Interview with Peter Shin

Continuing with this season’s eclectic array of new works, on November 18th Kaleidoscope will showcase four of its Call for Scores winners in collaboration with the LA Philharmonic’s “Noon to Midnight” concert series. As a series featuring LA’s top new-music ensembles, these new works promise to be as equally groundbreaking and transformative. Peter Shin, one of the four composers featured on this concert, will have his West Coast Premiere of Screaming Shapes alongside Pamela Z’s And the Movement of the Tongue, Krists Auznieks’ Snippets of Joy, and Gabriella Smith’s Carrot Revolution. Generously donating his time, I was able to sit down with Mr. Shin to not only discuss his compositional influences for Screaming Shapes, but how through creating music with friends for the sake of creating has landed him the title as one of “seven young composers who [best] represent today's richly diverse musical landscape” (Kevin Putz, Minnesota Orchestra).

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started with music?

Peter Shin: My parents started me on cello lessons when I was four. At ten, I also begged for piano lessons, partly because I was jealous my sister could play piano, but mostly because I wanted to get out of soccer practice. Although I kept playing through my time at the University of Michigan, I was never dedicated enough to be a performance major. I started composing when I was a junior in high school because my orchestra director’s programming was really bad. I’m talking about “terrible arrangement of Pirates of the Caribbean as the concert highlight” kind of bad. So I thought, “I can write something equally terrible,” and wrote a string orchestra piece over spring break. Then I got to play through it with the orchestra and found it to be such a fun process.

CR: Wow! What about the process do you find most fun?

PS: Collaborating with other people and performers as much as possible and feeding off of other creative peoples’ energies. I hate inputting notes into my computer alone and staring at my blank notebook for several hours a day, but it’s the sad, unglamorous reality of the composer.

CR: Too true! As you’ve come into the role of a composer, how would you describe your compositional style?

PS: My piece, Screaming Shapes for amplified flute, bass clarinet, violin, cello, and fixed electronics has influences from spectralism, electronica, hip hop and dance rhythms, as well as popular music techniques such as close miking and audio compression. But that description wouldn’t fit my other compositions that draw from different influences, which I think is common with composers nowadays.

CR: Regarding Screaming Shapes, can you talk about some of the more specific musical and non-musical inspirations behind your composition?

PS: At last year’s Noon to Midnight hosted by the LA Phil, composer John Adams took the time to speak to the audience before he began conducting, and encouraged young composers in attendance to get together with their friends and create music for the sake of creating. At that point, I had been in Los Angeles working on my masters at the University of Southern California, and had always dreamed of creating an ensemble of sorts---but, I felt I didn’t know the right people and that it wasn’t the right time. John’s encouraging words helped me to let go of expectations, and I contacted many musician friends in the LA area to collaborate in this way, and eventually the electronic component of Screaming Shapes was created.

CR: That’s fantastic! What kinds of sounds were created during this get-together?  

PS: The electronics are made up of purely acoustic improvisations from an alto saxophone (Corey Dundee), two soprano vocalists (Liya Khaimova, Graycen Gardner), and cello (Nick Volpert) all based on an original poem Nick specifically wrote for the group right after Trump’s inauguration. It’s a pretty chaotic and deranged poem. I composed a layer of amplified live instrumentalists on top, and this instrumental version was premiered by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. This year, I’m also a composition fellow of the Berkeley Symphony and actually got the chance to share this piece with John Adams himself through a meeting the symphony set up. Sharing my music with him was an awesome opportunity in itself, but not too long ago, I was informed that he would like to commission a piece from me for the Cabrillo Festival because he liked my piece.

CR: No way! That’s incredible!

PS: Yes! Now, Kaleidoscope is playing Screaming Shapes in Disney Hall for Noon to Midnight, a year after John took the time to encourage me from the stage. It’s unreal how everything came full circle. I highly encourage everyone to attend Noon to Midnight to experience the exciting new music offerings in LA because it was a catalyst for so many great things for me. I’m also excited for Kaleidoscope to premiere the full version with instrumentalists and dancers from Iris Company with choreography by Sophia Stoller, whom I met through the Cohan Collective with mentorship from Robert Cohan of the Martha Graham Dance Company.

