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Emerging Black composer in San Francisco creates music fusing classical with rock

Emerging Black composer in San Francisco creates music fusing classical with rock

SAN FRANCISCO – The latest winner of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Emerging Black Composers Project hopes to push barriers on the traditional lines of genres while also paying tribute to the place he proudly calls home.

Jens Ibsen joins a growing number of composers part of the school’s ten-year commitment to increase diversity in classical music.

“Before bed I’ll think about the piece, or I’ll walk around the brainstorm,” Ibsen said last year while speaking to KPIX.

His story is one of many that KPIX is highlighting in February for Black History Month. An example of leaders, changemakers, and activists fighting for justice and equality as well as demonstrating excellence in their community.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, being a composer just means having something to say,” Ibsen said.

A talented tenor, he has been singing for more than 20 years and even performed with the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Born in Ghana, Ibsen is the first member of African descent to join that group. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music launched the Emerging Black Composers Project in 2020. Early career Black composers are selected each year to receive a cash prize, mentorship, and have their work performed by the San Francisco Symphony.

“I know where I come from, I want people to know where I come from,” Ibsen said. that’s part of my work but I also think like the Black experience is very, varied. It’s not just about Black pain, it’s also about Black joy.”

A singer who is always evolving, now as a composer he calls his music genre fluid. Ibsen says he is influenced by mental and rock music. He studied voice and composition in college but didn’t want to see Black creatives like himself put in a box.

Ibsen has already composed two works for the Kennedy Center, including one in 2022 that was part of a project trying to use music to heal the nation from the impact of hate crimes. Another piece he composed for the American Opera Initiative premiered last month at the Center, taking on issues of isolation and loss during the pandemic.

“Anything I can really sink my teeth into vocally, you know, or at least that used to be the answer, I used to be drawn to the big crazy stuff,” he said reflecting on his time as a singer.

Ibsen almost became an automotive engineer and he still works full-time in biotech. But his next piece that he is currently working on for the Project, writing about where he grew up, will let him give into the same approach he had as a tenor.

“When I think about the Bay Area, I think about the land and the relationship I have with it here,” he said. “I think about the nature and the way that it really sustains me as a person.”

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music just received another round of submissions for the Project this month and will announce more winners in the spring. The San Francisco Symphony will perform Ibsen’s piece next season.