Khemia Ensemble

Phillip Sink composer
Stefan Freund composer
Nicolas Lell Benavides composer
David Biedenbender composer
Nina Shekhar composer

Release Date: December 9, 2022
Catalog #: RR8081
Format: Digital
21st Century
Vocal Music

INTERSECTIONS from the dynamic chamber group Khemia Ensemble invites listeners to meditate on the confluence of beginnings, endings, and the hope and grief that can accompany those events. With intersections of acoustic chamber music, electronics, and multi-genre influences, the album features a stinging commentary on microagressions (Sink’s Bite!), a tumultuous mother/daughter relationship (Freund’s Song of Persephone), a tender lullaby dedicated to his newborn son, rooted in a family ritual of planting a cottonwood tree (Benavides’ Little Cloud), an exploration of memory inspired by Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms (Biedenbender’s in a field of stars), and an assertion of identity through Bollywood melodies and American pop sensibilities (Shekhar’s Don’t Beat a Word). By showcasing commissioned music by five living composers, Khemia Ensemble demonstrates their commitment to reflecting broader perspectives in contemporary classical chamber music.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Bite! Phillip Sink Khemia Ensemble 8:19
02 Songs of Persephone: I. Earth Stefan Freund Khemia Ensemble 6:05
03 Songs of Persephone: II. Gone Stefan Freund Khemia Ensemble 5:59
04 Songs of Persephone: III. Flowers Stefan Freund Khemia Ensemble 8:40
05 Little Cloud Nicolas Lell Benavides Khemia Ensemble 9:38
06 in a field of stars: Box with a door David Biedenbender Khemia Ensemble 1:42
07 in a field of stars: this world of rooms David Biedenbender Khemia Ensemble 5:17
08 in a field of stars: of endless selves David Biedenbender Khemia Ensemble 2:11
09 in a field of stars: cave of ice David Biedenbender Khemia Ensemble 1:24
10 in a field of stars: ever-swallowing dark David Biedenbender Khemia Ensemble 2:25
11 in a field of stars: fire inside winter David Biedenbender Khemia Ensemble 3:25
12 in a field of stars: pillars of light David Biedenbender Khemia Ensemble 4:39
13 Don’t Beat a Word Nina Shekhar Khemia Ensemble 6:24

Songs of Persephone
Text by Carina Freund

in a field of stars
Text by Robert Fanning

Bite!, Songs of Persephone
Recorded July 1-3, 2021 at Sheryl Crow Hall, Sinquefield Music Center, University of Missouri in Columbia MO
Producer Bill Kalinkos
Co-Producer & Recording Engineer Eric Dluzniewski

Little Cloud, in a field of stars, Don’t Beat a Word
Recorded December 16-17, 2021 at Sheryl Crow Hall, Sinquefield Music Center, University of Missouri in Columbia MO
Producer Bill Kalinkos
Co-Producer & Recording Engineer Eric Dluzniewski

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Laura Ramsey

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Aidan Curran

Artist Information

Khemia Ensemble


Hailed by the Columbia Daily Tribune as adding a “fresh dimension” to the concert experience, Khemia Ensemble is dedicated to reflecting broader perspectives in contemporary classical chamber music. With its dynamic instrumentation (soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, two percussion), Khemia’s unique sound world encompasses the presentation of new classical music with a mix of acoustic chamber works, multimedia, and multi-genre influences.


Pivotal moments in our lives, the choices we make, the people and experiences we meet all show us intersections previously unknown. They show us what’s at stake, but also what we are capable of. INTERSECTIONS invites us to meditate on new beginnings and endings, the hope and grief that can accompany those events, and the intersections that mark our paths forward.

Words can bite. Most of us have experience being told something or receiving unsolicited advice that comes across as insulting. The comments can come from anyone—friends, family, coworkers, or strangers in seemingly polite conversation. The hard truth is that people in marginalized communities are frequently on the receiving end of these types of comments.

Bite explores the nuances of simple words and phrases that can get under your skin — like a pesky mosquito surreptitiously landing on your arm to feed. You don’t notice them at first until after the itchy welt forms, and you become aware of their presence in the environment. In Bite, mosquito-like sonic ideas are ever-present, accompanied by itchy, unsettled textures and high-pitched “stings.” Hard-hitting speech rhythms derived from these comments drive the momentum forward. The structure of Bite consists of four non-repeated sections with musical ideas shared throughout the work.

