Away from her day job, Hutchings is traveling new paths in a composing career that has seen her works commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival and members of the Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Symphony, Stuttgart Philharmonic, CCM Philharmonia and Prague Talich Chamber Orchestra. She is working on multiple compositions for small chamber ensembles, which are finding traction with online performances, while embarking on a new concept she has coined “rage music.”
Inspired by #MeToo, female ensembles approached Hutchings about writing music “they can rock out to,” Hutchings says. “There’s a stereotype that female composers will write about flowers and love, and that female ensembles will play it. But they said we just want to rock out. And I said, ‘What if we just got angry together?’ So, I started writing these pieces. They tell me stories about experiences they have had, and I start riffing off of those ideas and coming up with very energetic music.”
In one of her newest compositions, for solo cello, Hutchings explored how women resist sexual aggression and, in the process, launched a new trajectory in her compositional career. During interviews with female survivors of domestic violence, she asked, “What would you want to say to the psychopath in your life? And what, in one sentence, did the psychopath say to you?”
Working at the piano with manuscript paper and pencil, Hutchings notated the syntax of the women’s responses and embedded them in the pitches and rhythms of the music. “So, there’s this wild movement where things are said back and forth,” Hutchings says. “I told them, ‘Even if you don’t read music, I hope I can send you a recording someday so that you know that your statements of resistance against the psychopaths in your life were said somewhere.”
The title of the work, “Psicopata.yellow,” includes Hutchings’s ability to “see” color in sound, a perceptual phenomenon that was confirmed while Hutchings was at CCM. Known as synesthesia – a union of the senses -- it occurs when stimulation of a sensory or cognitive pathway triggers a different sensory or cognitive pathway.
“I didn’t know that synesthesia is a thing,” says Hutchings, who in her previous studies was chided for using a watercolor painting to help describe her ideas for a musical composition. “In Cincinnati, my composition teacher Joel Hoffman, who has synesthesia, tested me on aural skills as part of my entrance exam. He played this tonal cluster on the piano and asked me to identify the intervals. I relaxed and thought about the colors, and I started telling him the intervals. When I made some offhand comment -- ‘It’s kind of this color, it’s purple’ -- he looked at me strangely and said, ‘Do you have synesthesia?’ He explained to me what that was and what that meant, so I found a kindred spirit there, and it didn’t make me feel weird anymore.”
When writing music, Hutchings normally gravitates toward her favorite colors, blue and purple. But for “Psicopata.yellow” (psicopata is Portuguese for psychopath), she infused yellow, which she hears, musically, as “one of the more sickening colors, but with an intense edge to it.”
The work, part of a commission that fell through because of lost funding during the pandemic, is available online for purchase by musicians who wish to play it. In the meantime, Hutchings continues to write and will wait for a day when her new song cycles and other chamber works can be performed. A children’s opera and a mono-drama, an opera with a single singer, are on hold. “Performances or recordings will have to wait, so it’s a time of just writing and writing and writing and seeing what we can do,” Hutchings says. “I’ve had so many requests for new art songs, I could write all day long.”