Striking a Chord

Meet Houston's New Music Ensemble: Loop38

How one group is changing the tune of concert offerings in the Bayou City.

By Sydney Boyd December 26, 2016

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The 'New Music' genre is not frequently played in the Bayou City, but Loop38, a new 17-person chamber music collective of Houston transplants, is changing that. 

Co-founded by pianist Yvonne Chen and conductor Jerry Hou, Loop38 specializes in New Music, a body of recently composed works, often by composers who are still alive.

Routinely, it’s assumed that New Music will be dissonant, confusing and, consequently, inaccessible, but that isn’t necessarily true. It isn’t a bad thing to experience something different. Music reflects the human condition, and that isn’t always a pretty picture.

“We all love Beethoven and Brahms,” says Hou. “But working with contemporary composers, you’re talking to people who are versed in iPhones and Spotify. They know about current events—whether it’s what happened in Syria or the presidential election. Their experiences come through in the music, and it connects us.”

In Loop38's debut concert this December, the group presented five works composed in the last 24 years, some pushing the boundaries of beauty and others, like Mizzy Mazzoli’s “The Sound of Light” (2008), fully embracing the serenity of it. The rest of its inaugural season promises to continue this trend, with a performance of George Lewis’ “Flux” (2014) in January—a collaboration with SYZYGY, Rice University’s faculty ensemble group—and culminating with Georg Friedrich Haas’ “in vain” (2000) at the Rothko Chapel in May.

Loop38 has been in the works since last May, but Chen and Hou have been percolating the idea for a while. Chen arrived in Houston to study at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music from the Juilliard School and quickly saw the potential in Houston’s music scene. 

“You have so many opportunities here, but it’s always scary to start anything,” says Chen, who is pursuing her doctorate at Rice.

Like Chen, Hou wanted to start a New Music collective for years. After graduating from the Shepherd School with a master’s degree, Hou moved to Europe and studied with lauded composers Pierre Boulez and Péter Eötvös, among others. 

“I jumped into the world of New Music and I found it absolutely exhilarating,” says Hou, who now works as associate conductor for the Shepherd School and received his Doctor of Musical Arts at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. 

Once he returned to Houston, Hou said he spent a lot of time going to concerts, ranging in size, budget, audience and period.

“I found that a lot of the organizations were driven by one artistic director, and I noticed that [organizations] who did this great sort of repertoire would bring people in from Los Angeles or New York,” says Hou. “I wanted something that was more driven by the personality of the members. I knew there were loads of people that could play the music just as well in Houston.” 

Finding the right people for Loop38 turned out to be the easy part. Most of the ensemble is associated with the Shepherd School in one way or another, which harbors enormous talent. Other details—like funding, space and rehearsal time—proved more difficult. For example, just to rent the sheet music for one piece runs around $700 to $1000, not to mention obtaining the performance rights. 

“We’re still trying to figure out who we are and what we’re doing,” says Chen. “We’re all still discovering this music. We wouldn’t put in so much hard work if we didn’t think it was something to experience.”   

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