USC Composers — happenings in the USC Music Composition department

Current Grad Students

Daniel Allas

Daniel Allas makes and performs instrumental and electronic music. His recent work researches performative interpretation, the physicality of sound, and the poetics of musical and extra-musical signifiers. Daniel’s most important collaborations have been with close friends (Ernest Ling, Victoria Cheah, Gleb Kanasevich, and Jeremy Rapaport-Stein), and he has also collaborated with classical music groups including wasteLAnd, the LA Philharmonic, Peter Evans and the International Contemporary Ensemble, wild Up, and the Lydian String Quartet, among others. His music has been performed at the Green Umbrella concert series, Tuesdays at Monk Space, Next on Grand Festival, and the So Percussion Summer Academy. He was born in Boston, MA and now lives in Los Angeles, CA.


Nicolas Lell Benavides

Nicolas Lell Benavides’ (Ben-ah-VEE-des) music has been praised for finding “…a way to sketch complete characters in swift sure lines…” (Anne Midgette, Washington Post) and cooking up a “jaunty score [with] touches of cabaret, musical theater and Latin dance.” (Tim Smith, OPERA NEWS). He has worked with groups such as the The Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Friction Quartet, Elevate Ensemble, and Nomad Session.

He was recently a fellow of the Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab in and the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy. This past summer, Nick was the first ever Young Artist Composer in Residence at Glimmerglass Festival.

Recent premieres include a new work for Friction Quartet based on El Correcaminos (The Roadrunner), a new narrated work called Ocho Bendiciones for Nomad Session, and a new opera scene that was workshopped and performed by young artists at The Glimmerglass Festival as part of his residency. He recently premiered a new opera for Washington National Opera called Pepito with librettist Marella Martin Koch.

Nick has studied at Santa Clara University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and spends his time between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Nick has a love for journalism and current events, probably thanks to his wife Maggie Beidelman.

Name note: Though in written materials I prefer my full name (Nicolas Lell Benavides), my friends generally call me Nick.
IPA pronunciation: nɪkələs lɛl bɛnɑvidɛs


Nicholas Bentz

Composer-performer Nicholas Bentz seeks to find commonalities across vast swaths of time and space through his fascination with transhistorical objects and intercultural throughlines. His work has responded to subjects as diverse as anthropology, philosophy, astrophysics, cinema, neuroscience, and video games. Nicholas has written for the Charleston Symphony, Occasional Symphony, yMusic, Symphony Number One, and SONAR New Music Ensemble, among others, and has had his music played by the Jacksonville Symphony, USC Symphony, and the Peabody Modern Orchestra. Nicholas is currently a composition teaching artist fellow with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and was a winner of an EarShot New Music Reading through American Composer’s Orchestra, while his most recent orchestra piece, A Cosmos in Stone, Respawning, received the Sadye J. Moss Prize from the University of Southern California. He was also a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards in 2014, and was the Composer in Residence for Symphony Number One’s 2016-17 season. His music has been featured at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, New Music on the Point, and Sounding Now Festival in Singapore.

Nicholas currently attends the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a master’s degree in composition under Ted Hearne as the graduate assistant to the Thornton Edge new music ensemble. He is currently studying violin with Lina Bahn. Nicholas received his bachelor’s degree in composition from the Peabody Institute under Kevin Puts while also completing a bachelor’s and master’s in violin under the tutelage of Herbert Greenberg. His previous composition teachers include Andrew Norman, Yiorgos Vassilandonakis, George Tsontakis, and Felipe Lara, and his previous violin teachers include Yuriy Bekker, Espen Lilleslåtten, and Diana Cohen.


Stephen Cabell

Hailing originally from Owensboro, Kentucky, Stephen Cabell is a Los Angeles-based composer of engaging and arrestingly wrought music that attempts to grab the listener from the very first moments and never let go. Drawing on a rich background of classical and popular music, and inspired by visual art, literature, and other art forms, Stephen has forged a distinctive musical voice through a body of work that spans orchestral, band, chamber, vocal, and film.

He studied with Christopher Rouse at The Juilliard School (M.M.) and with Jennifer Higdon and Richard Danielpour at the Curtis Institute of Music (B.M.). Currently, he is completing his D.M.A. at the University of Southern California, where he studied privately with Andrew Norman and Sean Friar.

Stephen is currently serving as Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Occidental College and is a Lecturer of Aural Skills at Chapman University. Additionaly, he serves dually as composition faculty and program coordinator at the Mostly Modern Festival. He was previously on the faculty of Atlantic Music Festival Composition Program from 2009-2016.


