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Brevard Music Center Composition Competition 2021 Winner, Trevor Zavac

Trevor Zavac's new work was premiered by conductor Keith Lockhart and the Brevard Music Center Orchestra

The Brevard Music Center Summer Institute and Festival offers programs for instrumentalists, composers, and singers ages 14-29. Under the artistic direction of Keith Lockhart – Conductor of the Boston Pops and formerly Chief Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra in London — the Brevard Music Center welcomes more than 500 students every summer to study with a distinguished faculty of over 80 artists.

Applications for 2023 is open now!

Every year, the institute and festival host a Composition Competition in which the winner will receive a full scholarship to attend Brevard the following summer. Their piece will be then premiered with the Brevard Music Center Orchestra in the "Soloists of Tomorrow" concert.

The 2021 Composition Competition winner was composer and horn player, Trevor Zavac. Below, conductor Keith Lockhart leads the Brevard Music Center Orchestra in a premier performance of Trevor Zavac's Convulsions:



A graduate of Noblesville High School in Noblesville, IN, Zavac has since studied horn with Dr. Gail Lewis, Richard Seraphinoff, and Thomas Jöstlein; and composition with Dr. Michael Schelle, Dr. PQ Phan, and Dr. David Dzubay. He currently attends the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music where he is pursuing both a Bachelor of Music in Horn Performance and a Bachelor of Music in Composition.

Zavac’s music has been performed by multiple chamber groups and large ensembles at the Brevard Music Center, Butler University, and Indiana University; including the Butler University New Music Ensemble, the Brevard Music Center New Music Ensemble, and the Brevard Music Center Orchestra, among others.

The Violin Channel had the chance to talk to Trevor Zavac about the work and his time at Brevard...


What was your inspiration behind the piece?

Well, this is actually somewhat silly. The piece is entitled “Convulsions” only because I thought it is a more serious, gripping title — it is actually inspired by the hiccups. I had them one day and I thought to myself how the act of hiccuping really isn’t all that bad; the thing that makes the hiccups so terrible is that you have no idea when the next one will occur. Immediately, I thought of “The Augurs of Spring” from The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. I know this piece so well, but I almost always place at least one of the accents in the wrong place when I sing along. I thought then it would be fun to write a piece that relies on comprehensible rhythmic and melodic motives that are constantly defying expectations.


What do you hope listeners will take away with them upon hearing it?

A smile. If listeners walk away smiling and perhaps humming one of the motives, then I have succeeded. The piece is a fast, rigid, and jerky ride with tons of unexpected twists and turns. It is true that the surface of the piece is very serious and urgent, especially the title, but that just makes it even more fun, at least for me. After all, it is an orchestral concert piece inspired by the hiccups — it would be alarming for a listener to walk away in tears.


What was your compositional process like while working on this project? 

Staying in line with the programmatic element of the piece (convulsions/hiccups), I knew I wanted to create a piece that explored quick, unexpected juxtapositions between different rhythmic grooves and melodic ideas. The first notes I wrote were the first notes you hear. In a short score (piano only) I developed that five-note idea mostly by transposing and repeating a few notes at a time, then I layered it over a variety of grooves while orchestrating in full score. For the middle section, I created a polyrhythmic texture that could be felt in divisions of 2, 3, or 4. In a 6/8 meter, we hear groupings of 2 (the bass voices), 3 (the clarinet solo), and 4 (duples in the violas, cellos, and cymbal). Once I set up this groove, I intuitively picked a few measures to throw in an interruption or substitute it with alternate grooves in the mallet percussion or woodwinds.


How did it feel hearing the piece performed at Brevard last summer?

It felt amazing! Firstly, it is such an honor when anyone asks to play my music, the fact that an ensemble of this size and prowess was willing is truly very humbling. Secondly, music is one of the only art forms created twice: The composer must first conceive the music, then convey it to the performer who interprets and conveys it to the audience. It changes so much from when the idea is in the composer’s head to when it finally reaches the audience — it is really quite magical to sit back and hear it performed. It was such a privilege to see the Maestro Lockhart and the orchestra take my ideas and make them their own, imbuing the piece with life and energy that turned this little tune that existed only in my head (and some poor MIDI realizations) into a real, living piece of music.


The winner of the 2022 Brevard Composition Competition is Jaylin Vinson, whose work "Scissor-Tailed" will be premiered at the Brevard Music Center on July 30, 2023.

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