Nina C. Young: A classical girl in a digital world

Amjad Ali Khan

Age: 28

Hometown: Born in Nyack, N.Y., now based in New York City


Think of: A John-Cage-like boldness in experimentation. Young, who held a fellowship residency at the Tanglewood Music Center this summer, creates complex instrumental and electronic soundscapes.

What caught our eye: Young won the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Underwood New Music Readings for her piece “Remnants,” which earned her a commission to compose an original cellphone ringtone.

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Light-bulb moment: “The music bug bit me as a teenager, but it wasn’t until I attended Bowdoin [International] Music Festival in Maine as a violinist that I realized that it could be a career. It was the first time I had the opportunity to meet many college and graduate students and some very established composers who inspired me to pursue music.”

Biggest thrill: “The creation is really hands on, it can be kind of scary, but when everything comes to fruition it’s a beautiful thing to see. The process is the most important and satisfying aspect for me. But then, a piece is nothing without the performance. To watch a performer bring to life a piece that I’ve created is always magical.”

Biggest surprise: “Preparing for a career in this field is a gamble. I started out thinking ‘Either this is going to work or it’s not; if not, then I’ll get a real job.’ ” Fortunately for Young, her risks are reaping many rewards. “[The audience] can be surprisingly open-minded. They might not think they’re open to new things, but get them in a concert hall and they seem to connect with the drama of the music.”


Inspired by: “In NYC, I had a hard time finding a quiet place to work. So, I began exploring silences and repetition in my music. I also find poetic inspiration in Russian folklore, so I try to integrate an element of magical realism into my pieces.”

Aspires to: “I hope to continue developing my artistic voice, writing music for different musicians and ensembles, and getting closer to creating music that provokes emotional and intellectual curiosity.”

For good luck: “I’m not superstitious at all, but when I get stuck or overwhelmed, I go to the kitchen and prepare a really elaborate meal. The act of composing the meal is very therapeutic — eating it, too.”

What people should know: Young has degrees in music and ocean engineering from MIT. “It’s funny when people think that engineering is so different from composing, but in classes on acoustics I learned the same techniques that I apply to electronic music. The medium instead of air was water.”

Coming soon: Young is working on a percussion sextet for Montreal-based Sixtrum ensemble that will premiere on Dec. 7 and a new work for 13 musicians and electronics that will be premiered on April 12 in NYC by Ensemble Either/Or as part of the Columbia Composers concert series.


Steph Hiltz can be reached at

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the name of the Bowdoin International Music Festival was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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