Joshua Edward

Joshua Edward is a composer and conductor based in Los Angeles. His music engages social and spiritual issues while asking audiences to reflect on their lives and values. As a conductor, Edward is passionate about empowering marginalized people groups. In this pursuit, he has developed relationships with the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and the LA Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, both of which provide music to traditionally underserved communities. Frequently invited to perform at conferences around the country and world, Edward has given performances of his works in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and São Paulo, Brazil. Edward is currently pursuing an MM in Composition at the University of Southern California with plans to seek a DMA in Orchestral Conducting upon graduation.


Aidan Gold

Aidan Gold is currently a graduate student at the USC Thornton School of Music pursing a Master of Music in Composition. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Washington in 2019 with a Bachelor of Music in Composition and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. He studied composition with Huck Hodge and Joel Durand, and currently studies with Frank Ticheli. Aidan’s music explores ideas of narrative, musical ‘characters’, and sonic/textural landscapes. He has written for a wide variety of ensembles including orchestra, wind ensemble, string quartet, percussion ensemble, fixed and interactive electronics, and many others. His music has been played by the Seattle Symphony, the UW Wind Ensemble, the Turkmen State Symphony Orchestra, the UW Percussion/Modern Ensembles, the Talea Ensemble, the Inverted Space Ensemble, the Mivos Quartet, and others. Aidan plays percussion and has played extensively with various Seattle community orchestras as well as UW ensembles. He also enjoys conducting and studied it while at UW with Timothy Salzman and Julia Tai. Aidan has conducted his own works with the UW Percussion Ensemble and Modern Ensemble in concert. Additionally, Aidan also likes origami, orienteering, computer science, and hiking.


Hannah Lipton

Hannah Lipton (b. 1992) began her musical studies at 5 years old with lessons in classical piano in her hometown of Croton-on-Hudson, New York.  She eventually developed an interest in composition as a high school student and began composing pieces for solo piano. Hannah went on to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in music at Skidmore College, where she continued to study composition independently and took courses in French, modern dance, ballet, political philosophy and English and played keyboard in a rock band.

After graduating from Skidmore College, she pursued private instruction with composers Justin Dello Joio and Evan Fein. Summer Festivals attended include California Summer Music, Brevard Music Center, HighSCORE Festival, Bowdoin International Music Festival, Mostly Modern Festival and Vienna Summer Music Festival.  In the summer of 2019, Hannah was the winner of the Charles Ives Concert Series call for scores.  She is currently a finalist in the 2019 Flute New Music Consortium Composition competition.

Hannah is earning her master’s degree in composition at The University of Southern California Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles where she studies with Frank Ticheli and Donald Crockett.  In addition to music, Hannah has interests in holistic health, yoga, design and tap dancing. 


Alexander Mansour

Alexander Mansour is a composer, pianist, and cellist from Los Angeles California. 

As a pianist, Alex most recently arranged and played for Arturo Sandoval’s Christmas album, performing with him at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2018. He just returned from the 2019 BANFF International Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music, a program helmed by Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey. He will be playing this year with the Jason Goldman Honors Combo at USC. As a cellist, Alex joined the New York String Orchestra Seminar for their Christmas concerts at Carnegie Hall, and has also appeared on NPR’s “From the Top”. He competed twice as a semifinalist in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. He has studied with Katinka Kleijn (CSO) and Richard Lester (Royal College of Music). 

As a composer, Alex is passionate about writing for both the concert hall and the screen. His chamber music has been performed at the Bowdoin and Atlantic Music Festivals. He studied at the NYU/ASCAP Film Scoring workshop, and most recently scored an AFI Feature Documentary selection, “Hesburgh”, which just finished its theatrical distribution. Alex is very grateful to join the USC Thornton School of Music for a Masters in Composition this fall.


JP Merz

JP Merz is a Los Angeles-based composer whose music investigates accessibility, equity, and empathy. His music has been performed by yMusic, Altius Quartet, Playground Ensemble, Sound of Ceres, and the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, as well as by members of the JACK quartet, Boulder Symphony, and Denver Philharmonic. His work has been featured by and played in Carnegie Hall, New Music Gathering, Madison New Music Festival, the Abrons Arts Center, ACRE gallery, VICE’s Creator’s Project, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, and I Care if You Listen, as well as record stores, cafes, and living rooms. In addition to composing for musicians, he collaborates with dancers, algorithms, electrical engineers, internet researchers, and robots.

He is a recipient of the ASCAP Leonard Bernstein Award (2019) and the American Composers Forum’s Jerome Fund for New Music Grant (2016). JP has worked for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series and as an assistant to composer Daniel Wohl on projects such as the 2018 Netflix documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. Current projects include several performances by boundary-crossing ensemble yMusic in their 2019 season and the premiere of Thermopower, an evening-length, multidisciplinary collaboration with Maya Livio for chamber ensemble, film and narrator with performances in Los Angeles and Colorado.

