Bio

TLDR version
Michal Massoud is a musician, podcaster, and teacher, currently based in New York City. He splits his musical activities between composing, mostly on paper, although more and more often using Ableton Live; conducting mostly small formations in contemporary music around NYC; and performing on the oud, a Middle Eastern string instrument popular in Michal’s native Lebanon. Michal is a full-time music teacher at an elementary school in East Harlem, as well as teaching online private lessons in composition, theory, and ear training. He is also the host of The Movers and Makers Podcast, a podcast of interviews, conversations, and debates, with people who make things.

 

Medium Version
Michal Massoud is a musician, podcaster, and teacher, currently based in New York City. He splits his musical activities between composing, conducting, and performing on various instruments. Michal has composed for a wide range of instrumentations from orchestras to chamber ensembles. Sample works include Quintette for string quartet and piano, and A Birthday Present for solo singer and chamber orchestra. In recent years, he has turned his focus to writing scores that bridge the gap between fully-composed music and free improvisations. This pushed him to explore different notational approaches, from mostly-notated scores with open individual parts to graphic scores and drawings. This in turn led him and violinist/violist Lena Vidulich to co-found Amalgama, a chamber ensemble dedicated to integrating the two extremes of fully-notated music and free improvisations into a unified practice. As a conductor, Michal frequently collaborates with NY-based composers. Recent conducting projects include the new opera Simulacrum, Philippe Leroux’s Voi(rex), and The Lost Words, a series of premieres of compositions written specifically for Amalgama on the poems of the eponymous book by Robert MacFarlane. As a performer, Michal splits his time between the piano and the oud, an Arab string instrument found throughout the Middle East, including Michal’s native Lebanon. His performances on the instrument range from traditional Arabic music to Fusion, as well as commissioning new compositions written specifically for the instrument. Michal is also a full-time teacher at Harbor Charter School of Science and Arts, an elementary school in East Harlem, as well as teaching online private lessons in composition, theory, and ear training. Lastly, Michal is the host of The Movers and Makers Podcast, a podcast of interviews, conversations, and debates with people who make things.

 

Longer version
Michal Massoud is a musician, podcaster, and teacher, based in New York City. He has studied composition at McGill University with Chris Paul Harman, Jean Lesage, and Brian Cherney; at Boston University with Joshua Fineberg and Richard Cornell; and recently completed his Doctorate at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, studying with Hans Thomalla and Jay Alan Yim.
Michal is the conductor and co-founder of Amalgama, an ensemble dedicated to bridging the gap between free improvisation and the performance of fully-notated music. Currently in its second season, Amalgama is currently in the process of premiering ten new works based on The Lost Words, a book of poems and illustrations by Robert MacFarlane. Michal is also frequently found freelancing as a conductor on the New York new music scene. Recent performances include Tania León’s Toque at the Concert on the Slope festival, Simulacrum, an opera for orchestra, choir, and soloists, presented by Path New Music Theatre, and a performance of Philippe Leroux’s Voi[REX] alongside soprano Amber Evans at the Manhattan School of Music. Michal also serves as the choral conductor of Reaching for the Arts, a non-profit dedicated to bringing music to schools in New York City.
Michal’s compositions encompass several distinct categories. In recent years, he has been exploring the concept of expression in music, particularly the distinction between expression and rhetoric. In A Birthday Present (2013), which he composed for mezzo-soprano Elisa Sutherland, Michal used Sylvia Plath’s poem as the backbone of the entire work, and the strongly affective temperament that resulted pushed him to investigate ways to write music that walks the fine line between the two related, but different concepts.
Kan Ya Ma Kan (2014), for wind symphony orchestra, is another example of this investigation, although it also introduces a new element in Michal’s output: his fraught and mostly sub-conscious relationship with the music of his native Lebanon. Having been educated mostly in a French cultural context, Michal’s sense of identity, or more precisely his crisis of identity – both musical and otherwise – can frequently be found at the core of his work. Further explorations of the schism he describes in himself between his Lebanese origins and his firmly French cultural make-up have led him to compose Like You Mean It written for ICE – and Quintette – written for Fontainebleau Summer Festival (winner of the first prize in composition).
In recent projects, Michal has turned his attention to what he describes as an aesthetic of fluidity. This can be found, for example, in notational devices (where gestures are notated in short-hand and with frequent use of verbal descriptions), but also in the incorporation of varying degrees of improvisation. Sections generally feature a balance between notated and improvised passages, allowing for the composer to retain control of important structural and formal aspects of the music, while allowing for the surface to change greatly. In Glib (2016), for sextet, the short-hand passages are introduced within a rigidly notated texture where tempered instruments (piano and vibraphone) are set against instruments with more microtonal flexibility (double bass, violin, flute, and bass clarinet). In Incidence (2016), Michal composes music almost exclusively in short-hand, for two unspecified instruments, relying on technical devices such as canons, imitation, and pulsation to establish a foundation for a piece that has sounded extremely varied in its different performances, while retaining a strong sense of identity.
In She Said (2017), composed for the 24-hour Composers Challenge organized by Tamika Gorski at the Manhattan School of Music, Michal set a poem by Lauren Christiansen using semi-controlled musical notation, where rhythms, dynamics, and contours were provided, but leaving harmony and pitch entirely up to the performers. The success of the work, scored for Bass Flute, Bass Clarinet, Tam-Tam, and Mezzo Soprano, and premiered at the conclusion of the 24 hours, conducted by the composer, inspired him to pursue his attempts to introduce elements of improvisation into a more rigid compositional framework.