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Composer Amanda Harberg

A Lifelong Love of Making Music

Amanda Harberg will never forget the moment she knew she wanted to become a composer:

“I was five years old, with my parents listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony at an outdoor concert in Philadelphia, and I just felt transported by the music. It was a very powerful experience,” she says. And from that day on, there was no looking back. Now an accomplished composer and concert-level pianist, Harberg’s music has been presented at such esteemed institutions as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. She has recently been named the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra’s first Composer-in-Residence. “I want people to love playing my work,” she says. “And I love the relationships we build as musicians in the process. I find that very satisfying.”

Harberg grew up in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill surrounded by music. “Although my parents weren’t musicians, it was always a strong presence in my life,” she says. They got a piano when she was seven, and she calls it one of the most exciting days of her early life. As an undergraduate student at Juilliard, Harberg studied composition and minored in piano. Finding female composers to emulate was a struggle, she says. “I found an encyclopedia on women composers, and that was it. I never had a woman composition teacher at Juilliard and often wondered why.” Harberg later earned her master’s degree at Juilliard and her Ph.D. at Rutgers University, where she is now their first female composition instructor. After freelancing as a composer and pianist in New York City, she now lives in Glen Ridge with her husband Micah Fink, a documentary producer, and their two children, Lucas and Sydney. Lucas is an undergraduate student at Cornell University, and Sydney, a high school junior, plays the bassoon and is a serious music student.

IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATING AND COMMUNITY

While her composing process is primarily solitary, Harberg finds it rewarding working with fellow musicians and playing through pieces together. “I welcome that collaborative side,” she says. “It’s extremely important, especially in the cultural environment we’re in today, to create our own opportunities to build musical communities.” For example, in the summer of 2020, after performances were canceled due to COVID, she organized the virtual performance of her work Prayer for Flute Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, which included 95 flutists playing remotely from around the world. “This model of community-engaged co-creation of new music engages the international community and creates a sense of energy that motivates me to create new work,” she says.

INTERLOCHEN ARTS CAMP

Harberg is on the composition faculty at the Interlochen Arts Camp in northwest Michigan, where students gather each summer to learn, practice and perform. “This summer camp has young people performing in orchestras, wind ensembles, and chamber music, all with enormous talent, vitality, and inspiration that just permeates throughout this very beautiful setting,” she says. She also spends time collaborating with colleagues while there and throughout the year.

MUSICAL PROJECTS

As Composer-in-Residence at the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, Harberg’s role is to help demystify the function of the composer for both the audience and the musicians by interacting with the audience, attending rehearsals, and trying to be a positive presence for young people, including young women. “It’s all about creating opportunities for everyone to learn,” she says. Her upcoming work for the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra includes a piece inspired by the heroic life of Ridgewood native Varian Fry, the American journalist who helped anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees escape Vichy France in the early 1940s. “This piece is meaningful because 1940 coincidentally was also the year of the Ridgewood Symphony’s first concert,” she says.

Other projects in the works include a sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon for the U.S. Army Band’ Pershing’s Own’ Woodwind Quintet, one of the Army’s premier chamber ensembles. “I know the players, and they’re wonderful; I’m very excited about this project,” she says.

Harberg is also involved with Keys 2 Success, an organization that brings no-cost music education to young students in underserved areas of Newark, as an artistic advisor.  

“There are so many different areas where you can discover musical communities,” she says. “And I see that many of them are thriving. It’s about creating relationships with other musicians and helping us find each other.”

“It’s extremely important, especially in the cultural environment we’re in today, to create our own opportunities to build musical communities.”

  • Interlochen Arts Camp Post Performance
  • Amanda Harberg
  • Composer Harberg with Rutgers Composition Students
  • Interlochen High School Music Composition Class
  • Composer Amanda Harberg with the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra
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