Faculty and students are enjoying the rare chance to collaborate with a composer of international fame. Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, North Central's composer-in-residence, is sharing his vast experience that includes commissions for renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, countless movie scores and other international projects. A native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he most recently has been a composer-in-residence at Harvard University and Dartmouth College.
"While it's a challenge to teach in English, I teach in the language of music," he says. "Music bridges all languages and everyone can understand it." During winter term, Yanov-Yanovsky is mentoring composing students who meet as a group to listen to other composers and then individually to create their own compositions. "Many of the pieces I am working on are simple little etudes to help me develop a better connection between my thoughts and the paper," says Brian Riordan '11, a music major. "The bar has been set high but I enjoy what I am learning. It is great studying with Dmitri."
Yanov-Yanovsky is also helping the music department organize a Chamber New Music Festival for April 11-13 at North Central. He's also composing a piece for North Central's string ensemble that features Beatles music. "Using familiar music is a good way for students to practice and experience new techniques," he explains. While at North Central, Yanov-Yanovsky will work on several commissions, including one for an English group called the Hilliard Ensemble. Another piece underway will debut at a special U.S. Library of Congress event. His pieces are unique to each instrument, ensemble and theme and he embraces diversity in his work.
Among Yanov-Yanovsky's esteemed projects was his collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma on the Silk Road Project, which produced "Night Music: Voice in the Leaves" that opened the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's season in 2006. Culturally versatile, he wrote music for the Chinese sheng—a folk instrument that's a mouth organ consisting of vertical pipes— which was featured in his work for the Silk Road Ensemble.
Yanov-Yanovsky came from a musical family and was known in his native country for organizing an international contemporary music festival in Tashkent. But his success was probably his downfall, he says, and the festival was no longer permitted by government authorities. "It was the only cultural event in Uzbekistan that was independent," he says. "But that means the government had no control. I had no future there."
He returns to visit family but feels unwelcome in Eastern Europe to pursue his craft. He has support from the Scholar Rescue fund, which assists international scholars at risk in their home countries.
"I appreciate the opportunity North Central has given me, it's a wonderful place," he says. "I hope I can do something useful for the students during my residency here."
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who will perform in North Central's Wentz Concert Hall on Oct. 1, 2011, as part of the College's Sesquicentennial celebration, praises the Russian composer's work.
"Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky's musical voice is a testament to his deep interest in cultural understanding and communication," Ma said in an email. "His compositions are embraced by classical musicians and audiences alike, as deeply appreciated in his Central Asia homeland as in the Western world."