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Composer Nokuthula Ngwenyama's "Miasma" for Solo Violin

The world premiere was performed by violinist Bella Hristova, on March 23, 2021 at Indiana Landmarks Center

Nokuthula Ngwenyama recently talked with The Violin Channel about her new work.

The piece was recorded as part of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) Laureates Series.

"Bella Hristova and Covid-19 are my inspiration behind the work," Nokuthula told The Violin Channel. "'Miasma' is a piece of its moment. Bella initially requested a solo violin work incorporating aspects of Bach and Ysaye for a multi-movement suite. While thinking about the interplay between these composers’ divinely brilliant and unbridled musical sensibilities, the world became enshrouded in the pandemic.

"Equally unknown and fearful to all, a global race was on to understand this very natural occurrence. During the early days of Covid-19, a vaccine seemed years away. But, human beings are intelligent. We have the power to learn, adapt and grow throughout our lives. And, if we all thought with intent about the same thing — finding a cure — I knew we could collectively do it.

"Dr. Sahin and Tureci, fittingly through their love and brilliance, pioneered mRNA vaccine technology with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, teaching our own bodies to recognize the spike protein of Covid-19 and defend against it. I hope 'Miasma' can serve as thanks to their efforts and those on our frontlines who continue to support all people affected by this illness.

"I’m grateful to Bella Hristova for asking me and sharing her vision of the piece!  After watching her stunning performance of the first movement ‘Second String Force’ by Joan Tower, I was immediately inspired to write another movement. Many thanks to Young Concert Artists' ‘Keep the Artists Working Fund’ for supporting this work and collaboration.

"It was an experiential process over months. I tried to convey the flourishes of Ysaye while retaining some Bachian elegance in pacing. An opening line descends to deep dread (lowest note possible on the violin), then Covid-19 interrupts the mood.

"While researching, I discovered its first partial sequence as reported in Carl Zimmer’s New York Times article ‘Coronavirus Unveiled’ (10/9/20). The virus folded on itself, was pliable and tenacious, frightening yet fascinating. I then consulted with friend and geneticist Dr. Christopher Biggs, who introduced me to the field of protein music. After listening to the hauntingly beautiful ‘Sounds of HIV’ by Alexandra Pajak, I knew this was not a novel approach. I wrote down the bioRxiv sequences to keep closer track of these patterns and allow faster transcription into the score.

"Much of the early transcription process was done at the Biggs Farm in Verde Valley, AZ. Anything from the code is bracketed in the score, so the performer knows when they’re playing virus and when they’re not. It was especially fun consulting with Bella, sending articles, and discussing its direction at every turn. The work followed our lived experience. I would still be adding variants if Bella had not scheduled its premiere on the March 23, 2021 Duo Recital with Juliette Kang for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis Laureate Series. 'Miasma' ends, like the virus, with a poly-A tail drifting into obscurity.

"I hope it helps us process and understand this experience we have collectively endured."




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