January 25 2015, The Straits Times Singapore
“Emily Koh’s Implodex! (Singapore premiere) for six musicians opened the proceedings. Conducted by Setts co-founder Christoph Wichert, its configuration had strings (violin, viola and cello) placed onstage, complemented by offstage woodwinds (flute, oboe and clarinet).
With its title alluding to the origin of matter and anti-matter, fragments of sound passed around the hall, the concordant alternating with the discordant. Its climax was a solo cadenza from oboist Joost Flach, who went on to tear up pieces of paper, symbolic of a point of no return, before all the musical parts coalesced in a serene C major chord.”
June 8 2015, Wuhan Conservatory
June 3 2015, San Francisco Classical Voice
"In Emily Koh’s implodex!!, the musicians surrounded the audience members on all sides of the performance space. Unorthodox spatial designs often come off as gimmicky, but Koh’s setup was effective: By necessity, the players conducted each other, mirroring the system of the sculpture, in which each piece is equally important to the whole. Oboist Thomas Nugent, in particular, played with beautiful tone on his virtuoso flourishes and multiphonics."
June 2 2015, Examiner.com
"Both Ahn and Koh were more abstract in their approaches. Koh responded to the fragmented structure of Parker’s piece with “implodex!!,” which she called a study in implosion and explosion... Both of these pieces took far too much time to present and elaborate on their basic content, and neither seemed to get what had motivated Parker to make her piece in the first place."
April 12 2015, Seen and Heard International
"Food is important to Singaporeans. Hawker centers serve up local fare such as prawn noodles, char kway tiao, chicken rice, laksa, mee goreng and other dishes. It never fails to surprise me that if I make mention of the Redhill hawker center near where I live to a Singaporean colleague or friend, he or she will have been there and will know that one particular stall renowned for its carrot cake (not what you might expect). So if you were a Singaporean living in Boston working on a commission for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, where would you turn for inspiration? In Emily Koh’s own words, 'I found myself thinking of home and all the delicious foods I miss that are unique to Singapore…. All I wanted in the months I spent writing this work was to stuff myself silly on all these delicacies at a local hawker fest.'
The result was Jia[k]. Just ten minutes in length, it is a concerto grosso of sorts with different sections of the orchestra – progressing from brass to strings to woodwinds – conjuring up the smells, sights, sounds and, yes, tastes of a Singapore hawker center. There is a great passage for the double basses, which comes as no surprise since it’s Koh instrument. The jaunty pizzicato solo line played by Guennadi Mouzyka, Principal Double Bass, was heard over the growl of the rest of the section, and evolved into a duet with Karen Yeo, the section’s Fixed Chair. Jia[k] ended abruptly with a snap. A jolt to the ear, just like the fiery chilies in Southeast Asian food can be to the tongue."
April 12 2015, The Straits Times Singapore
"Young composer Emily Koh's compositions may come across as inaccessible to the general audience, with her unorthodox and atonal writing often leading to confusion. Yet her latest work, Jia[K], could very well be one of the masterpieces of the 21st century.
Aiming to depict the chaos sand sensory overload one experiences in our famed hawker centres, her scoring calls for inventive ways to create layers of sound by pushing the boundaries of traditional technique on the various instruments.
The opening muted trumpets created a buzzing effect which produced a disturbingly nervous energy when paird with the pizzicato violins.
Her audacity in writing an entire passage featuring just the double bass section stems from her training as a bass player, but who would have thought it was capable of such virtuosic and clearly sustained solos?
Principal conductor Okko Kamu is the antithesis of the modern conductor, who seems more interested in being watched than heard.
This consummate artist does not need fancy baton technique to get his point across and on this night the orchestra responded with aplomb."
April 12 2015, The Flying Inkpot
Although Singaporean contemporary composer Emily Koh (right) describes her work, Jia[k], as incorporating ‘the interweaving of different sonic fragments that portray the ordered chaos at a hawker centre, and the garbled noises of one’s mouth chewing on a delicious plate of char kuay’, one would search in vain for anything resembling the everyday cacophony of hawkers plying their trade.
"Scored for piccolo, flute, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons (the second doubling on contrabassoon), 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Bass Trombone, 2 Percussions (Vibraphone, Xylophone, Tam tam, Triangle, Whip, Crotales, Glock, Bass drum, cymbals) and Strings, the musical language does not adhere to tonality but comes across as fragmented and somewhat reminiscent of impressionism in its often sparse orchestration, despite the instruments used. Strings were sometimes used atypically, with more pizzicato and col legno than bowed. Twice, the contrabassoon was asked to play in its lowest regions, to reliably great effect.
