMA, Ablaze, and Innova, and his scores are published by Edition Peters (London) and Edition ICOT (Tokyo). His music has been featured internationally including ISCM World Music Days, International Rostrum of Composers, and June in Buffalo. Currently an assistant professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chan has received awards for outstanding teaching and conducts ongoing research on the creative use of Cantonese prosody in contemporary idioms.

Thomas Yonke received a bachelor’s degree in Music Composition and a Graduate Certificate in Choral Composition from Missouri State University. While at MSU, he studied under the tutelage of Dr. Michael Murray, Dr. John Prescott, and the mentorship of Dr. Cameron LaBarr. Thomas is a published composer through Walton Music. In addition to choral music, he writes in a variety of styles including contemporary rock and solo voice. Through his music, he seeks to tell stories that inspire critical thinking and a deeper connection with the world around us. Thomas currently resides in Springfield, Missouri with his wife Haley.

About Choral Arts Initiative

We believe that we have the opportunity to be a living metaphor that celebrates unity. We believe that fostering and embracing the music of emerging composers is critical to our art form. We believe that our community deserves to hear the greatest performances of new choral music. We believe that passion and sincerity should be at the forefront of all musical endeavors. We are Choral Arts Initiative.

Choral Arts Initiative is a non-profit 501(c)(3) choral organization comprised of some of the most talented and passionate musicians in the Southern California region. Widely recognized as a champion of new music, Choral Arts Initiative has been praised as “gracefully lyrical” (Voice of OC), hailed as one of Orange County’s “Best Choirs” (CBS News, Los Angeles), and noted for its “sublime” and “triumphant” performances (Textura). Winner of the American Prize in Choral Performance, recipient of the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming, and Winner of the San Francisco Classical Voice Audience Choice Awards for Best New Music Performance, Choral Arts Initiative continues its commitment to musical innovation and excellence. Their inaugural album, How to Go On: The Choral Works of Dale Trumbore, ranked #6 on the Billboard Charts (Traditional Classical Albums), and #4 on the iTunes Best Seller Classical Charts. Their passion for new music has led to the commission of nineteen compositions and the premiere of over seventy works. In April 2022, Navona Records released From Wilderness: A Meditation on the Pacific Crest Trail, composer Jeffrey Derus’ new concert-length work and meditation on the transformative experience of traveling the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile scenic coastal hiking pathway that stretches the length of the pacific coastline of the United States and traverses the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.

About Brandon Elliott, Artistic Director

Brandon Elliott enjoys an expansive career as a conductor-educator, musician, arts leader, and consultant. He is the Founder & Artistic Director of Choral Arts Initiative, an award-winning new music choral ensemble based in Orange County, CA. Under his leadership, Choral Arts Initiative has received critical acclaim and recognition for its artistic excellence, musical innovation, and dedication to performing music from a vibrant roster of living composers. With a passion for new music, he has conducted the premiere of over 70 works.

Equally passionate about teaching, training, and mentoring musicians, Elliott is the Director of Choral and Vocal Activities at Moorpark College. He regularly serves as an adjudicator, clinician, preparatory conductor, guest conductor, and guest speaker for festivals, competitions, and local K-12 programs, and is a semifinalist for the 2022 GRAMMY Music Educator Award. As a vocal musician, Elliott has sung with various professional and contracted choruses. Previous engagements include singing under Craig Hella-Johnson in the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble, Pacific Chorale with John Alexander, and various ad hoc ensembles for artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Beck, Star Wars Live, and Zelda Live.

Elliott maintains professional memberships with ACDA, NAfME, MACCC, and Chorus America. His writings have been featured in both Tactus and The Music Educators Journal. Additionally, he has presented on choral entrepreneurship at the 2016 and 2017 Chorus America national conferences and was a panelist for the CCDA Choral Leadership Academy. He currently serves on the California Choral Directors Association board as the Repertoire & Resources Chair for Community and Professional Choruses. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education and a teaching credential from California State University, Fullerton, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, a specialist certificate in Music Business Leadership from the Berklee College of Music, and a Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California. Learn more at


For more information, please contact: Kyrstin Ohta Managing Director

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