America the Beautiful? (for singing pianist or piano and 2 Ebows) is broken music. Written during the June 2020 George Floyd protests, this piece attempts to process the ineffable grief and tenable disillusionment that many collectively experienced during this time. The original melody is shattered, crudely glued back together, and turned into a musical manifestation of heartbreak.
As a composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and educator, Daniel loves paradox and deconstructing and reconstructing things – so that the original intention of an idea, object, text, or sound is temporarily removed, new functions emerge, and ultimately the old and new are realized as a seamless whole. That and messing around with cassette tapes.
As a conductor, Daniel serves as the Program Administrator and Choral Director of Music Academy of the West’s Sing! Program and conductor of the Kadima Conservatory Philharmonic. He has served as Chorus Master for Santa Barbara Symphony, assistant conductor for Opera San Luis Obispo, Interim Director of Choral Activities at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), regular guest conductor of Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra, and conductor for Rubicon Theatre’s musical theater productions. Daniel studied under Gerard Schwarz at Eastern Music Festival as a Conducting Scholar and has conducted numerous premiers of works by microtonal composers at Untwelve’s Xenharmonic Summer Convergence.
As a singing pianist, Daniel frequently premieres and commissions new works, including a new concert-length work for voice, piano, fixed media, and electronics by New Renaissance Artist, Elizabeth A. Baker, which is the first in a series of crowd-funded commissions by Black composers. He is on the piano faculty at Pepperdine University and has won concerto competitions sponsored by Southwestern Youth Music Festival, Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC), and Thousand Oaks Philharmonic. He is a founding member of the Singer Chamber Players and has performed as a panelist for MTAC.
Other singing engagements include performances with Andrea Bocelli, Natalie Cole, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, and David Foster at Nokia Theatre, Capitol Records, and Paramount Pictures. He has sung as a soloist with Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra, Untwelve Players and also serves as the High Holiday Cantor at Temple Ner Ami.
Daniel’s compositions have been performed by violinist Clara Kim, harpist Alison Bjorkodedal, USC Thornton University Chorus, UCSB Chamber Choir, Torrance Civic Chorale, Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale, Temple Ner Ami Choir, and Untwelve Players. Upcoming premieres include music for Brightwork Ensemble, Argus Quartet, Collide-O-Scope Ensemble, Eckerd Concert Choir, and microtonal guitarists Elynor Freyss and John C. L. Jansen. Daniel’s research on Dave Brubeck’s Gates of Justice received grant funding from University of the Pacific, and he lectures for California State University Channel Islands and California Lutheran University.
Daniel graduated cum laude from University of Southern California with an MM in Sacred Music and BM in Piano Performance. He is currently studying at California Institute of the Arts as a Lilian Disney Scholar in the MFA Performer-Composer program.
As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents. They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization. Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor. Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility. In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far. CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward". I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities, whom we felt we could easily move forward.
- Min Kwon