There were several obligato parts, including horn and one for double bass (Emily Koh’s own instrument) played mainly pizzicato, making it sound like something right out of the Second Viennese School. Perhaps more listening is needed to fully appreciate this ten-minute piece. Okko Kamu led the orchestra in his trademark effective, undemonstrative way, but perhaps in this piece more drama and confidence would have helped better realised its potential."
October 15 2014, The Strad Magazine
"The 35 selected candidates from 14 countries will perform a range of repertoire, including kilobyte, a commissioned work by Singaporean composer Emily Koh."
June 17 2014, The Straits Times Singapore
"The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) meanwhile, has scheduled for it's upcoming 2014/15 season a work from conservatory alumnus Chen Zhangyi, 30, and commissions from Emily Koh, 28, as well as Terrence Wong, 25, who has just completed his bachelor's degree in music under the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art's joint programme with London's Royal College of Music...
Yet he and composers such as Koh, a Yong Siew Toh alumnus who is finishing a doctorate at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, say it is still tough to make a living out of writing music full-time...
In contrast, Koh has this year written music for several American ensembles focusing on contemporary music, including Chicago's Ensemble Dal Niente, the New York New Music Ensemble and the New York-based Talea Ensemble."
February 1 2014, The Boston Classical Review
"The final piece on the program, Emily Koh's synpunkt, for alto flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet and percussion, played out like an intense conversation between the players. Flutist Sue-Ellen Tcherepnin and clarinetist Katherine Matasy traded motifs back and forth like clever debaters, while percussionist Schulz edged his way into full participation. Like many conversations, synpunkt had a tendency to wander. Yet the emergence of interesting timbres, like Tcherepnin's humming into the flute, and engaging motifs, like Matasy's lovely solo in the third section, kept the audience's interest."
July 9 2013, The Straits Times Singapore
"Two Singaporean works that received World Premieres were aggressively atonal...
Emily Koh's bridging : isolation (2013) treated saxophone and violin like fraternal twins, each with its own voice that could be heard separately or together. In the latter, they bonded with synergy at times, yet brought out moments of conflict, with Shane Thio's piano being an impartial observer."
July 2 2013, New Music Box
"The final student work of the evening was Emily Koh's cycrotations for percussion quartet, which I remember for it's haunting, ghostly and spacious quality."
May 5 2013, The Straits Times Singapore
"The second half of the concert showed the pianist at her best. Her keen sensitivity to the pianistic and harmonic idiom of Si fallor, Sum (2008) by Singapore composer Emily Koh made her reading cogent. The tricky running notes and leaping chords were tackled with ease, and the Zen-like, Asian-influenced melodies were masterful in their meditative nature."
April 29 2013, The Straits Times Singapore
"Her programme for the evening includes a 10-minute Si Fallor, Sum by 27-year-old United States-based Singaporean composer Emily Koh. She played a shorter version for her own graduation ceremony from the conservatory in 2010.
'It shows a different texture for the piano. There are some very interesting dreamy moments. I think it will be quite an effective piece,' she says."
March 20 2013, Kent Ridge Common Press
"On Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013, two highly accomplished musicians, composer Emily Koh and conductor Wong Kah Chun, were awarded the inaugural Paul Abisheganaden Grant for Artistic Excellence.
Despite being only 26 years old, each of the talented artists have won awards from Singapore and overseas arts institutions in recognition of their outstanding vibrant gifts. Besides being invited to conduct performances (Wong) and commisioned for musical works (Koh), they have also contributed back to the community through Kids' Philharmoni@sg or teaching music to the less privileged respectively."
February 29 2013, The Straits Times Singapore
"An awards ceremony honoured conductor Wong Kah Chun and contemporary classical composer Emily Koh, both 26, as the first two recipients of the grant, which recognises emerging young talents in the performing arts among students and alumni of the National University of Singapore.
Koh will spend the grant money on attending music festivals and conferences in music composition and contemporary improvisation, such as the Asian Composers League Festival and Conference, the Etchings Festival held in France, and Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice in Boston.
Koh says in an email to Life!: "It really means a lot to me for my work to be recognised in Singapore as this is where I first gained interest in music and composing, and because it helps my family relate better to my work.
Her father, 51, is a business man and her mother, 53, is an administration assistant in an IT company.
Koh, a Bachelor of Music graduate, has won many awards and grants including the United States-based Barlow Commission and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Morton Gould Young Composers Award."
