Cosmos New Music is an ensemble dedicated to contemporary music that incorporates multiple genres and styles to help engage their audiences. They work directly with composers of modern and experimental new music that infuse pop, rock, fusion, folk, jazz and world music into their sound. Formed by five doctoral students at Florida State University, their outreach into the Tallahassee community has become big part of their mission.
Cosmos New Music’s flutist, Ayça Ҫetin, is also the ensemble’s Director of Communications. We asked her a five questions about the group and their upcoming performance of international folk tales for children on March 5-8 at the Thomasville Center for the Arts.
How did the group originally form, and why did you decide to perform the type of repertoire that you do?
The beginning of Cosmos New Music can be traced back to the flute/clarinet ensemble, Duo Esplanade. The duo was formed in 2014, while the Japanese clarinetist Katsuya Yuasa and I were pursuing graduate degrees at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. We focused on commissioning new works, exposing underrepresented pieces, arranging existing chamber music, and collaborating with other musicians to add variety to our programs. We traveled extensively, making appearances at Carnegie Hall, Istanbul Fulya Sanat Hall in Turkey, National Flute Association, International Clarinet Association, Florida Flute Association, Clarinet Colloquium, Boston Public Library, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Newton Free Library, several universities in the US and Europe, and the radio channels including WGBH and WFSQ.
Katsuya and I eventually moved to Tallahassee, Florida to pursue our doctoral degrees. We met three wonderful and international musicians while attending Florida State University: the cellist Aleksandra Pereverzeva (Russia), violinist Pedro Maia (Brazil) and pianist Thaya Kongpakpaisarn (Thailand). Each of us collaborated through chamber music and new music projects before we finally decided to have a dinner and talk about starting a group together. There was an instant chemistry between all five of us–we were all culturally very different, yet so similar in sense of humor, adaptability, and passion in music.
The name Cosmos came from all the different cultures and backgrounds the members brought. We decided to integrate our multicultural nature to our repertoire. In today’s busy and noisy world, we decided to search for accessible, intellectual, and genre-combining works. Working on my doctoral dissertation at the time, I discovered two beautiful works by the Turkish-American composer Kamran Ince and Russian composer Lev Zhurbin. Eventually, the members of Cosmos discovered and commissioned several works and arrangements by composers including Kenji Bunch, Michael Torke, Yuko Uebayashi, Roee Ben Sira, David Lipten, Gregory Wanamaker, Matthew Weaver, and many others. These works included sounds from ethnic musical styles of many countries, pop, jazz, and rock. As a result, our concert project Unity Through Diversity was born.
In music, getting started and finding your audience can come with a lot of challenges. What have been some of the obstacles that Cosmos New Music has faced, and how has the group overcome them?
It is very important to have a clear mission and a realistic view of society’s perspective today. It would be unfair to expect a large group of people to take the time to travel, spend time and money, and listen to music they do not understand. Artistic value and meaning are some of the most important things to us as musicians, but there are definitely ways we can recognize the audience’s taste. Knowing what today’s culturally globalized world would enjoy, what can bring people a sense of relief and understanding, should be a matter of consideration for musicians who would like to have a good audience.
Accessibility and diversity have been two of our key words as we created our program concepts and business plan. In addition to performing in a variety of venues, the repertoire choice and the flexibility of our ensemble attracted audiences of any age and background. Our concert programs include tastes of many genres and cultures, almost offering a mini world tour. Besides playing the music, Cosmos also reaches the audience on a personal level, sharing their stories, humor, and cultures in both formal and non-traditional settings.
The concert in March at the Thomasville Center for the Arts sounds like a great educational opportunity for the kids. What inspired the idea for performance, and what do you hope the kids take away from it?
This wonderful idea was suggested by one of the coordinators of Thomasville Center for the Arts who happened to be in the audience as Cosmos performed a concert in Seaside, Florida. Thomasville Center for the Arts presents a monthly series of music theater shows to educate students, specifically grades Pre-K through 9. We were asked to prepare a show similar to a musical, sharing folk tales from our countries. This opportunity motivated our creativity, and we wrote a little play with four folk stories, including some acting and works that include ethnic musical characteristics.
We hope to show young students the joy and beauty of people with different cultures and backgrounds working together. The combination of unique minds makes very strong teamwork and friendships because they complete each other. Also, these shows will be full of humor and stimulate the students’ interests towards classical music. These ideas will promote the importance of diversity and performing arts.
What do you hope Cosmos New Music contributes to new music?
Cosmos New Music strives to popularize contemporary classical music. Bending the barriers between genres, we aim to break the judgments society has towards new music. We hope to inform our audiences about many different musical styles and the experience of hearing live contemporary music. As Cosmos, we encourage people to support performing arts by sharing our personal stories while engaging them through our unique programs.
Another contribution of ours is building a very attractive contemporary chamber music repertoire that appeals to today’s people. It takes a lot of research and creativity to find music in ethnic or popular styles for a large chamber group. We hope that our commissions and selections will be enjoyed and performed by other groups with similar instrumentation.
We want to show the world that chamber music is a great example for everyone to see, where we can sit down together, listen to each other, understand, agree, and make beautiful music. You could even say our ultimate goal in forming this group is not only sharing contemporary ethnic music, but also giving a message that no matter where we come from, music creates a stronger bond with musicians and audiences.
What are some projects that you’re working on that audiences could look forward to?
In addition to recording our debut album, we are planning on doing more educational projects since this effort goes into building a classical music audience for the future. We will also be traveling to many conventions, museums, and universities to perform and present in the next seasons. Our website and social media pages will have our upcoming concert schedule in the near future.