Kot performing earlier this year, at the Le Duc des Lombards in Paris. Marion Ruszniewski Photo.
An emerging composer wanted to tell the story of musicians in the Covid-19 pandemic. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra wanted to hear what he had to say. So he turned to his keyboard and started writing.
Now, New Haven has a chance to hear it.
That composer is 20-year-old Anton Kot, an Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) grad who will be premiering his composition “Let’s Try This” with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra this Saturday, as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. In the lead up to the concert, Kot said he is excited to be back in the city that taught him how to be a musician.
“Sound has the capacity to make memories that alter your perspective on life,” he said in a recent Zoom interview with the Arts Paper.
From an early age, Kot said, he was very fascinated by sounds around him. During his childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he tried to mimic the sounds of subway stations as trains rumbled by and pedestrians ran to catch the right one. At home, he would drum on the table with chopsticks, listening as the thin sticks hit the hard surface.
His parents started him on his first drum set when he was just three, and piano lessons when he was four. He composed a piano piece titled “Snowstorm” when he was around four or five years old, after watching the composer Philip Glass perform at the nearby venue Roulette.
When Kot was seven or eight, he moved to Milford with his family. It became his doorway to New Haven and to the Neighborhood Music School, where he studied with teaching artists Jesse Hameen II, Rina Kinber and Jeff Fuller. Perhaps because they are all professional musicians themselves, he said that they were very supportive in his journey, and he was able to discuss things “at heart” with them.
He also studied at ECA, as well as a pre-college program at the Manhattan School of Music, and summers at the Litchfield Jazz Camp. When Kot was 16, he was able to play at the International Gamelan Festival in Solo, Indonesia, with older peers from Wesleyan University. “It not only developed my perspective of the world, but arts as a whole,” he said of the experience.
It was also during those years that Kot began to compose seriously, joining the NHSO’s Young Composers Project in the 2018-2020 cohort. Years later, that connection with the organization would lead to the Arts & Ideas main stage.
NMS teacher Hameen praised his former student and said he is very excited to hear Kot’s composition on June 11. Kot was under Hameen’s tutelage for over a decade, and studied genres including Afro-Caribbean, jazz, and rock. As early as middle school, Hameen said, he was composing works. Hameen described Kot as a “serious and mature student, who loves a challenge.”
“I would give him something in the traditional form, and tell him to make it Anton,” he recalled. “Put his own spin on it, and he was always able to.”
Hameen also noted how helpful Kot was as a student. He often helped set up equipment for different concerts going on at NMS, and appeared very community oriented, always willing to mentor fellow students as he grew his own musical footprint. Hameen said he hopes that in the future, Kot will become an instructor, passing the torch to future musicians just as his teachers passed it on to him.
“He always left people with a smile on their face, and had a great sense of humor,” Hameen said.
Kot began composing “Let’s Try This” at the beginning of the pandemic, during his senior year at ECA. By then, he was finishing out a two-year term with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composers Project, which pairs a professional composer with students at the school. Originally, he said, he wanted to demonstrate how artistry has been affected throughout the pandemic. In particular, he wanted to create a sound that reflected the trials musicians faced during the pandemic, as the world shut down around them.
It has gone through many iterations and revisions since that time, in part because Kot has continued to grow as a musician. In fall of 2020, he began his studies at the Steinhardt School at New York University (NYU). At NYU, his teachers have included Lenny White, Alan Broadbent, Ari Hoeing, Dezron Douglas, Brad Shepick, and Bobby Sanabria.
He never forgot about New Haven, he said—it’s his musical home and launching pad. After New Haven Symphony’s Artistic Director Alasdair Neale heard Kot’s composition “Rise” at the NHSO’s virtual gala in 2021, he commissioned Kot to write a full-length piece for the 2022 festival.
In May of this year, he studied in Paris and played at two jazz clubs, Le Duc des Lombards and Sunset Sunside. While he was abroad in the City of Lights, he had the chance to learn from Laurent Coq, Sébastian Paindestre and Antoine Banville. At the same time, he worked on “Let’s Try This,” getting it ready for its June premiere. This week, he has been deep in rehearsals with the NHSO preparing the piece.
Now as a rising junior at NYU, Kot said he loves being able to branch out and collaborate with other students, and has gotten the opportunity to work with people he wouldn’t have worked with. At NYU, he believes the environment is more like an apprenticeship, than a student-teacher environment. He'll be bringing all of that to his work with the NHSO Saturday.
What excites him most as a solo performer is not knowing where his improvisation will take a piece he is familiar with, he said. When performing with others, the dialogue between fellow musicians and feeding off of what each other does excites him most.
Katie Bonner Russo, the NHSO’s marketing director, said that the symphony is looking forward to Saturday’s show. She described Kot as a “triple-threat, an amazing talent."
Learn more about the International Festival of Arts & Ideas here. This piece comes to the Arts Paper through the fifth annual Youth Arts Journalism Initiative (YAJI), a program of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. Read more about the program here or by checking out the"YAJI" tag.Makeda Murrayis a sophomore and is homeschooled.