August 28 2012, The Straits Times Singapore
"The most adventurous work was Emily Koh's Freyja for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, which portrayed the changing seasonal foliage of New England. Autumn was vigourous and sprightly, giving way to the static austerity of winter before the augurs of spring brought a return to life. The astonishingly vibrant score saw the liberal use of microtones, with instruments sliding and seguing into pitches that lie between the notes. The seemingly off-pitched stances provided an unnerving and unsettling feel, which is probably the message of the piece--everything is impermanent."
August 20 201, Lianhe Zaobao
August 20 2012, Brandeis Now
"Emily Koh, a second-year doctoral student, and Christian Gentry Ph.D. '12 were recently named Barlow Commission winners for 2012. The Barlow Endowment for Music sponsors significant new musical works that are not yet in progress.
Koh, who played piano as a child but later switched to the double bass as her primary instrument, also earned the ASCAP 2012 Morton Gould Young Composer's Award as well as the 2012 Parma Student Composer Competition. She will compose a work for pierrot ensemble, which includes flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello, with percussion and soprano for the Lunar Ensemble. Koh is already the Lunar Ensemble's composer in residence."
Summer 2012, Brandeis Magazine
"Like many 7-year-olds, Emily Koh had no interest in taking piano lessons. It was her parents' idea, she says. But, despite her apathy, she stuck with it for years.
Then, when she was 15, she traded the piano for a double bass. And in high school, she started to write music--that's when her life really changed.
Koh, who just finished her first year in Brandeis' Ph.D.program in music composition and theory, has been named a 2012 winner of the prestigious ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award. She also won the 2012 PARMA Student Composer Competition.
There were nearly 670 submissions for the ASCAP award. The jury selected 29 composers between the ages of 12 and 29.
For the PARMA award, Koh's piece "[circum]-perceptio (2010) for clarinet, marimba, piano, violin and cello" was one of 10 pieces selected from 350 submissions. It will be published in the "2012 PARMA Anthology of Music: Student Edition."
Looking back, Koh says she's grateful for her parents' determination, and recently thanked them for encouraging her to stick with her piano lessons.
"It takes a lot of effort to push a child into something they don't really like," says Koh. "For me, it took a long time to figure out what I wanted."
Mastering the piano has proved to be a big benefit, Koh says. When she composes, it's much easier to use that instrument because it can play multiple voices, which the double bass cannot.
Koh, who grew up in Singapore, says she was in college when she composed her first serious piece of music.
By her junior year, she realized composing would be her career path. The first composition she was truly proud of, she says, was written in graduate school at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.
She says one of her biggest influences if Yu-Hui Chang, Brandeis Associate Professor of music composition, who encourages her to experiment with elements of music that fall outside her comfort zone.
"That is a little challenging, but I think at the end of the day, if I master all of the elements, it's going to make me a better composer," says Koh.
So how, exactly, does she begin to compose a piece?
"This is a really tricky question, because every time I composer it's different," Koh says. "Yes, I sometimes hear instruments in my head. Other times, I hear little bits of melodies and effects that some instruments produce, so I have to figure out which instrument matches the sound. And there are times when I can actually hear exactly what I want."
June 08 2012, Brandeis Now
Like many seven-year-olds, Emily Koh had no interest in taking piano lessons. It was her parents' idea, she says.
Despite her apathy, she stuck with it for eight years. When she turned 15, she traded the piano for a double bass, and her life changed. Koh, who just finished her first year in Brandeis' Ph.D. program in music composition and theory, was recently named a winner of the prestigious ASCAP 2012 Morton Gould Young Composer's Award as well as the 2012 Parma Student Composer Competition.
There were nearly 670 submissions for this year's competition for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishes (ASCAP) Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. The jury selected 29 composers between the ages of 12 to 29 years of age.
For the Parma Student Composer Competition, Koh's piece [circum]-perceptio (2010) for clarinet, marimba, piano, violin and cello, was one of ten pieces selected out of 350 submissions. It will be published in the 2012 Parma Anthology of Music: Student Edition, which will be provided to educators and performers free of charge.
"When playing a bass, you play in an orchestra and with other people," says Koh. "When you play the piano, it can be a very lonely instrument, I think."
Looking back, Koh says she feels a lot of gratitude for her parents’ determination, and recently thanked them for encouraging her to stick with her childhood piano lessons, as what she learned then helps in her current composing.
“It takes a lot of effort to push a child into something that they don’t really like,” says Koh. “For me it took a long time to figure out what I wanted.”
Koh says, in terms of composing, she feels it’s much easier to work through pieces using the piano because the instrument can play multiple voices, which the double bass cannot.
Koh grew up in Singapore and says she was in college there when she composed her first serious piece — though she began composing in a high school music program. It was one of her high school teachers who suggested that she study composition in college instead of focusing on the double bass.