— Phillip Sink

At age 11, my daughter Carina wrote 20 poems from the perspective of Persephone as a young girl, focusing on her conflicted relationship with her mother, Demeter. Carina’s purpose in writing was to provide a backstory for Persephone before her infamous abduction by Hades. The poems capture the schizophrenic nature of adolescence through quickly shifting moods and attitudes. At some moments Persephone seems to contradict what she says immediately after stating it (e.g. “If I’m lucky, well, not lucky…”). The music imitates these bipolar feelings by shifting from lush lyric lines in one moment to explosive exclamations the next. I’m used to dramatic shifts like this since I live with an adolescent girl and her mother. Sometimes I would hear arguments in my own home while I was writing about conflict in the piece. In another autobiographical element of this work, the performers take on certain personalities that are associated with people in my family.

The opening poem, “Earth,” begins with a rosy picture of the mortals’ planet before Persephone reveals her true motive of visiting: to escape her overbearing mother. In “Gone,” Persephone laments her mother leaving to perform her duties, reminiscing about how close they used to be. However now she looks forward to moments when they are apart. Flowers serves as a coda to the set, echoing themes from the first two poems. Persephone finds peace in the flowers and solace in their relative simplicity compared to her complicated life as a young goddess.

— Stefan Freund

Little Cloud is a lullaby I wrote for my son, Lalo. He was born in the midst of the pandemic, early in 2021, and he has brought so much light to an otherwise dark year filled with uncertainty.

Growing up in New Mexico I always admired the century-old Rio Grande Cottonwood trees in my parents’ yard. I loved their leaves, their twisted trunks, their imposing bark, and most of all the flurries of cotton covered seeds they dropped in the summertime. Though most forests lack old growth and only have saplings, the Albuquerque Bosque seems to have the opposite problem: Cottonwood trees need flooding to reproduce, and since we’ve dammed up the Rio Grande they are at our mercy to reproduce. What was once a Rio Grande Cottonwood forest has filled with homes, and the owners of those homes choose to plant trees from different continents that grow faster, straighter, and are more easily tamed.

Planting a tree is a statement of hope that there will be a future in which children will see a natural world as healthy as the one we grew up in. I don’t want this to be a piece about the environment and climate change, but then again every piece in some ways is. If we don’t care for our small patch of earth for those who can’t care for it, then who will? If we aren’t willing to start something that we won’t live long enough to finish, then what does that say about us?

Just before he was born I planted a Rio Grande Cottonwood tree for him. The trees I loved so dearly as a child were planted decades before I was born. Is there a better metaphor for parenting? We must plant seeds and care for things that will be in their prime long after we’re gone.

While we were visiting New Mexico with him, there was a summer breeze and the Rio Grande Cottonwood trees from my childhood released their seeds, giving us a snowfall. We danced around in the warm breeze together, little white clouds falling all around us. His eyes were filled with curiosity and wonder. It was a moment I wanted to capture in this song, and an experience I hope he has over and over again for the rest of his life. I wrote a genuine lullaby, simple as can be, so that we could sing it to him as he drifted off to sleep, and his abuelos and grandparents could learn it and sing it to him, too. My dream would be for other children to fall asleep to this song, too.

I give my thanks to Khemia Ensemble for giving me the space to write something that meant so much to me. Writing this while learning to be a parent has been humbling, and their patience and support has been so appreciated. I am deeply grateful to Maggie, who has become the most dedicated mother to Lalo and whom I love all the more for it. Most of all, I send my love to mijito Lalito, for whom this song is dedicated. 

