New Music USA announces Call for Scores Awardees for Ravinia’s 2023 Breaking Barriers Festival

Written By

Jill Strominger

New Music USA has partnered with Chicago’s Ravinia to offer a new opportunity for three women and non-binary composers in the Chicago-area to receive invaluable support and experience at the 2023 Breaking Barriers Festival. After hosting a call for scores earlier this year, New Music USA is proud to announce the three Chicago-area composers whose music will become the focus of a collaborative composer workshop at this year’s festival: Gillian Rae Perry (she/her); Kari Watson (she/her), and Amy Wurtz (she/her). The three composers will have their winning pieces—respectively, I’m Sorry to My Body, About the Wreck, and Emome—rehearsed by Taki Alsop conducting fellows Kalena Bovell, Kelly Corcoran, Julia Cruz, Irene Delgado Jimenez, Rebecca Tong, Rei Hotoda, as well as Marin Alsop, and the Chicago Philharmonic, with additional guidance from composers Augusta Read Thomas and Clarice Assad.

Semi-finalists Jessica Carter and Blair Boyd will take part in the weekend’s activities as well, which include mentorship sessions with Clarice Assad and Augusta Read Thomas, a networking session with Taki Alsop fellows, and more. Funding for this partnership is provided in part from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and legacy contributions to New Music USA’s organization endowment.

“We at New Music USA are thrilled to partner with Breaking Barriers to create pivotal experiences for Chicago-area composers alongside conductors supported by Marin Alsop’s Taki Fellowship. At New Music USA we believe that music communities are strongest when they are open and equitable for all. Providing support for women, non-binary, and other underrepresented music creators across the US is a central pillar of this work. I can’t wait to hear the awardees’ works come to life and to see the connections they build with the conductors they meet through this initiative,” President and CEO of New Music USA Vanessa Reed said.

The pieces will be workshopped live during Breaking Barriers on Sunday, July 23 from 2-4PM CT at the “How Do You Lead Something That’s New?” session. The experience will highlight how two different conductors bring their own nuance to the same piece, as well as what it is like to compose a piece and how conductors manage limited time with an orchestra to learn a new piece. The event takes place in Bennett Gordon Hall. Performances by the Chicago Philharmonic of the awardees’ pieces will be recorded live.

New Music USA is pleased to partner with Ravinia for the composer events, including the live workshop with the Call for Scores awardees as well as the “Amplifying Women’s Voices in Classical Music” panel on July 22 at 10AM CT, the “How Can We Learn From Each Other? Luncheon on July 22 at 12PM CT, and the performance by Alexis Lombre on July 23 at 6PM CT, who is an awardee of New Music USA’s Next Jazz Legacy program. Read the full festival schedule details here.

More about the Call for Scores Awardees and Their Pieces:

Gillian Rae PerryI’m Sorry to My Body

“I’m Sorry to My Body is an apology to my body and an exploration of the relationship between physical presence (body) and metaphysical presence (emotion, mind, spirit),” explains Perry. “My experiences with depression and anxiety have caused me to feel like I was at war with myself; from self-harm, to disordered eating, to overworking, I have put my body through a lot. In recent years, I have learned to love the physical vessel that holds my soul, and grieve the time I spent mistreating it. This piece is an expression of that transformation in mindset. In the piece I explore the ways that the “physical” and the “metaphysical” can sonically manifest, as well as how the two interact and, eventually, unify. ”

“I am so thrilled to be a part of the Breaking Barriers festival,” adds Perry. “Having an orchestral piece workshopped with an orchestra at this caliber is truly an invaluable experience and I am so grateful to New Music USA and the Ravinia festival for the opportunity.”

Gillian Rae Perry is a composer and songwriter whose work explores the relationships between mental health, childhood, the subconscious, and dream worlds. She is currently the Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer with Chicago Opera Theater.  Perry’s work has been performed by the TVMF Orchestra, Mostly Modern Orchestra, Euclid Quartet, Aperture Duo, and members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO). Perry was a Composer Fellow with LACO for both the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. Perry holds degrees in both music composition and film and is greatly influenced by art forms outside of music – such as film, dance, poetry, and theatre. An avid poetry reader and writer, Perry is also influenced by the various interactions between text and music. 

Kari WatsonAbout the Wreck

“About the Wreck, for orchestra, was derived from my larger work, Diving Into the Wreck, a five movement work for orchestra chronicling the journey of Adrienne Rich’s eponymous Homeric epic,” explains Watson. “In this reworking of the piece, I salvage core materials from my first musical telling, exploring and scavenging amidst my musical depiction of the wreck and stringing together an alternative dramatic telling that aims to depict the tactility, depth and drama of Rich’s writing. Overflowing with allusions, the text invokes themes of queer historicity and gender inequality as the narrator explores the wreck, at once surveying history and calling attention to the omitted and overlooked.” 

