The Catholic University of America

Nora Conley

Student Composer to Make Kennedy Center Premiere

 

When it comes to music, CUA senior Matthew Yost had an early start. As a kid growing up in Salt Lake City, he attended the Madeleine Choir School, which specializes in music education and performance.

“That was when I really started to fall in love with music,” Yost said.

Yost sang in the Cathedral Choir and took an early interest in composing. He wrote his first piece, the words of Psalm 6 set to a three-part treble harmony with organ, when he was in sixth grade.

“I had this fantasy that I was going to casually leave a copy on the conductor’s stand and he was going to find it and be blown away,” Yost said. “I asked the organist what he thought of it and he was gentle but frank. That was a very bad piece actually, but everybody has to start somewhere.”

As he got older, Yost remained involved in the Cathedral Choir and took private voice lessons. When he was in eighth grade, he wrote his first symphony.

“That was very ambitious and well above my capacity at the time,” Yost said, laughing. “That got put into a shoe box and hasn’t seen the light of day in quite a few years.”

It is now nearly a decade later and Yost has never stopped composing, but he no longer hides his work.

Last summer, Yost wrote his first piece for a full orchestra and his longest work ever, “Ut Sol, Ut Luna.” After entering the work in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music 50th Anniversary Composition Competition in December, he was named the winner and awarded a $1,000 prize. Yost’s entry was chosen out of a pool of applicants ranging from current students to alumni from the early 1960s. On April 12, he will have the honor of hearing his piece open the music school’s 50th Anniversary Gala Concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“The first reaction was certainly humbling,” Yost said, remembering how he felt when he found out he’d won the competition. “So many great composers have premiered at the Kennedy Center and have had works done there, so I feel like I’m in this incredible company. I’m at a dinner party with Beethoven and it’s an odd place to be, in the best of ways.”

Yost described “Ut Sol, Ut Luna” as a “splashy and exciting” work with three parts. The first section starts out “in a state of turbulence,” the second section is light and playful with an underlying tension, and in the third, everything comes together in a grand and noble melody, he said.

“The heroic theme wins out and the piece is brought to this very satisfying ending,” he said. “I think that fits well with the purpose of the night, celebrating the triumph of bringing something good and noble out of turbulence. That’s what the university is all about, forming order out of chaos.”

Stephen Gorbos, assistant professor of music composition and theory, was on the blind jury that selected the winner.

“Matt’s work is striking in both its vivid orchestration and well-balanced progression of ideas, but also in the clear and precise notation on the page,” he said. “These qualities show a maturity in Matt’s sense of musical craftsmanship, which I think is unique for his age and experience, and is something that the composition faculty at CUA is very proud to have seen develop over his four years as an undergraduate composition major.”

Yost said he chose to study at Catholic University because he wanted a quality musical education with freedom to pursue his other interests. In addition to his work in the Composition Division of the music school, Yost is minoring in economics and pursuing his honors degree on the humanities and philosophy tracks. He studied abroad in Rome during fall 2013 and is bass section leader in CUA’s Chamber Choir.

“I wanted a very intensive musical education and somewhere where I could learn a lot about the craft and really just further my study of the art, but I also wanted somewhere where I could take philosophy courses or humanities courses or economics,” he said. “It was that kind of well-balanced nature of the school that really attracted me because I think those other things inform what I do as a composer. It certainly adds to my music and gives my music more depth.”

Andrew Weaver, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and associate professor and head of musicology, said he was “absolutely delighted” to hear that Yost’s work would open the Kennedy Center concert.

“Matt is a truly remarkable member of the School of Music family and embodies so much of the spirit of the School of Music,” Weaver said. “Not only is he a multi-talented musician — composer, singer, pianist, conductor — and an intellectually gifted student, but he is also a deeply devout Catholic with a strong commitment to service. While I don’t yet know “Ut Sol, Ut Luna,” I have heard other pieces by Matt, and I’ve been especially impressed with his skill at orchestration, creating beautiful colors from novel combinations of instruments.”

As a second semester senior, Yost said he’s looking forward to the Kennedy Center premiere closing out his undergraduate life — his way of “going out with a bang.” He’s also looking forward to his next steps. His ultimate goal, he said, is to open a choir school similar to the one he attended as a child.

“It was such a seminal influence in my early development,” Yost said. “It brings a lot of beauty to the world, which is a great service, so I’d like to do that with my life.”

 

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Matthew Yost

Hometown: Salt Lake City

Major: Music, with a minor in economics

Personal website: mcyost.com

Favorite professor: Andrew Weaver. "He's very well-read and can always point you in the right direction, but he also just genuinely cares about all of his students."

Favorite composers:
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Francisco Guerrero, Cristóbal de Morales, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Francis Poulenc