— Nicolas Lell Benavides

in a field of stars grew out of conversations with my friend and poet Robert Fanning. Robert and I had been talking about the extraordinary emotional effect of poetry even (or maybe especially) when its “meaning” is ambiguous or unclear, and drawing connections to music, where communication and meaning is often similarly slippery yet no less powerful—where meaning exists in a space beyond words. His poem “Infinity Room” leans into this expressive space and serves as the text for this piece. It was inspired by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s “infinity rooms” and Radiohead’s music video “Daydreaming.” Kusama’s incredible, immersive installations use mirrors and repeating patterns to create spaces that seem like an alternate, infinite reality. In “Daydreaming,” Thom Yorke traverses an almost endless series of doors, each one leading to a seemingly disparate space, a sequence of rooms connected only by his memory. Similarly, Robert weaves a small lyrical fragment of “Daydreaming” into a poetic structure that can be read horizontally or vertically—or even as meditative, self-contained mantras—creating seemingly infinite loops and interpretations.

in a field of stars, like all my work, is a snapshot of who I am and what I am thinking and feeling at a particular moment in time, but the context for this piece seems especially strange. A pandemic and enormous social and political anxiety and unrest have framed my recent experiences in ways that have deeply changed me. This strange and difficult time has reminded me that it takes time to process feelings, and, in the context of something this immense, I will be discovering the ways it has changed me and the world around me for a very long time. I think this piece is a part of that process.

Physical spaces help mark events in our memory—the smell, the feel, the look of a place is as integral to our memory as the thing we are trying to remember. It has been so peculiar to occupy the same physical spaces for such long periods of time—working, cooking, cleaning, playing, sleeping, creating in the same few rooms for months. As a result, in some ways, I feel like my memory of this time is jumbled, an endless series of experiences in self-similar rooms, and I cannot quite grasp its architecture.

The piece is divided into seven movements, each ruminating on a few lines from the poem that have been rearranged to explore different possible meanings. There are numerous connections between the movements—both lyrical and musical—and, like Robert’s poem, my hope is that the piece creates its own strange, infinite world, bending a linear perception of time into the more mysterious space of memories and feeling. Feeling requires vulnerability, so I want to share a few small pieces of my own web of meanings for this piece, although I hope that ultimately it leads you to explore your own world of meaning.

Did that happen last year or two years ago? What has happened in the past month?

When was the last time? Have I done this before? Have I been here before?

There are so many. So many.

I tore my ACL. My sons said that I had “snapped the rubber band in my knee.”

For months I had nightmares where the injury would occur over and over again.

In this room I got lost in the infinity of my mind.

The song “Never Meant” by the band American Football reminds me of college.

Multiverse—an infinite realm of being or potential of being of which the universe is regarded as a part or instance.

I cannot understand how they feel. I cannot see how they experience the world.

But I want to try. I want to listen. 

— David Biedenbender

Nina Shekhar’s Don’t Beat a Word “is not a breakup song.” It is sonically and personally influenced by her experience as a first-generation Indian-American, fusing a mix of Bollywood melodies and American pop music sensibilities. In a recent conversation about the work, Nina described her struggles to find the best way to present herself in different environments, as she often feels like others perceive her as being “too brown” or “too Indian.” Don’t Beat a Word is an assertion of being true to her identity despite other people’s perceptions.

— Chelsea Tinsler Jones


Words can bite
like mosquitoes
landing on bare skin
digging their parasitic tendrils
underneath the flesh
bite after bite.

Now, these words come in many different forms like casual comments, questions, backhanded compliments, and unsolicited advice. In the next few minutes, we are going to examine several of these microaggressions starting with the common example:
“Where are you from?” – “Here.”
“Where are you from?” – “The United States.”
“No. Where are you really from?”
It is undeniable that the addition of the word “really” in “Where are you really from?” completely changes the context of the question to mean: You do not belong here.

Now imagine resigning to the inevitable of being seen, yet not seen; transparent, invisible.

Let’s look at several more examples:
“You look so pretty when you smile.”
“You are so courteous – you are so articulate. You don’t sound like a gay person!”
“You should smile more.”
“Do you work here?”
“You shouldn’t eat that.”
“Do you have kids?”
“Why don’t you have a girlfriend? You haven’t found the right woman yet!”
“You should smile more.”
“You shouldn’t eat that.”
“Have you tried the Keto diet?”
“You speak English so very well!”

No one can measure the weight of words,
the lingering sting may fade
but the accumulation of scars never seem to go away.

by Carina Freund

I. Earth

I go to earth.
No one usually sees me…
But, if anyone did see me,
I would say I was a mortal.
Just like the people,
Who live down on earth.

