Meet Saad Haddad, 2024-2026 Young American Composer-in-Residence

Photo: Matt Dine

With an impressive list of commissions and accolades to his name, Saad Haddad makes his California Symphony premiere as the 2024-2026 Young American Composer-in-Residence during BRAHMS OBSESSIONS. We talked to Saad to learn more about how he got here, his musical inspirations, and what he’s excited for as our newest resident composer.

Welcome, Saad! Please tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and began my “musical career” wanting to be a composer rather than a performer from the age of 7. At that age, I remember it being a fascinating challenge to try to write a piece of music of my own, the way that Mozart did when he was 5 years old. I’m 31 now. It’s still a challenge–actually it may be harder now than it was then!

My family loves all kinds of music, though they don’t play instruments themselves. When I go back home to Southern California, sometimes I catch my dad playing Classical KUSC on the car radio, so I suppose I have rubbed off on him a little bit.

Right now, I live in a suburban area of New Jersey, just one hour south of Manhattan with my wife and two dogs. So just close enough to catch a concert in New York, but not close enough to be part of the daily hustle and bustle. 

What can people expect from this first composition? Who or what are your biggest influences?

I was very thankful that Donato Cabrera was elated about the idea of creating a very brief “fanfare” style work for this concert. Most of my orchestral pieces are over 10 minutes in length, so I wanted to challenge myself to compose something much shorter that would contain all the ideas that I’m currently interested in pursuing. I also just came off writing a very “serious” work for the LA Phil, and I wanted to counteract that difficult writing process with something more upbeat and fun.

Influences I have right now are the Arab mega-singers like Umm Kulthum and Farid Al-Atrash, contemporary microtonal composers like Georg Friedrich Haas (my dissertation advisor from Columbia University), and Italian composers from the late Renaissance like Nicola Vicentino. 

Do you share any connections with other California Symphony Young American Composers-in-Residence? 

Yes, I’m lucky to personally know Viet Cuong and Katie Balch, the latter who I overlapped with at Columbia University. There are not too many of us 30-something-year-old composers writing orchestral music, so we tend to end up knowing each other! 

Photo: Alessandro Vulcano

You have amassed a following of 5000 on your YouTube channel. What do you mostly post about and why? 

I started this channel in earnest about two years ago simply because I realized there weren’t any videos about composing “classical” music, especially from established composers in the field. I then set out to make videos that I felt the “15 year old version of me” would have thought would be valuable to see as a young composer. Fast forward a couple years, and I’m constantly hearing stories of young composers that got into their dream colleges for composition partly due to my videos. It’s very rewarding to hear about their successes and that’s what drives me to keep going. 

What is it about the California Symphony’s residency that you’re most excited about? 

I’m excited to use this residency as a “playground” for genres I haven’t written before; like this short fanfare, for example. Even though I have, in a way, found a certain kind of “voice” in my writing, it’s important to continue expanding on my compositional toolbox to keep the actual day-to-day writing process engaging. 

Photo: Dennis Christians

Any message to our patrons? 

I feel privileged that you have entrusted me to continue building on all the new repertoire that you have supported in the past 30+ years. That being said, I cannot promise to write music that you may be attracted to on the first listen. But I can guarantee that you will hear this orchestra emit sounds that seek to engage you on a visceral level.

Your support in this endeavor is what keeps classical music a living art form today. 

Experience Saad Haddad’s first premiere as California Symphony’s 2024-2026 Young American Composer-in-Residence at BRAHMS OBESSIONS, Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 5 at 4 p.m. at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets are $45 to $90 and $20 for students 25 and under, and include a free 30-minute pre-concert talk starting one hour before the performance. Buy tickets online or call or visit the Lesher Center Ticket Office at 925.943.7469, Wed – Sun, 12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m. 


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