Ellen Reid is a composer and sound artist whose work “brims with canny invention” (L.A. Weekly). Reid’s work is largely collaborative and takes the form of opera, chamber music, immersive interactive media, and scores for film and theater. Reid’s work has been hailed as “ineffably moving” by Mark Swed of the L.A. Times, “radiant” by Alex Ross of The New Yorker, and it’s been said that her vocal writing would “make you believe that the mythical sirens really existed” (KCRW). Her recent and upcoming projects include Prism with Beth Morrison Projects, Roxie Perkins, and James Darrah to be premiered by LA Opera in November, a new commission for the LA Philharmonic’s 2018/19 centenary season, the premiere of Petrichor with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Hopscotch with The Industry (dir. Yuval Sharon), music for Death of a Salesman at BAM, a solo cello piece for Johannes Moser, and music for Buster’s Mal Heart (starring Rami Malek) with filmmaker Sarah Adina Smith that premiered at Toronto Film Festival. In 2016 she and fellow composer Missy Mazzoli co-founded Luna Composition Lab, a mentorship program directed at young self-identified female and gender non-conforming composers, in partnership with the Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music program. Ellen received her BFA from Columbia University and her MA from California Institute of the Arts. She splits her time between her two favorite cities—Los Angeles and New York.
ELLEN REID ON dreams of the new world:
Through my compositional work, I’m interested in expanding the American musical canon to reflect the dynamism of this country. My work is driven by themes of gender, belief systems, and the American South, and it aims to engage listeners through genre-defying composition and storytelling.
dreams of the new world is an interview-based choral work that inhabits vibrant moments in American history when the American Dream felt tangible, achievable, and perhaps being in the process of becoming. The composition evokes the era, location, and ethos – as well as nods towards the popular music – of the historical moment featured in each movement. In the two-plus years of developing the piece, the political climate shifted dramatically. Our piece went from feeling poetic and urgent, and it became more personal than I ever intended.
dreams of the new world centers around three cities who see themselves as part of America’s westward frontier: Memphis, Houston, and Los Angeles. I chose these cities because they hold a personal significance to me and they embody aspects of the American dream. Memphis – where my family is from – is rich with stories of fighting for freedom, Houston is rich in stories about striving for prosperity, and Los Angeles is rich in stories about reaching for the frontier. Librettist Sarah LaBrie, lead researcher Sayd Randle and I traveled to Memphis, Houston, and L.A. to interview resident specialists in each city. The people we interviewed deeply informed what this project became. Sarah and Sayd’s generous collaboration allowed is to have open and vulnerable conversations about what we heard in the interviews and how it resonated with us individually. These conversations permeated the work and allowed the piece to blossom into something hopeful, painful, and bold.
Sarah wove the interviews that we collected into a three-movement libretto that both revels in a common history and raises the questions that resonate now as much as ever. The piece always tales on the point of view of the interviewee, but the embodiment of the point of view is kaleidoscopic. My aim in this kaleidoscopic setting is to point to large unanswerable questions, direct the storytelling, or cultivate understanding.
Our project centers around voices of people from the sunbelt, and it feels like an important time to be hearing these varied voices. I’m excited to be exploring stories of people who got to live their dream, people who helped others live their dream, and people whose dream eluded them because of circumstance or prejudice. These are important stories.