By: Caroline Smyth

At every coaching, workshop, and masterclass, NCCMI works to develop musicians holistically—to foster a love for their work that will last beyond their final performance review. Quenton Blache, a cellist and former NCCMI student (2017-2019), embodies this mission wholeheartedly. NCCMI commissioned Quenton to compose a brand new piano trio, titled Afloat, which is set to be debuted by the Trè Voce Trio later this semester. The piece runs for eight minutes and four seconds and is written for violin, cello, and piano. As Quenton writes, Afloat is about “keeping one’s head up and ‘above water’ during hardship”. He uses three motifs that evolve rhythmically and harmonically until the end. Their consistency communicates focus and determination despite chaos, a fitting theme of the past several years. 

Afloat features an equal balance between the trio. Each musician has a chance to perform the piece’s showy flourishes and teasing runs reminiscent of water droplets. As Quenton noted, the high level of involvement is partially the result of cellist Tristen Johnson’s casual request that he “make it hard”. This work is the audible evidence of the connections between former and current NCCMI students. Its character has been shaped by those conversations and the community-oriented nature of playing chamber music. 

Afloat isn’t the first work that Quenton has composed in relation to NCCMI—his piece Hunted was performed by his string quartet several years ago at a masterclass with Pulitzer Prize-winning and North Carolina native composer Caroline Shaw. His compositional accomplishments outside of NCCMI shine brightly: he scored the film No Part Too Small (2020), a documentary about the island of Vanuatu, which was screened at the Pasadena Film Festival. He was also commissioned to write a solo cello piece and perform it for The Little Orchestra Society, and is currently working as a composer on the “Resilience Project,” an “art-ivist” performance series that is a part of the inaugural University of Southern California’s Arts and Climate Collective. After graduating from USC’s Thornton School of Music, he plans to attend the university’s year-long graduate program in screen scoring and his newfound dream is to continue to pioneer new works that may eventually become staples in the classical repertoire.

Every year, NCCMI commissions pieces from local artists, and Quenton’s returning to the community through this avenue is nothing short of magical. It’s an honor to have witnessed and shared a small part of the beginning of his career. Make sure to explore his other works at