When I go down to earth,
I get flowers, For mother.
To make her hair look pretty.

I go there
To fetch water,
From the well,
For her drinks.

I fetch her asphodel
From the meadow
For her food.

I even pour wheat on the fields
So she won’t have to.

But the reason why I go down there,
Is to get away from her insults.
From her tantrums.
From her complaining.
And I pick flowers, for me.

II. Gone

My mother is gone for days at a time.
Sometimes weeks.
Sometimes months.

When she gets back,
I work for her.

When I was one,
And two,
And three,
And four,
And five,
And six, and seven, and eight, and nine,
And ten.

Back then,
We would play.
We would draw.
She taught me how to sew.
How to defend myself,
And best of all,
She didn’t make me go to earth.

But now,
I work for her.

I get her food.
Her water.
Her flowers.

And if I’m lucky,
Well, not lucky…
She’ll stay for a few more hours.
Sometimes days.
And I’ll hear her complain.
About me.

Then, I make excuses.
To go to earth.
There, I pick flowers.
I like that.

III. Flowers

The field is swaying in the wind
Just like my mind wondering why I am here
Flowers reach far and near
All the colors of the rainbow
This is my only way to escape the pain
Of not knowing why I am treated in this strange way.

Instead of feeling pain,
I cause pain to the flowers as I pick them.
I hurt flowers because I love them
My mother hurts me because she hates me.

My mind is at ease though, within the flower fields
Unaware as I dance, what the future world yields.

My life has been a strange maze of emotions.

The flowers calm me down.
I put them in my hair.
I put them in my soul
They tell me things.
That my mother never told me.

Some of the things they say,
Don’t make sense.
Because they’re just flowers.
The only thing in my life
That isn’t complicated.

They’re just flowers.

Little dreams on little clouds
Are falling from the trees
Little seeds as light as air
Caught in a summer breeze

Little dreams on little clouds
Are floating down to earth
One to kiss you on the nose
To celebrate your birth

Each Cottonwood was once a little dream:
Improbable as snowfall in the summer.
I planted one to dream with you, and
Guide you home when I am gone.
Each Cottonwood was once a little dream.

Little dreams on little clouds
Are falling from the trees
Little seeds as light as air
Caught in a summer breeze

Little dreams on little clouds
Make pillows in the grass
And if you want one for your nap
All you have to do is ask.

Each Cottonwood was once a little dream:
Improbable as snowfall in the summer.
I planted one to dream with you, and
Guide you home when I am gone.
Each Cottonwood was once a little dream.

So dream of the impossible
A blanket made of summer snow
Your tree will grow and so will you
A little dream come true.

by Robert Fanning

1. Box with a door
Box with a door
so being curious
you enter
not knowing eternity waits to find you
Beyond me, beyond you

2. this world of rooms
if we believe
we are not captive
in this world of rooms
in this world of dreams
in what holds us
inside the mirror

3. of endless selves
what will we make of forever
in a field of endless selves
of stars
we may still harvest
inside the mirror
if we believe
in this world of rooms
in what holds us
ever open

4. cave of ice
cave of ice
where language slows near the mouth
beyond me
beyond you
are you the one
my song comes through

5. ever-swallowing dark [inside the mirror
the ever-swallowing dark]

6. fire inside of winter
the fire inside of winter
the pillars of light
in what holds us
of what burns
waits to find you
where it has always been

7. pillars of light
Box with a door
you enter
not knowing eternity
waits to find you here
where it has always been
if we are able to wander
in between the pillars of light
in a field of endless selves
in a field of endless stars
if we believe in what holds us ever open
if the box I stepped into was you

hush my heart
don’t beat a word
don’t let it burn
still my lung
don’t breathe the bait
don’t let it brown

murmur unheard
a lethal whisper
to your ghostly drum
pounding away
how can I stay
when I’m round
on a flat earth

I peel it off
this dirty shell
rip the threads
hair by hair
bald and bare
the way you want to see

I wash the grit
and bleach the stains
shrink the fit
my color fades
zip my lips
this is who I ought to be