LJ White

LJ White's music serves ideals of direct, focused and socially relevant expression, assimilating an unrestricted array of influences through unpredictable-yet-contagious rhythms, strange and evocative sonorities, self-evident gestures, and apposite forms.  White has worked with some of the most exciting players in contemporary music, including Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble SIGNAL, Ensemble Dal Niente, the Jack Quartet, and members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Talea Ensemble, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars. 

White's string quartet Zin zin zin zin was recorded by the Spektral Quartet on their album Chambers, released by Chicago's up-and-coming new record label Parlour Tapes+ in October 2013 to wide critical acclaim.  Zin zin zin zin, which elaborates a fragment from a song by the Roots and considers aural characteristics of group speech and rap, has been praised for its "gritty chords" and "weird joviality" by Bandcamp: The Blog and called "a tour-de-force of quartet writing" by New Music Box.  The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, respectively, praised the entire album as "a vital primer to a bumper crop of talented young Chicago composers" and "a mind-blowing array of new sonic explorations by Chicago composers, and the Chicago Reader included the album in its column "Our Favorite Music of 2013", commenting, "I'm especially fond of [LJ] White's Zin zin zin zin."  The Spektral Quartet recently reprised the piece on the 2015 Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall, where it was hailed by the New York Times as a "confident miniature, rich in implications.” 

White’s new choral work, Digression on Number 1, 1948, was developed over a yearlong residency with Volti, the renowned new music choir based in San Francisco, and premiered by the group at Z Space this past May.  The piece sets Frank O'Hara's poetry inspired by the titular Jackson Pollock painting, assembling a variegated fabric of sung vocals, speech, whispers, laughter, sighs, and speech-song shapes that derive from Pollock's methods and the painting's contours.  The poem chronicles O’Hara’s experience as a viewer of the painting as a MoMA employee in New York, and White’s setting creates a broader depiction of a struggling O’Hara finding solace in the work of his recently deceased close friend, in addition to encapsulating the transcendent expenditure of energy and material found in the painting itself.  The San Francisco Classical Voice called Digression on Number 1, 1948 “an evocative form of sonic architecture”, the San Francisco Examiner hailed it as “a fascinating approach to ‘art about art’”, and the music blog A Beast In A Jungle stated, “White’s imaginative vocal score features laughter, whispers, asides, and moments that sound like outtakes of hymns, creating a polyphony resembling bubbles rising within water which burst and then disappear once they reach the surface… White’s music is delightful and inventive.” 

White's large chamber work Step!, premiered by Alarm Will Sound in 2011, assimilates choreographic elements from step team routines, requiring players to execute complex rhythmic clapping and stomping motions that punctuate a shimmering haze of sound with unpredictable, shifting rhythmic emphasis.  As described on the Bay Area music blog Disquiet, the piece "opens with suspended strings and arhythmic accents from horns and percussion, before the crux of it hits: a hard, almost robotic, ever surprising shuffle.... The strings and horns are extensions of, compatriots of, the drums, the whole thing syncopated like Leonard Bernstein or Alex North at their most rhythmically vibrant and succinct."  The piece was reprised by the Chicago Composers Orchestra in December 2012, was choreographed by Innervation Dance Collective for performance at Constellation Chicago in February 2015, and received its west coast premiere at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music this fall, on a program conducted by Ted Hearne. 

White’s recent chamber work Wilder Shores, which was commissioned by the Portland-based Third Angle Ensemble, is a setting of new poetry by poets Matthew and Michael Dickman for violin, cello, and two narrators. The piece, following a structure divergent from but inspired by the poem it sets, features a rich succession and interplay of images, which are introduced and brought back, creating an inscrutable sense of familiarity, and chopped up and blended into a progressively finer mix. The work’s musical ideas, as they are stated, recalled, fused, and fragmented, create a collectively fraught, shape-shifting texture. Third Angle Ensemble and the Dickman brothers premiered the piece this past June on the 2015 Bang on a Can Marathon Concert in New York, where it was praised as “intriguingly swoopy and spiky” by New York Music Daily. Performances of Wilder Shores at Studio2@Zoomtopia in Portland will take place in November. 

White’s current projects include a new work for Fender Rhodes piano, electric and acoustic steel guitars, and live-processed soprano voice, for Ensemble Dal Niente musicians Jesse Langen, Mabel Kwan, and Carrie Henneman Shaw, a concert-length semi-staged song cycle with instrumental chamber accompaniment for the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, which interweaves poetry by emerging poets Erika Meitner, Ali Shapiro, David Ebenbach, and Jeremy Schmidt, and a piece for Chicago’s preeminent percussion quartet Third Coast Percussion.  Upcoming events include the premiere screening of an animated film created with White’s work Ballad of the Mean Angry Jazz Hater Monster, which will take place at REDCAT in January 2016, and the premiere performance of Way Down Yonder, a setting of poetry by Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly Fellowship winner Rickey Laurentiis for soprano, violin, viola, and cello by the Boston-based ensemble Castle of our Skins. 

White has won the Craig and Janet Swan Prize, the Margaret Blackburn Composition Competition, an Emil and Ruth Beyer Award from the National Federation of Music Clubs, the Dolce Suono Ensemble Young Composer Competition, the North American Saxophone Alliance Composition Competition, and the American Prize. He has been in residence at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, among other colonies, and his work has been featured at a long list of high-profile festivals, including the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, CULTIVATE at Copland House, and the Composers Conference at Wellesley College.  White is a lecturer at Northwestern University, teaching composition, music theory, and aural skills, and is Department Chair of Music Theory and Composition at the Merit School of Music.  He has studied at Boston University, the New England Conservatory of Music, the University of California at Berkeley, and Northwestern University.