Author: Molly Sheridan

Masterprize Finalist: Carter Pann

Carter Pann
Photo courtesy of Masterprize

Carter Pann may be the youngest of the five Masterprize finalists, but you wouldn’t think it possible after reading through his list of honors. The 28-year-old composer has been recognized with first prizes in the Zoltan Kodaly and Francois d’Albert Concours Internationale de Composition competitions, a concerto commission for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, a Grammy nomination, a Charles Ives Scholarship, and four ASCAP composer awards. In February 2000, Naxos released a disc of his four orchestral works recorded by the Czech State Philharmonic of Brno under Jose Serebrier as part of its American Classics series.

Still, Pann remains demure, admitting that when he entered the Masterprize competition, he never imagined he’d get to the finals. Now he’s anticipating attending the Gala concert in London. “It’s going to be wonderful. [The competition] really is like the lotto, and out of 1150 pieces, hearing the other four is just going to be spectacular.”

Pann’s entry, Slalom, was born of the desire to write a big orchestral work about an aspect of nature. While downhill skiing in the Rocky Mountains he decided that was the natural scenery he wanted to try and capture in sound, and the result is a ten-minute scherzo for orchestra. Even at that length, he says, “it’s a lot for the ears to hear. What the piece tries to do, inside of ten minutes, is give you almost video images of what it’s like to ski in among pine trees and over obstacles and through big meadows where you can be up to your thighs in powder. It’s a cinematic-type tone poem.”

Though he hasn’t heard from IMAX about producing film for it yet, that’s the idea, he explains. “It’s sort of what I get hearing it. It’s a ten minute explosion and it puts you right there in the scene.” He’s toying with the idea of adding two more ten-minute images to form a triptych.

Pann completed Slalom just in time to be considered for the American Composers Orchestra Whitaker New Music Reading Sessions in 2000. The work was selected and Pann remains amazed by the experience. “The ACO, inside a half an hour, just read the thing down. It was the first experience I’d ever had like that where I hadn’t heard the piece at all and a half hour later you’ve got a CD of it and it’s almost perfect.”

Though Pann has had considerable success as a composer, he originally set out to be a pianist. It was his piano instructor who steered him towards composition and his first teacher, Howard Sandroff. Pann remembers with a laugh, “So there I was, 17 I think, talking my first composition lessons ever with a man who sort of lives by Morton Feldman composition technique, which is five pitch objects and vectors and the usefulness of pitch grouping.” His real inspiration came after he heard Steve Reich for the first time. “I had no idea who he was, and I listened to his Octet. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe that music could be this beautiful today. I thought it was sort of dead.” From then on, he was like a sponge. “I would just absorb these new scores and these new pieces like a child. I couldn’t enough. Old and new, I was just sopping it up and I wanted to try my hand at writing some of it.” The experience prompted him to seriously pursue studying composition and he landed at the Eastman School. Since then, it’s “snowballed to where I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point.”

Like many composers at the beginning of their careers, Pann found himself mimicking others in his early works. “It’s taken some maturing to really break free from that and do something that’s completely me. No quotes, no tips of the hat.” But at the same time, Pann isn’t out to get too radical. “At this point in my life, I’m not looking to shock myself or shock any listeners. I’m much more looking to pull them in instantaneously. I want to pull you in to hearing this piece all the way through.”

To explain where he hopes to take his craft, Pann launches into an extended metaphor. “Right now I’m sort of playing with a pallet of colors. My music ends up sounding like broad paint strokes of primary colors. Eventually I’ll start really mixing them I guess and then painting larger and larger canvas. I think I’m honing a technique right now and dreaming about a different technique that I will be able to do in the future.” To his mind, Slalom is done in primary colors on small canvas, but eventually he hopes to get to something along the lines of Picasso‘s Guernica.

As far as process goes, no matter where an idea comes from, Pann will quickly begin working at the piano. “I’m very keyboard based because it’s where I can get my hands into the dirt. Then, like a culture, it opens up and if I’m lucky it just keeps going.” Composing then becomes “just a series of yes/no questions, almost binary, and the piece is sort of writing itself. You just have to ask if you’re going to do this or not.” For Slalom, he wrote the complete orchestra score from left to right. “It’s not better or worse because of it, but it would have been different” if he had gone back and orchestrated it after the fact.

Ask him what his dream commission would be and you get a tumble of ideas, but in the final analysis it would likely be to write a full-length symphony for a great orchestra. “You know what, that’s it right there. Dream number one — the Chicago Symphony Orchestra asks me for Symphony No. 1. Or a violin concerto for Hilary Hahn,” he amends, shifting gears again. Referencing working with Richard Stolzman on the clarinet concerto commission he adds, “writing for any soloists that is just world class is it!”

As Pann develops his voice, he expects to hold on to the subtle element of humor that many critics have noted in his work. He explains, “I really want to hear a person behind the music and I think humor sort of breaks that iceÖone little grain of salt or pepper in a piece that makes it really alive and puts a smile on your face.”

Jon Magnussen's E-mail Correspondence with Molly Sheridan

Molly Sheridan corresponded by email with Magnussen to find out more about his plans for the residency in addition to asking him a few philosophical questions about being a composer. A transcript of that exchange appears here.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: The artist-in-residence position at the Institute seems like an amazing opportunity for a composer to both compose and have work performed. How did you come to be invited to fill this role? Were you actively looking for such an opportunity? How do you expect to fit into the Institute community as a whole?

