On October 8, 2022 the New York Philharmonic premiered Etienne Charles’ (BA ’06, Jazz Studies) new composition, San Juan Hill, at the Lincoln Center in New York City. While this was Charles’ first composition written for a full orchestra, he describes this once-in-a-lifetime experience as the “high point of his compositional career.”
San Juan Hill, a 5-movement, multimedia work addresses the history of the neighborhood and the violence often associated with the area of San Juan Hill, which is now the location of the Lincoln Center. The composition features musical elements accompanied by film components and visual imagery that reflect the area that was once the San Juan Hill neighborhood. “This work pays homage to the people who live in San Juan Hill,” said Charles. During the process of composing this work, Charles drew inspiration from conversations with San Juan Hill community members, including a former gang leader. This innovative inspiration for Charles’ work is not a common thread in most music, as he directly addresses the historical implications of the ties between the community and the musical venue where the work was premiered.
During his time at Florida State University’s College of Music, Charles worked closely with Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies, Leon Anderson. “I really value the time I spent here doing independent studies with Leon Anderson,” Charles said. “He was a great director.”
Anderson also has fond memories working with Charles during his time as a student at FSU. “I think of Etienne as being a very curious person who investigated every aspect of the music he was learning,” said Anderson. “Etienne did so well as a student that I took him out on the road with me for performances, and jazz musicians need that type of mentoring from older musicians.”
After such an impressive compositional achievement, Charles is looking forward to continuing his career as a touring musician and performing in holiday shows as the winter months near.
Written by Megan Lausch