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In the Club with: Mike Compitello

For our twelfth episode we are thrilled to welcome percussionist Mike Compitello and cellist Hannah Collins of New Morse Code. Welcome, Mike!

Tell us about a recent musical experience that you particularly enjoyed.

Over the pandemic, a planned set of performances in New York for an opera Hannah and I were a part of—Susan Kander’s dwb (driving while black)—was cancelled. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we were able to film the magnificent performance of singer Roberta Gumbel, a way of bringing the performance to life much more vibrantly than the shows could have been.

Recently, I watched HOCKET—an awesome piano duo based in LA—perform 50 works they commissioned as part of a project called “What 2020 Sounds Like:”

While I loved all the pieces, I was struck by the vibrancy of their live-streamed performance, and an attention to logistics that I rarely see outside of percussion ensembles. Bravo to a great way of commemorating a truly exceptional year…

Who are some composers or ensembles you’ve been enjoying listening to lately?

These days, I’ve been rekindling my love of listening to and critically engaging with music as a whole more than any specific kind of music.

I’ve been enjoying completing the recorded catalogs of some of my favorite jazz artists (Max Roach, Chick Corea, et al), and getting to know some newer music that lives at the edge of the genre.

I’ve also been using this time to reconnect with some older music: returning to my love of orchestral repertoire by comparing interpretations of some favorite works; and getting closer with new-to-me pieces from the likes of Rameau, Couperin, Jaquet de La Guerre, etc.

Is there a moment or experience that got you interested in contemporary music?

For me, two experiences solidified my interest in contemporary music. The first was developing friendships with composers while in school. Becoming involved in collaborations around shared interests really made contemporary music seem urgent. The second was attending the Bang on a Can Summer Festival. Those weeks were the first time I was really surrounded by people who had the same musical taste as I, who owned the same CDs—this before Spotify and just at the beginning of YouTube—and followed the same ensembles and performers. That sense of community was really formative for me.

What do you think is the role of new music today?

I think new music is more vital and necessary than ever these days! If we call what we’re doing “contemporary music,” its role as being reflective and representative of our time really comes into focus. It’s the job of the arts to engage with our cultures and societies about the most important and urgent issues, and I think that conversation is more necessary now than ever. Even if the music we’re making isn’t necessarily “about” some salient issue, the act of engagement—opening conversations—is really important in keeping our humanity. Plus, there is so much great art out there these days!

Are there any current trends in contemporary music that you’re particularly excited about?

I love that joy and generosity are forming a big part of our world in contemporary music these days. At the same time, I’m excited at the energy in many universities around rethinking what and how we teach contemporary music. I’m looking for more opportunities for teaching and performing music that’s new to me. Finally, it’s been a blast keeping up with what friends and colleagues have been up to through live-streaming. I’m looking forward to staying in touch with the work of more people, even as we return to in-person concerts.

Outside of music, what are some other types of entertainment that you enjoy?

I really like to cook. Over the pandemic, I’ve been enjoying longer-form recipes than I’d typically take on, and expanding my baking work as well. Thankfully, I haven’t been bitten by the sourdough bug, but who knows what the future will hold.

Michael Compitello is a dynamic, “fast rising” (WQXR) percussionist dedicated to commissioning and premiering new works that explore the sonic and expressive possibilities of percussion instruments.

He has developed sustained collaborations with composers such as Thomas Kotcheff, Tonia Ko, Amy Beth Kirsten, and Robert Honstein on new works, in addition to working with Helmut Lachenmann, David Lang, John Luther Adams, Alejandro Viñao, Marc Applebaum, and Martin Bresnick on premieres and performances of new solo and chamber works.

With cellist Hannah Collins as the “remarkably inventive and resourceful” (Gramophone) New Morse Code, Michael has created a singular and personal repertoire through collaboration with some of America’s most esteemed young composers.

Michael is also a member of Percussion Collective, an ensemble dedicated to refined performances of contemporary percussion repertoire, with whom he performed as soloist with the Colorado Symphony, and on concert series across the country. Michael is currently Assistant Professor of Percussion at Arizona State University. He holds degrees from The Yale School of Music and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

Headshot by Matt Dine; New Morse code photo by Tatiana Daubeck

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