Interview with 2022 Young Composers Project Winner: Jonan “JUNE” Ulloa Neilson

Interview with 2022 Young Composers Project Winner: Jonan “JUNE” Ulloa Neilson

By Micha Poworoznik

Having your piece performed by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra would be an exciting opportunity for any young composer. This is exactly what this year’s Young Composers Project winner Jonan “JUNE” Ulloa Neilson will get to experience next month.

The Young Composers Project is a program that is open to high school students in the greater Edmonton area and provides mentorship by a professional composer, in addition to having their composition featured in an ESO concert. “Working with the ESO is quite a surreal experience,” says JUNE. “Having been to many of their concerts in the past, it’s very exciting to be working personally with the musicians. Being mentored by Dr. Gilliland has also been a wonderful experience and he has really taught me a lot when it comes to writing for orchestra. I can’t wait to listen to their performance.”

JUNE has been involved with music for quite some time. On their ninth birthday, they received a digital keyboard and began taking lessons. Since then, they have explored various genres and styles of music, as well as several different instruments. JUNE recently graduated from the Victoria School of Arts and plans on pursuing jazz performance and composition. Currently, they perform with the Littlebirds big band and their own fusion group Pure Octane.

“Writing for orchestra presents some very unique challenges to the composer,” JUNE says. “Principally, the sheer number and variety of instruments is almost overwhelming. There are very few limits to what can be done, meaning you have total freedom creatively, but it’s up to you to choose all the parameters of the piece. Being my first time writing for this kind of ensemble, I had to learn to focus my ideas and be very deliberate with what I wanted. It’s impossible to fit all my ideas into one composition so I needed to compromise and only use what I thought was my best material.”

JUNE describes their piece, Danse Vivante, as “fusion.” “It’s a deliberate combination of my jazz and classical influences. On one hand, it’s sporadic and rhythmic, with melodies jumping between the sections – much how a Duke Ellington big band piece would. On the other, it has the picturesque and emotional nature of a Debussy work, with instruments telling a story through their timbre,” says JUNE. “While I wanted to reach out of my comfort zone and write in a more traditional style, I also tried to let my own contemporary voice speak through the piece.”

Hear the world premiere of Danse Vivante on Sunday, September 4, performed by your ESO during this year’s Symphony Under the Sky in Hawrelak Park.