“I am really grateful for the opportunity to participate in Ravinia’s 2023 Breaking Barriers Festival alongside such an amazing group of mentors, conductors, composers and performers,” continues Watson. “A lot of my work explores issues of gender and sexuality, addressing themes of queer historicity, identity and marginality both within music and in our larger cultural epoche. In calling upon and engaging in dialogue with a lineage of queer women writers, artists and thinkers, I am interested in further exploring what it means to be a queer woman making work in our current moment, with space and thought towards the canon of thinkers and makers my work references who have occupied these identities throughout history. This opportunity not only amplifies the voices of contemporary women in music, but also provides an intentional setting for examining these core questions of identity and inclusivity that underlie the creative ecosystems we live and work in. Thank you so much to the Ravinia Festival and Breaking Barriers for creating opportunities for offering a space for this kind of deep and meaningful exploration and reflection. The opportunity to examine these issues with an intergenerational cohort of practitioners not only creates meaningful connections for our current moment, but a foundation of connections upon which I look forward to cultivating in the years to come.”

Kari Watson (b.1998) is a composer, performer, and sound artist working between the mediums of contemporary concert music, electroacoustic music, live performance, and interactive installation work. Motivated by a passion for narrative and musical drama, Watson works to create music that is clear, tactile, and emotionally driven. Recently featured by the Washington Post as one of the 23 for ’23: Composers and performers to watch this year, Watson has received several awards and distinctions for her work, including a 2022 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a 2022 Student Composer Award from Broadcast Music Industry, and the 2023 Nerenberg, Gerts and Hammond Prize from the Musicians Club of Women. Watson holds a BM from Oberlin Conservatory and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago on a full fellowship from the Division of the Humanities under Augusta Read Thomas.

Amy WurtzEmome

Emome is a meditation on thoughts of home, memory, and gestures made while speaking these thoughts,” shares Amy Wurtz. “The work is inspired by senior citizens experiencing memory loss and made in tandem with artwork by Susan Giles. The 14-minute work, here reduced to 5, is in three main sections, starting with a cacophony of movement and ideas, which solidify in a slowly pulsating, gradually shifting harmonic passage. This spirals into a whirlwind of shrinking scales which ushers in the final section, devoted to memory. This final section is based on a melody played first by the piano, then echoed by all other instruments in various ways which finally settles into a restful state of ‘home’.”

“I am over-the-moon thrilled to have been selected to participate in this program,” adds Wurtz. “Orchestral performances are one of the hardest realms to break into as a composer and I  am so happy for the support being offered by New Music USA to both women composers and conductors. Being an artist is all about connecting with other people and I am excited to forge new relationships in this way, but more importantly I am grateful for the music itself to be given a platform to reach so many more listeners.”

A fervent advocate for new music and the community that surrounds and supports it, Wurtz is a performer, composer, and curator of new music based in Chicago. She recently completed Women’s History Month, where she recorded and posted to YouTube one work written by a woman each day of March. Amy has lived and worked in California, throughout the Midwest, South America and Europe. In addition to composing and curation, she is in demand as a solo pianist, chamber and choral accompanist. She is currently at work on Cycles, a multi-media collection of 26 piano pieces, as well as recording a second album of works for ‘cello and piano with the Wurtz-Berger Duo. 

More about the Semi-finalists:

Blair Boyd is an American Chicago-based composer whose highly energized compositions engage with physical movement and the perception of time. Her works have been performed throughout the U.S. and internationally including Cheltenham Music Festival (U.K.), impuls Festival (Austria), and HighScore New Music Festival (Italy), as well as broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Dr. Boyd recently completed her doctoral studies at Cardiff University under the supervision of Prof. Arlene Sierra. She is currently Co-Director of Illuminate Women’s Music, a touring concert series that presents forgotten historical works alongside new commissions.  

Jessica T. Carter (b. 1992) is a composer, performer (violinist & mezzo-soprano), and educator from Indiana described as evocative and lyrical by Aspire Magazine and Apricity Magazine, respectively, who is swiftly making a name for herself. Specializing in concert music, film scoring, and musical theater, Jessica’s aim and goal in music is to intersect the relationship between vitriol and compassion through empathy, highlighting the lives marginalized children while deepening the universal understanding of the marginalized adult through sonic engagement that extends to the narrative of human nature through the message of hope. 


For more information on New Music USA’s partnership with the 2023 Breaking Barriers festival, click here. 

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