Michal Massoud is a composer, conductor, and teacher, and has been based in New York City since September 2016. 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 is currently in the finishing stages of his Doctorate at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, studying with Hans Thomalla and Jay Alan Yim.

Michal began conducting in Montreal, when he was appointed music director of New Earth Voices, an a capella chorus affiliated with McGill University’s Chaplaincy. He subsequently became music director of the Savoy Society before eventually dedicating much of his energy to the performance of new music by his friends and colleagues. Today, Michal organizes frequent performances on the New York scene with Lena Vidulich (violinist/violist), including Role/Play, a concert concept in which composers whose works are featured and conducted by Michal are invited to join their performers in a semi-improvised work composed by the conductor. These concerts allow each participant to play two different roles, and therefore offer the audience members the opportunity to explore different facets of the artists’ musical personalities. Other upcoming projects include a performance of Pierrot Lunaire with the Australian singer Amber Evans in November 2017, as well as a performance of Gérard Grisey’s Talea and other works by French composers in February 2018.

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. His most recent composition, [Variable Title], was premiered on July 8th, 2017, at Scholes Street Studio, conducted by the composer, as part of the concert series Role/Play co-organized with his partner, Lena Vidulich. In this performance, the composers Nina C. Young and Matthew Ricketts, whose works Michal conducted on the concert, joined their performers to play this semi-improvised work, where rhythms and sound types are identified, but leaving dynamics, pitch content, and instrumental techniques entirely up to the performers.