NEW HAVEN — Describing what makes a person a good composer of music is like describing what makes a person a good writer, according to David Ludwig.
“Some things you can quantify, like how clearly or effectively does he express himself,” he said in an interview last week. “Some you can’t define, like how does one person’s work touch our hearts more than another’s.
“Whatever that gift is, Tim has it.”
“Tim” is 17-year-old New Haven resident Tim Woos. He is the youngest of four young composers, and the only Vermonter, who will have their compositions played by professional musicians before an audience at this week’s Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival. The week-long festival organized by Plattsburgh, N.Y., resident and celebrated violinist Soovin Kim, runs from Monday through Sunday, Aug. 24-30, at the Elley-Long Music Center in Colchester and at the at the Firehouse Gallery on Church Street in Burlington.
Ludwig knows what he is talking about. He is the composer in residence of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and a composition instructor at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
How does Woos feel about the opportunity to have his work played by professional musicians?
“This is huge,” he said. “The best learning experience for a composer is to hear their work played by professional musicians … You hear things you maybe didn’t think you’d like but you like them.”
Although young, Woos’ passion for music has spanned more than half he life. He started taking piano lessons at age 8 and picked up the flute in fifth grade. He is the principle bassoonist for the Vermont Youth Orchestra and will play a piano solo at a VYO performance at the Flynn Center in January.
He started composing music at age 12, when he wrote a piece as a gift to his class upon their graduation from the Bridge School.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way since then,” Woos said.
That is evident.
Woos, who has been homeschooled since he graduated from the North Branch School, has had his compositions played by professional musicians several times, including through the Vermont MIDI Project. An organization of music educators and professionals devoted to promoting music composition by and for students, Vermont MIDI hosts concerts every year to give aspiring composers a chance to hone their skills.
Through Vermont MIDI, Woos met Ludwig and started studying under him. Woos has also studied with Troy Peters, who recently left his posts as conductor of the VSO and the Middlebury College Orchestra.
He’s also got help from his mother, Jody, a piano teacher, and his father, Dennis. Although Tim Woos said his father is not a musician, he has offered important insights into his younger son’s compositions.
“He has really good suggestions for my music,” he said. “That’s been very helpful and informed my composing.”
Woos’ musical tastes are wide-ranging — from Led Zepplin and The Who to the giants of the classical repertoire — and he wouldn’t pigeonhole the music he writes to any particular style.
“I have pieces that are goofy, and darker and more serious one,” he said. “It’s not one thing, I just try to write things that would connect me with people.”
Early this week, Woos will get together with the musicians as they practice his eight-minute-long string quartet. The players will be Soovin Kim on first violin, Jennifer Frautschi on second, Hsin-yun Huang on viol and Edward Arron on cello.
“As the composer I’ll be working with them pretty closely to get the best performance,” Woos said.
Woos says he isn’t intimidated by the high-powered talent.
“You just have to say, ‘This is how I want it to sound, what do you think?’ You have to be polite,” he said. “It’s always fun to work with great musicians.”
Ludwig isn’t worried about how the young composers will handle the veteran musicians. He said they’re all gifted and simply terrific people.
“It’s like coming up to the major leagues,” Ludwig said. “You have to be able to hold your head up or you’re never going to be able to stay with the team.”
Tim Woos’ “String Quartet” will be premiered at the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival in Colchester at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 29. For a complete schedule of events at the festival, go to http://lccmf.org.