Student Composer Project 2019

May 15, 2019

Since its inception in 1990, the Student Composer Project encourages young students to compose choral music and expand their knowledge of choral writing and repertoire. On Monday, May 13, Baltimore Choral Arts held its 28th annual Student Composer Project with winners Zach Gulaboff Davis, Rebecca Nisco, and Adam D. O'Dell. The three composers were first invited to our concert, Captivity to Liberty, on Sunday, May 12. The following Monday night, Guest Clinician Joel Puckett worked with the students in one-on-one masterclass sessions, and Music Director Anthony Blake Clark and Associate Conductor Leo Wanenchak led the Chamber Singers in the reading and recording of their works. New this year, the chorus gifted Rebecca Nisco with the first ever Singers Choice Award. 

Joel Puckett is a composer leaving both audiences and the press buzzing. His music has been described as, “soaringly lyrical” (Minneapolis Star Tribune), “Puccini-esque” (Wall Street Journal), and “containing a density within a clarity, polyphony within the simple and - most importantly - beautiful and seemingly spiritual.” (Audiophile Audition). Parterre Box recently proclaimed, “Puckett should be a household name” and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns mused, “if the name Joel Puckett isn’t etched into your brain, it should be.” In 2011 NPR Music listed him as one of the top 100 composers under 40 in the world.

Hailed as “visionary” (Washington Post) and “an astonishingly original voice” (Philadelphia Inquirer), his music is performed by the leading artists of our day and is consistently recognized by organizations such as the American Composers Forum, BMI, Chorus America, National Public Radio, and the American Bandmasters Association.

Puckett’s music attracts diverse performers and listeners through its emotional energy and commitment. Melding tradition with innovation, his distinctive style grows from his power to create transcendent experiences using charismatic musical language.

The Fix, a grand opera commissioned by Minnesota Opera, premiered in the March 2019 to packed houses, enthusiastic audiences, and largely effusive praise. With a libretto by Academy Award and Tony Award winner, Eric Simonson, the work depicts the rise and fall of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. It is a tragedy ripe with power, romance and redemption, set against the backdrop of America’s favorite pastime. Puckett’s earlier commissions have been premiered and performed worldwide, to exuberant critical acclaim.

His flute concerto, The Shadow of Sirius, premiered in 2010 and has received more than 200 performances and been recorded multiple times, including 2015’s Naxos Surround Sound disc, “Shadow of Sirius,” which received a 2016 Grammy Nomination. Currently the Chair of Music Theory, Ear Training, and Piano Skills at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Puckett presents workshops nationwide and frequently serves as an adjudicator at competitions for rising composers. His music is represented worldwide by Bill Holab Music.


Described as “beautiful, lyrical,” and filled with “unexpected harmonic shifts” (International Trumpet Guild), the music of Zach Gulaboff Davis centers on the core elements of musical narrative: emotion, drama, and beauty. A 2018 American Prize Finalist, Zach’s compositions have been performed throughout the world at Carnegie Hall, Columbia University, Bulgaria’s National Palace of Culture, Norway’s Arctic Cathedral, International Trumpet Guild National Conference, and conservatories throughout the country. Gulaboff Davis’ works have garnered nearly twenty national and international awards since he began compositional studies in 2013. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Oregon, Zach holds a B.A. in piano performance and composition/theory, summa cum laude, from Linfield College, an M.M. in composition from the Mannes College of Music in New York City, and a D.M.A. in composition and M.M. in music theory at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied under Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Kevin Puts. Zach currently serves as the Brevard Institute's Composition Fellow. 

To watch Zach Gulaboff Davis' composition, Nocturne, click here.

Rebecca Nisco (b. 1997) is a senior at The Catholic University of America who will be graduating in May with a Bachelors of Music (with honors) in Composition and a minor in the Culture of Western Civilization. She is also a member of the CUA honors college and Phi Eta Sigma, a national honors society. With a love of history and storytelling, Rebecca seeks to tell stories through her music, whether it is through works for film, concert, or theatre. Rebecca has had her works performed, recorded, and read by the SONAR New Music Ensemble, the CUA Chamber Choir, the CUA Symphony Orchestra, and recently performed her senior recital with over forty musicians from CUA. As a film composer, she has scored several short films and thesis films. She also attended the NYU Film Scoring Workshop in the summer of 2018 where she had the opportunity to record with the Prague Orchestra and have masterclasses with film composers Mark Snow and Michael Levine. Rebecca also has a love of theatre and is the composer-in-residence for CUA CenterStage Theatre Company, where she has music directed several shows, composed an underscore for their production of Pink Mist, and most recently had her new musical Our Man Harry, premiered in February of 2019.  Rebecca will be attending the Royal College of Music in London in September of 2019 to pursue her Masters of Music in Composition for Screen. 

To watch Rebecca Nisco's composition, Ave Maria, click here.

Described as “kaleidoscopic,” and praised for its “real power,” “triumphalism,” (Fanfare Magazine) and “depth, beauty, and rich dimension” (The Courier), the multistylistic work of Baltimore-based composer and pianist Adam D. O’Dell (b. 1992) invokes theatre, nature, and human behavior and speech to explore the territory between the profound and the absurd. O’Dell’s music has been performed across the globe by ensembles including the Brno Philharmonic, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, the Oklahoma State University Symphony Orchestra, the Peabody Opera Theatre, Altered Sound Duo, and Third Inversion Reed Trio. He has won awards from ABLAZE Records, Make Music Inc., and the Kennedy Center, among others. O’Dell holds degrees from Bowling Green State University (MM) and Clarke University (BA). He has studied with composers Marilyn Shrude, Mikel Kuehn, Christopher Dietz, and Amy Dunker. He currently serves as a graduate assistant in Music Theory at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, pursuing his DMA in Music Composition as a student of Kevin Puts. O’Dell is a PARMA Recordings Artist, his music can be heard on the Navona and ABLAZE record labels, and his debut solo album Things we gone and done with Just Duet is now available on CD Baby and all major streaming sites.

To watch an excerpt from Adam D. O'Dell's composition, The Lord Bless You and Keep You, click here. 

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