Photo by: The Riker Brothers
We caught up with 16 year-old composer, vocalist, and actor Samuel Siskind who was recently commissioned to compose a reimagined Renaissance classic for the prestigious Golden Bridge Concert in February 2023. Dubbed “the Mozart of Gen Z” by internationally renowned choral conductor Suzi Digby, Samuel made his Los Angeles Opera debut in 2017 as Sem in Britten’s Noye’s Fludde . Handpicked by Madonna, he can be seen featured in her music video for God Control directed by Jonas Åkerlund.
We asked Samuel about balancing composing, acting, and singing, advice for youth interested in pursuing music, and upcoming events and projects.
Check out our conversation below.
How did you get into choral composing?
Samuel Siskind (SS): My father saw a flier on a lamppost outside our favorite sushi restaurant for a non traditional piano school and asked if I was interested. I started group lessons shortly after and improvising was a part of our learning. We would discuss certain keys or chords and then draw a picture and use those keys or chords to sit at the piano and “Play a Story.” The method is called Simply Music by Neil Moore. I was already well into improvising compositions and putting words to my songs when I auditioned for the National Children’s Chorus at 8 years old.
The following year I added several music lessons per week and was performing 3 hour Sundays with my teacher at our local farmer’s market to advertise her piano classes. Much of the material I performed was improvised, along with existing repertoire I had learned. But seeing audiences react to my own material gave me confidence to keep going.
My vocal coach at the choir also worked on piano theory with me and I played her my compositions in progress. When I was 11, she referred me to Dr. Ian Krouse, Professor of Composition at UCLA and I’ve been studying with him ever since. The first piece we worked on to refine and notate became “The Forest,” a choral work which premiered at Carnegie Hall and went on Tour in Asia in 2019 with the National Children’s Chorus. It just seemed natural for me to write for chorus since I enjoyed singing for multiple voices so much. I have also never been comfortable setting other people’s words to music so I write my own lyrics.
Not only do you compose, but you also sing and act. How do you balance these at a young age like yours?
SS: The good thing about practicing multiple disciplines is that when one is hot the other is cool. Of course when everything is coming at you at the same time it can be really stressful. That happened early on when I was younger before we realized how to pace my commitments. I was on stage in a musical, had a role in the LA Opera and was performing with the choir all at the same time.
You recently composed a reimagined Renaissance classic for the 2023 Golden Bridge Concert. Can you tell us about that experience?
SS: The commission was humbling and inspiring for many reasons. Top of mind was the company of composers also commissioned to premier work at the event. Some of the greatest choral composers and music educators in the vocal soundscapes scene today, which some believe is currently experiencing a Golden Age resurgence with California at its center. Secondly, to be asked to reimagine some of the most esteemed Renaissance choral composers was such an utterly joyful endeavor. It was like starting out the work at the top of what is possible, using their works as inspiration and going from there to create something new. Finally, collaborating with a conductor of Suzi Digby’s stature and experiencing her powerful chorus bring my work to life in a gorgeous Beverly Hills Mediterranean church setting was the stuff of dreams.
What advice do you have for youth wanting to pursue music professionally?
SS: First, take every opportunity to play or perform music no matter how small it is. Secondly, try to find the best teachers you can to support you. Lastly, there will definitely be highs and lows like pursuing anything, but if you have a great mentor they will stick with you and teach you how to overcome the discouraging times and help you to create space for your vision.
Can you tell us about upcoming projects/events you have?
SS: I’m still very much enjoying singing in the choir, we just performed on our summer tour in Scotland, Wales and England and it was my 5th and best tour experience yet. We also just wrapped recording in London for the National Children’s Chorus holiday album at Abbey Road Studios where I was honored to record a vocal solo track. The album will be accompanied by the London Philharmonic Symphony and I’m very excited for its release later this year.
I’ve enjoyed focusing on my vocal development as a soloist this Spring preparing for the Summer opera role and am composing my first classical work for solo voice which I hope to perform next year. Next up I will be performing the title role in “The Tinker of Tivoli” directed by Grammy nominated Johnathan McCullough at the Vail Opera Camp in August.
This Fall I will be a Junior in High School and will focus on entering some vocal competitions. I am also looking to record my concert works so they can be available on major platforms like Apple and Spotify. Finally, I hope to have time for acting in the future as well. The independent feature film I worked on, The Uncanny, has been receiving a lot of accolades at film festivals in Europe and the U.S. this year.
Thank you for your interest in interviewing me. I appreciate it and send my best to all young artists pursuing their dreams.