Oregon Symphony, PSU pilot program highlights emerging female composers
Author: Katy Swordfisk, PSU Media & PR
Posted: May 20, 2019

At the age of 12, Geli Li composed her first piece. By 16, she joined the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she also earned her master’s degree. As an international visiting scholar at Portland State University, she was selected as one of three emerging female composers and given the opportunity to work with the Oregon Symphony.

“I appreciated that we had a stage to listen to the other composers’ music and that we could learn from each other,” Li said.

 Li, along with University of Oregon students Tao Li and Susanna Payne-Passmore, joined the Oregon Symphony and Associate Conductor Norman Huynh on April 22 for a dedicated orchestral reading session.

“Finding opportunities to hear a professional orchestra play your own music is challenging for any emerging composer,” said Kenji Bunch, a PSU composition instructor who organized the workshop. “Initiatives like this one by the Oregon Symphony are crucial for composers to both develop their craft and nurture their careers.”

Workshops like these typically begin with a call for scores, but Bunch said they opted to take a different approach that better fit the short window of time available to schedule the workshop. He added that the opportunity to feature underrepresented composers was also a benefit.

“We viewed this as a sort of pilot program for what will hopefully turn into a more regular part of the Oregon Symphony’s mission,” Bunch said.

Li said working with the Oregon Symphony exceeded her expectations.

 Her nine-minute piece, “Stray birds,” was written six years ago. It was her first orchestra piece.

“I’m pretty proud of my piece,” Li said. “Even after six years, I feel pretty moved and I can still enjoy it.”

Bunch said he could tell immediately that Li’s score was engaging, well crafted and full of color and detail.

“Many symphony musicians came up to me afterwards to let me know how much they enjoyed bringing her work to life in this way,” Bunch said. “I hope this experience can help Geli’s career, because her music clearly deserves a wide audience.”

Li plans to apply to a doctoral program in the U.S. to continue her studies in composition when she completes her PSU program in August.

Photos: Geli Li observes a concert reading with the Oregon Symphony.

Oregon Symphony Associate Conductor Norman Hyunh conducts a piece during the April workshop.