JP is currently a doctoral student in composition at the University of Southern California, studying with Ted Hearne and Andrew Norman, and is a teaching assistant in music theory and aural skills.


Celka Ojakangas

Celebrated for her music’s charm and wit, Celka Ojakangas (b. 1992) is an award-winning Los Angeles-based composer who is unafraid to compose music that is both accessible and “out of the box.” Her compositions have been performed and commissioned by many artists including USC Thornton’s Wind Ensemble, yMusic, and the Portland State University Opera. Celka is the winner of the 2018-19 American Prize for new music for wind band, the honorable mention recipient of IAWM’s 2018 Alex Shapiro prize, a finalist for the Morton Gould Young Composer’s Award in the years 2016-2019, and a grantee of Opera America’s 2019 Discovery Grants for Female Composers.  Celka is presently pursuing her doctorate at the University of Southern California, studying under Andrew Norman and Ted Hearne. Current and former mentors include Sean Friar, Frank Ticheli, Mara Gibson and Carlyle Sharpe.

Celka is also a violist and teaching assistant of theory and aural skills. Outside of music, Celka loves to draw, make goofy faces and be mom to her pet Lulu, the bare-chested rescue parrot.


Conner Leigh Shaw

Conner Leigh Shaw’s life in the majestic open spaces of Colorado, and his emotional interpretations on both his life and the cataclysmic events occurring in the world shape his writing into a style simultaneously haunting and beautiful.

During the summer of 2019, Shaw’s works were featured at both the SPLICE Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan as well as Opera Elect’s New Opera series in Boise, Idaho. During this same season, he also released his fifth album entitled ExoResonant, which details humanity’s troubled relationship with space.

In March of 2019, Shaw premiered his first opera entitled Home On Blue Mountain, which relays the enormous struggles his ancestors encountered on their settlement in western Colorado during the 1920’s.

In November 2018, Shaw made his national composer-performer debut at the University of Tennessee Martin New Music Festival playing his yearning electronic-sample and electric guitar art song Pain, Trains; Wane. In October of the same year, Shaw was featured as both performer and composer on the University of Northern Colorado’s release UNCOmmon Ensemble at the Tank, which was recorded at the infamous reverb chamber in Rangely, Colorado.

Shaw’s major influences include Charles Ives, George Crumb, and Ted Hearne.


Nina Shekhar

Nina Shekhar’s music explores the intersection of identity, vulnerability, love, and laughter. Her works have been performed by Eighth Blackbird, International Contemporary Ensemble, ETHEL, Music from Copland House, soprano Tony Arnold, Third Angle New Music, The New York Virtuoso Singers, Lyris Quartet, and Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra and have been featured by Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walt Disney Concert Hall (LA Philharmonic’s Noon to Midnight), National Sawdust, National Flute Association, North American Saxophone Alliance, I Care If You Listen, and WNYC/New Sounds and WFMT radio.  Current projects include commissions for the New York Youth Symphony, Helios Chamber Orchestra, saxophonist Timothy McAllister, Ray-Kallay piano duo, and LA’s HEAR NOW Festival, and performances by Eighth Blackbird on their 2019-2020 season.  Nina is a two-time recipient of the ASCAP Morton Gould Award (2015, 2019) and 2018 Leonard Bernstein Award.

Nina is a versatile performing artist, studying flute with Amy Porter, performing as a piano soloist in the Poland International Music Festival, and as a saxophonist in the Detroit International Jazz Festival.

Nina is pursuing graduate studies at University of Southern California, studying with Andrew Norman and Ted Hearne and serving as a teaching assistant. She earned undergraduate degrees in composition and chemical engineering at University of Michigan.  Nina’s previous mentors include Evan Chambers, Bright Sheng, Kristin Kuster, Michael Daugherty, Erik Santos, Gabriela Lena Frank, Derek Bermel, and James Hartway.  She is a native of Detroit, Michigan.


Adam Zolty

Adam Zolty received his Bachelors of Music from the University of British Columbia and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in music composition at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, studying under Ted Hearne and Sean Friar. Adam’s music has been performed by many esteemed Canadian ensembles and performers including: NU:BC Ensemble, Phoenix Chamber Choir, Vancouver Chamber Choir, UBC Symphony, the UBC Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and Heidi Krutzen. Adam’s piece: Three Expressions for Piano Septet, performed by NU:BC Ensemble, received the Serge Garant Award at the 2018 Socan Awards. Recently, Adam was accepted into the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music in Boonville, CA where he wrote: Variations on Angry Themes for master performers Haruka Fujii on percussion and Leo Eguchi on cello. Adam strives to create musical experiences that are in tune with his sensitivity to physical motion, inspiring, creating, and guiding his compositions.