17-Year-Old Composer Christopher O’Brien Prepares for the World Premiere of ‘Flames’

Christopher O’Brien practicing at home.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

By LILY TINOCO | Reporter

Palisadian Christopher O’Brien was only 10 years old when he auditioned for the National Children’s Chorus—now he is 17 and preparing for the world premiere of his musical composition “Flames” on Wednesday, December 4, at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

The Highlands resident said he attributes his interest in music to his upbringing and his mother, Karen Murphy O’Brien, who majored in music in college and taught music for years.

Murphy O’Brien told the Palisadian-Post she played Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin on the piano throughout her two pregnancies, and can proudly say her sons both turned out incredibly musically talented.

“My mom is really musical,” O’Brien said. “She has definitely inspired me.”

But it was his piano teacher, Nancy Arnold, who recognized his “perfect pitch” abilities when he was 10 years old and encouraged him to audition for the National Children’s Chorus.

The NCC is a private, nonprofit choral academy for the youth that allows its members to work with renowned conductors, composers and orchestras. It is one of the few youth organizations to perform its concert series in professional music halls—local and abroad—such as Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Vatican and the Great Wall of China.

O’Brien said his favorite trip was this past summer’s NCC tour to Japan and Korea, his fifth international tour with the chorus. He had the opportunity to perform at the Kyoto Concert Hall and explore the city.

“I’m very lucky to be able to perform and with that prestigious of a group,” O’Brien said.

However, these opportunities don’t arise without time, practice and dedication: O’Brien began in the Debut Ensemble, was promoted two years later to the Premier Ensemble and is now a part of the Scholars Ensemble. He has private sessions each Sunday with UCLA’s Dean of Composition Dr. Ian Krouse, where they focus solely on composition and Krouse offers O’Brien constructive feedback.

Composing music is one of O’Brien’s favorite pastimes. For the last four years, he has created electronic music and has recently been exploring and enjoying classical-composing.

This December, O’Brien’s four-part (SATB) choral composition “Flames” will premiere at UCLA’s Royce Hall as a part of the NCC’s 2019-20 season entitled, “Evolución.”

“Flames” is described as a “contemplation of creation, destruction and rebirth,” according to a press release.

The composition is based around a poem O’Brien wrote two years ago about a forest fire, heavily inspired by the fires going in Los Angeles at the time. But O’Brien’s premiere couldn’t be more timely, following the recent fires in the Palisades.

O’Brien said the lyrics also emanated from concerns about climate change, and he hopes his piece can inspire others to incite change for the better.

“The words themselves really inspired the music,” he said to the Post. “The music reflects quite well how the poem progresses.”

O’Brien will be performing alongside the Scholars at his Los Angeles premiere, but will be joining the audience for its second performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall on December 15.

“It’s really cool to be able to sing and hear your own piece,” O’Brien said. “I’m experiencing it in a different way.”

O’Brien shared he is ecstatic for his “Flames” composition to be premiered and has no doubt that he will continue making music in the future. He’s currently working on another piano piece and can’t wait to finish it.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit nationalchildrenschorus.com.

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