New Kid on the Block

Alyssa Wang, violinist and the newest member of Hub New Music, shares her thoughts on joining the ensemble and what it means to play chamber music in the 21st century.

The first piece of contemporary music I ever played was a piece for solo violin written in 1990 called Stream Flows, by the Chinese-American composer, Bright Sheng. I was fifteen and had never heard a single piece of classical music by an Asian-American composer before. I remember studying the music and noticing how unusual it looked on the page. There were many markings I’d never seen before, all meant to evoke new and illustrative sounds. The music looked like a painting. And the composer looked like me.

There were many firsts involved with that piece. It was the first time I had ever heard sounds like that on the violin. It was the first time someone recommended e-mailing the composer to seek answers to my questions. It was the first time I played a piece for an audience who was completely unfamiliar with it. And it was my first encounter with a Chinese composer. I also won my first local competition using that piece.

Since then, new music has continued to fascinate me.

 Joining Hub New Music was that perfect combination of being at the right place at the right time. I am just finishing up my time at the New England Conservatory and am more eager than ever to jump into professional life. More importantly, Hub New Music is a deep dive into that magical world of contemporary music that has grown to be an integral part of my musical life.

 Joining them for a series of tours in the fall of 2018 was my first time on the road with Hub, and right off the bat I was impressed. First of all, they rehearsed a lot. That old trope that goes: “it doesn’t matter because the audience doesn’t know it anyway”—you can scrap that. From their perspective, it doesn’t matter that the audience isn’t familiar with the music. All music deserves quality attention and high-level performances. They also acknowledge that part of their job is to convince the audience of the music, and they achieve that partly by playing the best possible version of it.

 Also, they’re much more than just a touring band. They’re educators, too. Imagine my surprise when Mike whips out his laptop to display a carefully crafted PowerPoint presentation directed to college-age musicians about “Demystifying Self-Management.” Not to mention the numerous workshops we hosted with student composers.

 Most importantly, being around them is just fun.

 I remember the first road trip I took with them in September, which was really more of an extended dance party. Parts of the country that I had never seen before were revealed to me through the window of our minivan with Imogen Heap and the Punch Brothers blasting in the background. Then there was that time when we almost got stuck on the top of a snow pass during a blizzard in Denver. And I’ll never forget the wings we ate after a concert at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Did you know that it’s possible to cry from laughter during the rehearsal of a four-part fugue?

 Being the newest member of Hub New Music is a privilege and a dream job. Getting to travel around the world, meeting new people, playing music that no one has ever heard before and getting them to connect with it…let’s just say I’m never bored.

 Playing in a chamber music ensemble also means that I have a certain autonomy over my own playing. Unlike in orchestra, I can’t hide behind a dozen other players. Everything is a solo. I like having ownership over what I play, and I enjoy the challenge. There’s never a dull moment!

 There are so many more adventures to come! For now, I am simply grateful to be a part of the Hub family, and to be involved in the unbelievable process of bringing new compositions to life. Until next time!