By junior year of college she realized that composing would be her career path. The first composition that she says she was truly proud of was written in graduate school, at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
Koh says one of her biggest influences has been Yu-Hui Chang, associate professor of composition, who has encouraged her to experiment with elements of music that fall outside of her comfort zone.
“That is a little challenging but I think at the end of the day, if I master all of the elements, it’s going to make me a better composer,” says Koh.
So how exactly does one begin to compose a piece?
“This is a really tricky question, because every time I compose it’s different,” says Koh. “Yes, I sometimes hear instruments in my head. Other times I hear little bits of melodies and effects that some instruments produce, so I have to figure out which instrument matches the sound. And there are times when I can actually hear exactly what I want and I know exactly what I want.”
People have their best ideas in all sorts of unusual places – in the shower, jogging, driving their car. Koh says “I think I get my best ideas flying from place to place, which I do a lot. On the plane there are hardly any sounds or things to distract me.”
Between visiting her family in Singapore and traveling to oversee her work being performed, Koh has logged quite a few frequent flyer miles – and gotten plenty of time for ideation.
Like many professionals who have gone digital, Koh takes notes on her iPad, which has digital manuscript paper. She composes using a program called Sibelius. She began integrating computer programming into her writing a long time ago.
“When I first started writing my pieces it was for high school exams,” says Koh. “It was a requirement to use computers to submit your pieces, which is why we were all pushed into using the computers to write music.”
Koh says that personally she doesn’t use any plug-ins, or additional computer programs, for composing, just for calculations, such a musical timing. Her work has been played in Milan, Italy, London, Japan and Taiwan. She will have a concert in Israel in the fall.
“My career has taken me on a [never-ending] around-the–world trip,” says Koh. “It’s also made me learn a lot about myself because many of the trips I take alone.”
When you’re by yourself for weeks at a time, you learn what you like and what you don’t like, Koh says. When she arrives in a new city, she researches the cultural opportunities, such as the architecture, history and gastronomy. She enjoys learning about food so much, she has created a food and travel blog called Emylogues. Some of her most memorable meals were a Cambodian curry that she sampled in Siem Reap and shawarma that she enjoyed in Turkey.
Koh dedicates two weeks a month to searching for new opportunities to showcase her work. That’s part of a composer’s job, she says.
When she’s not hopscotching around the world, Koh also plays electric bass, primarily with a group called the Gentlemen’s Very High Arts Society of South Waltham, an experimental improvisational group of musicians from the music department.
“Emily is a very bright, hard working composer,” says her professor Yu-Hui Chang. “She has the skill and capacity to accomplish whatever she puts her mind to.”
Summer 2012, Brandeis Magazine
When Emily koh, 25, decided she wanted to be a composer with the Singapore Lyric Opera, the road wasn't smooth.
"Many (including my family, friends and teachers) were sceptical that one could make a living as a musician. The hardest challenge is convincing yourself that your dream is worth pursuing, despite what everyone else says and believes."
Income for composers come mostly in the form of commissions, royalties, grants, and fellowships. Most composers teach part-time or help run organizations or ensembles.
But it was worth it. Emily counts spending two weeks on a mountain in Bali in 2008, picking up the Balinese gamelan (an Indonesian musical ensemble) from the local masters, as one of the most gratifying experiences she has had. "It was there that I realized that music is truly a universal language."
Best bit: "The flexible schedules, constant travelling and the fact that your music is heard."
Be prepared for: "Deadlines. Lots of it!"
Pearls of wisdom: " Performers are your best friends. Try to get every piece of work performed because music on paper is not yet music."
November 12 2011, The Straits Times Singapore
Who: Composer Emily Koh, 25, whose original work, byte, is a set piece for the contenders in the ongoing National Piano and Violin Competition.
The miennial music contest, which often kickstarts the careers of local classical musicians, ends this evening at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Concert Hall.
Three other works by local composers are also being played at the competition: Denise Lee's Two Perspectives On Refraction, Bernard Lee Kah Hong's And It Happens To Drop From Beneath and Eric James Watson's Aftermath.
Each of the four selected composers will receive a $2500 award today.
Koh is working on other commissions for semi-professional and college ensembles, including a new string quartet Wellesley College in the United States.
The eldest of four children born to a businessman and an administrative officer, she has a bachelor's degree in music from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. She has completed a double masters' degree in composition and music theory pedagogy and is doing her Ph.D. in the same subjects at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.
What are you reading now?
Proust Was a Neuroscientist by John Lehrer and Zero: The Biography of A Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife.