CR: Congratulations, Peter! What an inspiring and incredible story, to have something come full circle like that. Being that there are many components involved with the performance of this piece, what are some of your expectations going into rehearsals?

PS: I’ve had one rehearsal so far with the musicians for my piece which include Mehrdad Gholami (flute) who performed the world premiere of this piece in Aspen; Benjamin Mitchell (bass clarinet); Benjamin Hoffman (violin); and Clement Chow (cello). The rehearsal went incredibly smoothly for how hard I thought it was, so we spent the rest of the night eating at one of my favorite Korean noodle restaurants, Hangari Bajirak Kalguksu, and drinking somaek (soju with beer). Not a bad rehearsal plan!

CR: *laughter* sounds like a great plan to me! Overall, what originally motivated you to submit a piece to our Call for Scores?

PS: Kaleidoscope has been making a mark in the Los Angeles new music scene and local communities, and has grown exponentially in the two years I’ve been in LA. I’ve volunteered with them a few times handing out program books and pouring wine. I’ve also attended their concerts and am now doing graphic design for them, all because I believe in the work they’re doing for new music and the underserved communities in LA. I really just wanted to get involved and didn’t think Kaleidoscope would be playing my music one day.

CR: That’s wonderful that you are involved in Kaleidoscope in other ways, and are equally passionate in bettering the Los Angeles community as an individual artist. That being the case, are you involved with any other groups in the community?

PS: Yes! Not long ago I was introduced to Youth Orchestra LA at Heart of Los Angeles (YOLA at HOLA), a program dedicated to the musical training of underserved youth. Located on the outskirts of Koreatown, there are Latino and Korean children—two cultural communities that, despite their proximity, rarely interact on a deep level—who learn and connect together through music and this program. Because I believed in that mission, I got in contact with the director at YOLA at HOLA to get involved in any way. I helped develop the first composition class with my friend Ben Kwok, volunteering every Saturday. In the future I hope to play a part in fostering future generations of composers and help my students experience their first world premieres, all in greater hopes that one day they will represent America’s rich diversity in the concert hall.

CR: That’s great!

PS: In complete contrast, last year, poet Dexter L. Booth—whose life’s work is directly inspired by the black American experience—and I created “REPARATION” for spoken word artists, rappers, soprano, high R&B vocalists, and fixed media. This is a piece dedicated to the countless lives lost to police brutality. Not only was this a way to speak out against such injustices, but we also wanted to highlight the restrictive divisions between the classical and popular music programs at USC. The piece was showcased at a poetry vigil in a warehouse space in downtown Los Angeles—the first time I felt like I was part of a community in this huge metropolis.

CR: Speaking about ways to speak out against injustices and strengthen our communities, are there any other charities or causes that you’re passionate about that you’d like to raise awareness to?

PS: YOLA at HOLA, specifically towards getting funding for a dedicated composition program. We need to provide visibility, access, and resources to foster young composers who offer unique voices and perspectives to our new music community.

CR: Absolutely. You obviously are a man of many talents and interests, but what are some of your hobbies and other passions outside of music?

PS: I’m a graphic designer having helped various other musicians, composers, and organizations realize their visual identity. I’ve worked with composers Michael Daugherty and Bright Sheng, as well as institutions like Yale and USC, to name a few. You can find my work on Naxos, Boosey & Hawkes, and hanging on old friends’ apartments from their senior recitals.

CR: Great! Peter, thank you so much for taking the time to speak about your piece, and I hope you have a wonderful premiere! Before we leave, would you like to leave our readers with one final comment?

PS: Enjoy the concert!

CR: Thank you!

PS: Thank you!

Carrie Rexroat is a freelance writer for Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra’s blog, but is also the founder of the storytelling blog and podcast, A’tudes & Brews. To read other artist stories, go to

Kaleidoscope will give the West Coast Premiere of Screaming Shapes on:

Saturday November 18th @ 10pm
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA, 90012

Sunday November 19th @ 2pm
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica
1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401




Carrie Rexroat