While most American students in fourth grade were learning the history of the state in which they live, Jordan Millar, now a 14-year-old pianist and composer from Brooklyn, was making history by composing her first piece of music. In the years since, The New York Philharmonic has featured Millar’s Boogie Down Uptown; New World Symphony in 2019 debuted her composition, The Abandoned Castle, and Millar continues to rehearse, perform, and compose having given a TED talk and received mention in The New York Times.

And then there is Marina Zurita McKinnon, age 16, an up-and-coming guitarist, pianist, and composer from New York City. McKinnon at age 9 began her career as a composer and today specializes in contributions to collaborative projects with artists such as pianist Conrad Tao and flutist/composer Nathalie Joachim. Her work has been performed by Momenta Quartet and The Curiosity Cabinet and Face the Music.

These two teens and four of their equally impressive peers have been selected for the 2020–2021 season and join the ranks of award-winning young composers in Kaufman Music Center’s Luna Composition Lab. Co-founded in 2016 by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ellen Reid and Grammy nominee Missy Mazzoli, the Luna Lab offers a crucial leg-up to young composers age 12–18 who self-identify as female, nonbinary or gender nonconforming. The six composers during this season are joined by six honorable-mention composers. The commissioned composers will receive recordings and performance opportunities of their new works and be mentored in one-on-one sessions by composers Valerie Coleman, Kristin Kuster, Tamar Muskal, Gity Razaz, Ellen Reid, and Alex Temple. The honorable-mention composers will each receive a private lesson with composers Courtney Bryan, Sarah Hennies, Jennifer Higdon, Yaz Lancaster, and Nebal Maysaud.

Two virtual Luna Lab performances on the Winter/Spring 2021 calendar present the program’s newest works in partnership with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: Luna Meets Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, eight world premieres by 2019–2020 Fellows and Luna Lab participants (Feb. 11); and Solar Flare: Luna Composition Lab, featuring new works by this year’s cohort of composers and performed by young musicians from the Kaufman Music Center (Apr. 27). [Editor’s note: The Feb. 11 program with LACO is still available to watch here.]

Notably, despite the limitations presented by the pandemic, Luna Lab has been able to expand its platform and programs. Where in the past there were five fellows, now there are six. With the support of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the Toulmin Luna Composition Lab Fellowship and Toulmin Alumni Fund were established and inaugurated with the first award this year granted to McKinnon. The fellowship provides funds aimed at reducing the financial barriers preventing young composers from receiving professional and artists growth opportunities.

The Lab’s mission to infuse the classical-music canon with the works of new and promising voices and address a persistent gender imbalance in music commissioning has also expanded. To support the broadest community drawn from the demographic identified as core to the program, a Creative Council of prominent artists has been created and invited to serve as advisors. Kaufman Music Center Executive Director Kate Sheeran says in a press announcement, “Luna Composition Lab is helping to level the playing field by providing mentorship, role models, and access to innovative music programs to aspiring young composers from across the United States.”

As with most classical-music educational centers and academies, independent organizations and professional or semi-professional companies, Luna Lab has during the pandemic offered additional online programs in an attempt to reverse the isolation of composers sheltering in place. With limited or no performance opportunities for new works to be presented, the Lab directors are meeting Covid’s compounding challenges with masterclasses, live-streamed concerts throughout the year, and social and networking events to connect the young composers.

The Lab and the composers it supports have received attention from The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR, Forbes, and The Washington Post, among others. To learn more about this year’s Luna Lab Fellows, visit https://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/luna-lab/program-overview/

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