Born to librarian parents in a rural NY State, Hannah Lash began studying music at four, knowing even then that she wanted to be a composer. Educated at home, she devoted most of her time to practicing, learning about, and creating music. Lash’s earliest composition teachers include Augusta Read Thomas and Gregory Mertl.
After obtaining her high school diploma at the age of fifteen, Lash entered the Eastman School of Music as a harp performance major. After only a semester, she dropped out, deciding that majoring in performance was the wrong route for her. She re-applied to Eastman two years later as a composer, was admitted, and finished her undergraduate work in three years, graduating in 2004.
At Eastman, Lash studied with David Liptak, Steven Stucky, and Robert Morris. Her studies with Morris were particularly formative, giving Lash the resources to develop a compositional approach that satisfied her love of formalism and detail. At Eastman, Lash won recognitions for her academic performance and two end-of-year composition prizes: the Bernard and Rose Sernoffsky Prize, and the Bernard Rogers Prize. She was also awarded a reading of an orchestra piece with the Buffalo Philharmonic.
In the fall of 2004, Lash entered Harvard University ‘s PhD program in music. She studied with Bernard Rands, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Magnus Lindberg, and Julian Anderson. As part of Harvard’s graduate music program, Lash’s music was performed by the Arditti Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, Duo X, Ensemble NEM, Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, and others.
During the summer of 2005, Lash was a composition fellow at Tanglewood Music Center, working with Steven Mackey, Bright Sheng, Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas. She had two pieces performed during the course of the summer. After passing her doctoral exams at Harvard in 2006, Lash became a Traveling Scholar in order to enroll in the graduate program at the Cleveland Institute of Music in harp, studying with Yolanda Kondonassis.
The Graduate Performance Certificate took two years to complete, during which time Lash spent eight hours each day in a practice room, using this time not only to hone her harp technique, but also to think about the direction in which she was going compositionally. Although she wrote little during this time, she was awarded a Howard Hanson Commission from the Eastman School of Music, for a piece for harp, cello, and percussion. She also won an orchestral competition at Harvard, earning a performance of an orchestra piece by the Harvard Composers Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky.
At the end of Lash’s time at the Cleveland Institute, she resumed her PhD track at Harvard, returning to teach upper level undergraduate music theory and to complete her degree. During this time, Martin Bresnick was a visiting faculty at Harvard, and Lash took the opportunity to study with him. Her studies with Bresnick were tremendously important to her. She found herself ready to rekindle her compositional focus and to grow into a more mature musical voice. Lash obtained her PhD from Harvard in 2010.
During the summer of 2010 she had an orchestra piece in the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings, having the opportunity to work with George Mannahan and the American Composers Orchestra. Also during that summer, Lash was a composition fellow at Music X in Blonay, Switzerland; also at June in Buffalo; and also at the Aspen Summer Music Festival, working with Christopher Rouse and Steven Stucky.
Following her experience studying with Martin Bresnick, Lash decided to apply to the Yale School of Music’s Artist Diploma program in order to spend two additional years studying with Bresnick. She was accepted, and entered in the fall of 2010.
In the fall of 2010, Lash premiered her chamber opera Blood Rose in NYC, written for the JACK Quartet with singers Kirsten Sollek and Eric Brenner. The piece was given a great deal of press, and earned Lash a feature in the Sunday New York Times.
Lash found her time at Yale a period of tremendous creative growth. In 2011, she was awarded the Naumberg Prize in Composition, a Fromm Foundation Commission, and a Yaddo Artist Colony Fellowship. Her chamber opera Blood Rose was featured on New York City Opera’s VOX. She also signed with Schott Publishing. She was commissioned by Yale’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, for which she wrote her Three Movements for Horn Trio. She was also commissioned by Great Noise Ensemble, for which she wrote her piece for chamber orchestra, Hush.
In 2012, Lash received a commission from the Jupiter String Quartet for a significant new string quartet. The commission was funded jointly by the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, and by Aspen, and the new 20-minute piece titled Total Internal Reflection premiered during the following summer first at GLCMF, and then at Aspen. She was featured in the Harvard Alumni Magazine.
At the end of Lash’s time as a student at Yale, she was asked by the Dean of the School of Music to fill in for two of the composition faculty the following year who would be on leave. She eagerly accepted a position as a Lecturer, commencing this post in the fall of 2012. Lash taught three classes to graduate students in the School of Music.
During this same year, Lash was approached by the Alabama Symphony for a 2013-14 Composer Residency, and also by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to become their 2013-14 Sound Investment Composer. The Los Angeles Philharmonic programmed her piece Hush on their subscription series in the spring of 2013.
In 2013, a position at Yale for an Assistant Professor of Composition became open. Lash applied, and was awarded the position during the spring of 2013, being appointed that fall. Around that time, Lash received a commission from the Guggenheim Works & Process for a piece for the Flux Quartet to be choreographed by Pam Tanowitz and performed at the Guggenheim Museum in 2015.
During the 2013-14 year, Lash divided her time between Alabama, LA, and New Haven. Premieres of her new works for LACO and for Alabama took place in the spring of 2014. That summer, Lash had another premiere: a commission from the Yale Choral Artists for a piece inspired by a motet of Josquin. The piece, titled From the Depths I Cry Out, was premiered as part of the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, with a subsequent performance at Norfolk. Later in the summer of 2014, Lash’s cello and piano piece Friction, Pressure, Impact was programmed as part of Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music.
The summer of 2014 also brought a Chamber Music America Commission for a dramatic piece for the woodwind quintet City of Tomorrow, and also a Copland House Residency Award, to take place during the following summer. Also in the summer of 2015, Lash will be a Senior Composer at the Bennington Chamber Music Festival and Composer Forum of the East, where she will teach and where her music will be featured for a week in August.
What matters most to Lash in her music is sense of architecture and structure married to an equal sense of emotional intensity. She is attracted to sound-worlds of deep sonic pigment and timbral saturation, while manifesting a high degree of musical detail. She often thinks about evoking something in her music that feels familiar—a form, a harmonic structure, a motif or gesture, and making these familiar elements move in ways that are unexpected or that seem alien. Lash’s music is expressive above all, but for Lash, expressivity and discipline must co-exist at all times, even (and sometimes especially) if the result of their mutual presence in the music is jarring.