Written by Lauren Carrane

Mozart began composing at age 5. Beethoven published his first composition at the age of 12. So perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that Roger Zare wrote his first classical work at the age of 14.

Zare, who was born in 1985 in Sarasota, FL, will be one of the featured composers at Civitas’ season opener concert on Oct. 16 at the Merit School of Music. During the concert, Civitas will be performing works by three living composers, the youngest of which is Zare.

Zare began playing piano at age 5 and the violin at age 11. As a freshman in high school, he composed his first piece for his high school orchestra, and from that moment on, Zare says he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“I knew [I was going to be a composer] when I heard my first composition performed. It was such an amazing experience,” Zare said recently during an interview from his home in Evanston, IL. “I knew I could hold the audience in my hand and say, ‘Here is what I have to say.’”

After graduating from high school, Zare studied music at the University of Southern California, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and the University of Michigan. He has received numerous awards for his compositions and has had his music performed by the New York Youth Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Sioux City Symphony, at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, and many others.

Many of Zare’s works are inspired by his love of science and mathematics, including pieces about NASA’s probe to Pluto, aerodynamics, and the Sea of Tranquility on the moon’s surface. All of the pieces, however, are designed to evoke the feeling of these scientific discoveries and mathematical principals, not be overly structured by them.

For example, in Zare’s piece Geometries, which Civitas will be performing on Oct. 16, Zare plays with the idea of creating musical lines that mimic geometrical lines.

“What I wanted to do was take geometric shapes and turn them into musical shapes,” Zare explains.

Zare says the first movement, called Fractals, is designed to evoke a never ending repeating pattern, such as what you see when you look in a kaleidoscope. In the music, he repeats the theme, passing it back and forth between the different instruments. The second movement, called Tangents, traces a single line of music as it starts with one instrument and then is passed off to another instrument, where the line changes.

Geometries was first commissioned in 2010 by the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Ky., and has never been recorded. In fact, Zare says this will only be the sixth or seventh time the piece has ever been performed.

“I love hearing my music played by different people,” Zare says. “I love when it sounds different and [the musicians] really take ownership of it. It shows that there’s still a lot of room for it to grow.”

Zare says his compositions usually begin with just the seed of an idea that is inspired by something that interests him. He then records different melodic lines on the computer, playing them back together to see how they sound in harmony. But even with the help of the computer, especially for annotation and timing, Zare says the creative process is something that is always in flux, and he has to be willing to adapt his plan when the music seems to be going in another direction.

“I always have to keep my imagination open,” he says.


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