In Proust Was A Neuroscientist, six stories about how art triumphed over science, Lehrer takes a group of artists--a painter, a composer, a poet, a chef and a handful of novelists--and shows how each discovered a certain truth about the mind that science had not yet uncovered.
Lehrer did a good job blending art into science but I feel he could have delved deeper into some neuroscience discussions, even for a layman read.
Zero: The Story of A Dangerous Idea tells the history of zero from ancient to modern times. It is a light read, but not for the mathematically squeamish, and treads the fine line between fiction and non-fiction very well by using descriptive and somewhat "flowery" writing in a scientific/historical field. I felt that at times, his hyperbolic writing style got to me, but that stopped once I convinced myself that I wasn't reading an article in a scientific journal.
What book would you save from a burning house?
I have a mid-19th century German dictionary I bought from a garage sale for $2. It is probably the only book I will save from a burning house since it is the only book in my collection that I know will be imposible to replace.
November 11 2011, The Straits Times Singapore
"The evening award ceremony and concert also showcased four set-pieces chosen for the competition from local composers Eric Watson, Bernard Lee, Emily Koh and Denise Lee, demonstrating that the creative front was no less impressive."
July 15 2011, Singapore Lyric Opera
Of special interest are four pieces newly commissioned for this concert in celebration of the Choir's 5th anniversary. Emily Koh's A Painted Bus starts off sounding like the folksong The Water is Wide, but soon develops into her own optimistic style with overlapping melodic lines suffused with a modern twist.
July 15 2011, Singapore Lyric Opera
"Currently pursuing her Master of Music degree in composition and music theory pedagogy at the Peabody Conservatory, Emily Koh is a valedictorian who studied composition with Ho Chee Kong and double bass with Guennadi Mouzyka. Emily will be composing her very own piece, "There is a Painted Bus.""
November 11 2010, The Straits Times Singapore
A hundred years after the Paris premiere of The Firebird, TPO did some major commissioning of its own. Young Singaporean composer Emily Koh's 10-minute-long After Igor was the result. Scored for the same familiar forces as Firebird, Koh did not attempt to imitate or recreate the Russian's style. Instead her tone poem was a wholly original essay reflecting a mysterious sound world on the threshold of tonality.
There were some vaguely familiar moments--string reveries, brassy fanfares, evocative woodwind solos--which all made for an atmospheric and satisfying appetiser for the ballet's main course.
June 29 2010, Zaobao Now
许佩珊曾为国大艺术节，鼎艺室内乐团，新加坡爱乐乐团写过作品，去年她获选代表新加坡参加亚太·现代音乐节，由亚洲节日乐团演出他的作品 “III. Als Leben"。今年的委约则有新加坡爱乐协会与新加坡舞蹈剧场的芭蕾舞音乐After Igor，以及给新加坡歌剧团儿童合唱团的合唱作品。
June 7 2010, Edge of the Center
While Zozinn had much to say about works by JiB master composers, including Steve Reich, Augusta Read Thomas, Olivier Pasquet and David Felder, he also devoted substantial space to works by this year's participants, including Daniel Bassin, Matthew Heap, Ashley Wang, Emily Koh, Peter Van Zandt Lane, Huck Hodge, David Wightman, Ray Evanoff and Jordan Kuspa...
Noted Kozinn, "Emily Koh's beautifully eerie circum perceptio, built in layers of delicate string, piano and woodwind timbres, was another highlight of the Signal program.
June 6 2010, The New York Times
Emily Koh's beautifully eerie "circum perceptio", built in layers of delicate string, piano and woodwind timbres, was another highlight of the Signal program.
May 5 2010, The Baltimore Sun
The four works I saw certainly proved interesting, in some cases more for the words and action than the music. Most impressive to me was "Generations", a snapshot of four intersecting lives in a single family. Emily Koh's subtly spicy score produced some strong lyricism (there's a vivid quartet along the way). Katherine Krueger wrote the effective libretto and also performed as the Grandmother in the vibrant cast, joined by Alexandra Iranfar (Daughter), Danielle Edwards (Mother) and Annie Laing (Great-Grandmother.) Brunyate provide the telling stage direction.
May 4 2010, The Baltimore Sun
Emily Koh's "Generations", with a libretto by Katherine Krueger, looks at women from four generations of one family.
July 3 2008, The Straits Times Singapore
The future of composing in Singapore lies in people like Emily Koh, 22, who is in her final year of composition studies at the Yong Siew Toh Consevatory of Music. Koh, who also plays the double bass, says: "I've heard it's not easy, but I want to give it a go. Composing lets me express myself, rather than being a musician who plays someone else's music."