What Dr. Krash ‘Wanted to Tell You’

Professorial lecturer and pianist-composer Jessica Krash releases CD of instrumental compositions.

Jessica Krash
Professorial lecturer Jessica Krash released "What I Wanted to Tell You" through Albany Records.
December 09, 2013

By Julyssa Lopez

When the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of Women in the Arts commissioned Jessica Krash to create music based on 14 images of women, the professorial lecturer in the George Washington University Department of Music quickly set to work. She cut out pictures of the artwork and began getting inspired.

There was the tough Mme. Amédée, the mischievous Jane Fortescue Seymour and the traditional Goncharova. Dr. Krash took in the characteristics of all 14 women and composed “Be Seeing You,” a rich-sounding quintet for piano and string quartet. The piece takes listeners on a journey that explores the individual personalities of each character.

“Be Seeing You” is featured on “What I Wanted to Tell You,” Dr. Krash’s new CD released through Albany Records. The album is a four-year labor of love that showcases 70 minutes of Dr. Krash’s intricate compositions. The recording includes several artistic collaborations with musicians like the National Gallery of Art’s Sunrise Quartet, cellist Tanya Anisimova and violinist Ian Swensen.

The Washington Post has praised Dr. Krash’s compositions as “tantalizing” and “engaging.” In 2006, the publication described her solo piano music as one of the most interesting recordings of the year.

Music has always been a major part of Dr. Krash’s life. She started playing the piano when she was just six years old, and she’d practice for five to six hours a day as part of her formal training in high school. Her adolescence was full of competitions and classical piano lessons. While growing up, Dr. Krash always wrote music.

“When I was a kid, no one around me took the writing very seriously—I think because there weren’t many women composers. Nobody encouraged me to take composition lessons, and it didn’t occur to me to ask for them until college,” she said.

Dr. Krash studied music at Harvard College and the Juilliard School before receiving a doctorate in composition from the University of Maryland. She explained that her piano teacher Patricia Zander—a mentor of Yo-Yo Ma’s—influenced her work, but she might have benefitted from having more women composers as role models. Today, Dr. Krash said women’s issues inform much of her music.

“I don’t think that all female composers write women’s music, but I think that a lot of my issues are women’s issues,” Dr. Krash said. “My music is personal—it tends to be about people interacting and the contrasts between people and between attitudes.”

One song from “What I Wanted to Tell You” had been on Dr. Krash’s mind for years. She’d always wanted to write about her grandfather, a Lithuanian immigrant who settled in Cheyenne, Wyo. He’d planned to come to the U.S. with his twin sister in the 1920s, but she was denied by American immigration and stayed in Europe. She was eventually killed by Nazis during the Holocaust.

Dr. Krash, whose son and daughter are twins, had always been moved by the story and began putting together “Cheyenne Rabbi 1940s.” She purposefully kept the piece from sounding too heavy to represent her grandfather gradually realizing his sister was gone. The music becomes still in the middle, picking up with a violin tune.

“I was trying to capture these two worlds—Jewish-Lithuania and Wyoming—and explore what their lives must have been like in these two places, and what it was like to immigrate. I wanted to explore how they combined these two cultures,” Dr. Krash explained. “As people have heard the song, they’re very interested in my grandfather’s sister. I’ve realized the piece is more about her than it is about him.”

Her experience as a faculty member at GW has influenced her, too. Dr. Krash said her students often introduce her to music she might not have come across otherwise, which gives her ideas about rhythms, characters and moods. Teaching also allows her to explore music in a new way: She recently played a Mendelssohn piece for a student who described it as “whiny.”

“I’d never thought of it that way, but I could see that point,” Dr. Krash said. “Often, my students are hearing composers I’ve known my whole life for the first time, and I learn a lot from seeing the music through their eyes.”

Although “What I Wanted to Tell You” was just released, Dr. Krash is already finding inspiration for new music. She’s currently collaborating with a poet to create songs for voice and piano, and she’s started work on a choral piece.

“I don’t have plans for the next CD yet, but hopefully I’ll have more music to share sometime soon,” she said.