The sextet chamber ensemble, yMusic, performed at The Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall on May 17 at 8 p.m. The contemporary group melds classical training with compositions from some of the biggest names in popular music. Some of their more notable collaborators include indie giants Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent and Dirty Projectors. MUSE had a chance to speak with trumpet player and co-founder of yMusic, C.J. Camerieri, about the group.
Tell us a little bit about how yMusic started.
Well, five or six of us were students at Juilliard together getting classical degrees. Rob, the non-Juilliard member, and I were playing with a lot of bands. So we graduated school and sort of lost track with each other. At a certain point — about four years after we had graduated — we all started running into each other at the indie rock gigs and it was a cool moment of reconnection through this alternative music (which was not a part of our schooling). It was kind of a surprising development; we were some of the first people getting involved with this kind of music from a conservatory background in a specific chamber music sort of way.
Where did the name yMusic come from?
It was very hard to come up with a name but one thing we all had in common was a shared birth year which was 1982. That sort of symbolized the “Y” generation. We wanted to try to encapsulate what our generation is doing musically, especially with people coming out of conservatories and not doing orchestras. Instead we looked to alternative markets to put our musicianship in different contexts and venues and, ultimately, different types of music.
Several indie artists are composing songs for yMusic. Are there original compositions as well?
Thus far we have only been commissioning pieces. We have done some arranging; Rob Moose, our violinist and guitarist, does a lot of that. We have done arranging from our community of composers and songwriters that we normally work with. We’ll be playing a couple of arrangements of Sufjan Stevens’ “Enjoy Your Rabbits” which is sort of electronic music that Rob had adapted, but it is mostly all submissions by our peer composers. We wanted to use the group as a platform to highlight people who were doing interesting things in songwriting and living in this sort of shared aesthetic.
Do you think this affects your sound?
Absolutely. I think our records are more compilations of shared influences. We are sort of the common thread between a Nico Muhly and Sufjan Stevens or an Andrew Norman and a Marcos Balter. We, in some ways, are what they have in common since they work with us as composers and songwriters and we work with them in their bands, and that’s fun.
You just came out with an EP. Is there a new album in the works?
So our last album was in 2012. Our record is being mastered as we speak. We’re hoping to have it out in the fall and we’ll be playing a number of pieces from that new record at the concert. We think the title is going to be “Balance Problems.” “Balance Problems” is also the name of a piece that Nico Muhly wrote for us that we’ll also be playing. The name is sort of a snide joke at the fact that there is a trumpet in the group and that poses a compositional challenge for most of these composers and songwriters.
What do you think separates yMusic from other chamber ensembles?
Well first and foremost, our instrumentation. What I think is also significant about us is that as a group we make our living playing popular music. Rob and I played with Bon Iver and we’ve all played with Sufjan Stevens, The National and St. Vincent. We all work in the popular music field and we bring that aesthetic to classical music and we also bring a classical chamber aesthetic to our work in popular music which, I think, has been advantageous.
Where do you see yMusic in the future?
yMusic is a part of what all of us do. It’s never going to be the only thing we do and I think that’s what makes it compelling. What is unique about yMusic is the collection of shared experiences so it’ll never be the only thing all of us do but it will always be one of the things we look forward to every year. It’s our passion project and we’re lucky to get to do that.
COLEMAN PERKINS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Anna de Benedictis.