Student composer adds national honor to résumé

David Rubin

Senior Garth Neustadter recently
earned an extraordinary honor.
He was chosen to receive the 2010
Morton Gould Young Composer
Award, a prize sponsored by the
American Society for Composers,
Authors and Publishers.
The Morton Gould award,
named after the Pulitzer Prizewinning
American composer, is
meant to recognize and reward
young talent in the world of
American concert music.
The ASCAP judges chose 37
winners from a field of 730 submissions.
The winners share in
$45,000 worth of scholarship
awards, receive a copy of Sibelius
music notation software and travel
to New York in May for official
recognition at the ASCAP Concert
Music Awards.
This honor caps off a long
series of accomplishments for
Neustadter during his time here at
Lawrence. In 2007, he earned firstprize
honors in Turner Classic
Movies’ Young Film Composers
Competition. As a result of that
success, TCM commissioned
Neustadter to write the score for a
restoration of “The White Sister,” a
1927 silent film.
But all of this is old news.
What makes Neustadter’s story
particularly fascinating is that,
despite his considerable achievement
in the world of composition,
his undergraduate degree from the
Conservatory will be in violin and
vocal performance.
Since arriving at Lawrence,
Neustadter has achieved high
honors in both of those areas.
He has served as concertmaster
of the Lawrence Symphony
Orchestra, and in 2007, he performed
Paganini’s “Violin Concerto
No. 1″ as a winner of the LSO’s
concerto competition. Neustadter
has starred in several staged opera
productions and opera scenes.
He most recently appeared as the
governor in Leonard Bernstein’s
Neustadter displayed multiple
musical talents from an early age.
Like many string players, he got an
early start on his instrument. He
began Suzuki violin lessons at the
age of four, and started learning
to play the piano around the same
time. A little later, Neustadter
began playing saxophone and singing.
Neustadter credits his jazz
experiences as the catalyst for
his early forays into composition.
His first efforts were for small
jazz combos, and then big bands.
Beginning in the later years of high
school, Neustadter started writing
in a “classical” or “concert” idiom.
Over the past few years,
Neustadter has become particularly
interested in the intersection
between concert and film
music. He cites as influences the
neo-Romantic émigré composers
– many left Europe because of
World War II – who wrote during
Hollywood’s “Golden Age”: Erich
Wolfgang Korngold, Miklós Rózsa
and Max Steiner, among others.
Of the film composers active
today, Neustadter admires people
like Hans Zimmer who bridge
the gap between concert hall and
soundtrack and demonstrate mastery
of multiple idioms. “I appreciate
people like him who have the
chops, [who] know what they’re
doing,” Neustadter said.
For the ASCAP competition,
Neustadter submitted a work for
full orchestra and choir. The piece
– in four movements and lasting
approximately 15 minutes – is a
setting of texts by a 16th century
Spanish mystic poet, St. John of
the Cross.
In this case, the compositional
process took about five months,
and it involved many third-party
contributions. Junior Rodrigo
Ruiz – an aspiring conductor
and a piano performance major
– helped Neustadter with the act
of text setting, giving advice on
Spanish language details. In addition,
members of the LSO and
Concert Choir performed on the
recording that Neustadter submitted
Neustadter cites Professor of
Music and Director of Jazz Studies
Fred Sturm as a particular mentor,
someone he has worked closely
with during his time at Lawrence.
Although Neustadter’s three
diverse areas of interest exert
an extreme demand on his time,
they also complement each other
in unique ways. In orchestra, for
instance, Neustadter finds that his
compositional efforts lead him to
“listen with a much different ear
to different sections.”
One would imagine that
Neustadter’s extensive experience
as a performer allows him to write
with an unusual degree of sympathy
for his subjects. Although he
has yet to write a major work for
violin solo, he has done much writing
in the genre of art song, generally
for baritone, Neustadter’s
own voice type. “I just naturally
gravitated toward that,” said
Like many composers throughout
history, Neustadter prefers to
work at the piano. He sketches
ideas out and then completes
the orchestration later on in the
compositional process. Although
Neustadter sometimes has to work
at the computer for the entirety
of a work’s conception because
of time constraints, he prefers to
work by hand.
“I’m still kind of a pencil and
paper guy,” he said.
Currently, Neustadter has several
ongoing projects. He is putting
together a piece for studio orchestra
to be read and recorded by the
LSO and Jazz Ensemble later this
spring. He is also hard at work
on his second film score commission,
this time for a 90-minute
documentary on John Muir that
will premiere in 2011 on PBS’s
American Masters series.
Next fall, Neustadter will
attend Yale University to pursue
a Master of Music in composition.