JON MAGNUSSEN: It really is an amazing opportunity for a composer, not only to compose and have work performed, but also to be in an environment where there are other people doing creative work in different fields. As it turned out, I was invited to interview, and they were looking for a composer to plan and host the concert series while pursuing a career in composition. I’ve always been interested in producing concerts, so this seems like a perfect fit. When I was at Juilliard I was active in John Corigliano‘s graduate composition seminar, where our small group of composers would plan and compose theatrical concerts that involved Juilliard musicians, dancers, actors, choreographers, and playwrights. We would produce the concerts in one of Lincoln Center‘s black box theaters, and it was really our way of trying to infuse something new into the performance of new music. I eventually ended up teaching the course under Corigliano’s supervision.

In terms of how I fit in at the Institute, there are a lot of opportunities for interaction with the community. Besides the concerts and the talks that I’ll be presenting, there are other open lectures and seminars, as well as a very good dining hall (this is a great place to fit in!). The people here are very knowledgeable, and they know how to ask good questions, so conversations tend to be very interesting. In fact, I’ve made some wonderful discoveries here. For instance, before coming to the Institute, I didn’t know that pure mathematicians have moments when inspiration just hits, when they’re able to solve a problem they’ve been working on for days, months, or sometimes, even years. I can relate to this, because as a composer, now and then I’m struck with an idea that suddenly makes sense of what I’m trying to create. Sometimes conversations give me new ideas that point my music in a new direction. A theoretical biologist was showing me a model she was working on which studies natural pattern formations in tidal sand waves, and this gave me an idea of how I could approach a new piece inspired by waves.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: What has attracted you as a composer to dance and to the ballet of José Limón specifically?

JON MAGNUSSEN: I’ve been attracted to dance ever since I can remember. When I was a child living in Sierra Leone, I remember seeing a group of “devil” dancers perform in the street. (It was kind of scary, but I was really fascinated.) While growing up in Hawai’i, I saw quite a bit of Polynesian dance. In college I improvised at the piano in a dance improvisation classes and had my first collaboration with a choreographer. When I finally saw my first professional modern dance performance about ten years ago now (this was an American company in Budapest), I was blown away. I thought, “What an incredible way to communicate with an audience!” A couple of years later I found myself at Juilliard collaborating with student choreographers, which was a great way to get my feet wet.

In 1995, The Juilliard School commissioned me to create a new score for “The Winged,” José Limón’s 1966 ballet. I immediately fell in love with the Limón style. Just watching the movement is deeply satisfying. It’s so musical – so round, rhythmic, and very contrapuntal (he loved Bach). For nine months I worked with a video reconstruction of “The Winged,” and then helped it move from the studio to the stage. It was almost like composing for film, and then watching the film come to real life.

I’m now composing “Psalm” for the Limón Company, which will be premiered at the Cultural Olympiad in Utah next February. It’s a reconstruction of 1967 Limón ballet, and it’s very moving. In his notes, he wrote about the work as the “triumph of the human spirit over death itself.”

MOLLY SHERIDAN: What have been the challenges and the inspirations of working across disciplines like this?

JON MAGNUSSEN: I enjoy working across disciplines because it’s a great way to discover new ways of thinking about music. Because dance and music are time-based arts, ideas that work in one usually translate well to the other. So a choreographer might have an idea of multiple groups of dancers performing the same series of movements simultaneously, but at different speeds. The translation into music might be a multiple-voice “canon” at the octave (but all voices beginning at once and progressing at different speeds) which can sound really interesting given decent material.

I guess the biggest challenge in working across disciplines is communication. The language I use to talk about my art, as a musician, is different from the language a choreographer or a theater director would use. So understanding the intentions of my collaborator and being able to communicate my own ideas so that my collaborator understands me – this has become very important to me. I’ve found that being open to new ideas and not becoming too terribly attached to my work can help the process a great deal. One of the difficulties a collaborative composer has is the moment when it becomes necessary to cut the score here or there, or to change the orchestration slightly to make a rhythm more readily perceptible to a dancer. But this is theater, after all, and in theater the music has got to serve not only itself, but also the whole. (My teacher at Juilliard, Robert Beaser, would tell me that in theater, your best work usually ends up on the floor.) As long as there is trust between collaborators, and a willingness to serve the whole work first, the experience ends up one worth repeating.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: I read about the real time programming aspects of your composition, “Death and Eros.” Can you speak about what inspired you to create such a work? Your motivation to use MAX/msp and how it worked practically during performance?

JON MAGNUSSEN: Donald McKayle was the choreographer for “Death and Eros,” and he based the ballet on “Skeleton Woman,” an Inuit story told by Native American contadora Clarissa Pinkola-Estes. Donald was wonderful to work with. He gave me quite a bit of latitude in terms of instrumentation, and as I started composing, I began hearing “concrète” sounds – sounds that could only come from a digital audio source. In the story, the action takes place on the ocean floor
, above the surface of the water, and on the beach next to the ocean, so I was hearing sounds from the ocean and a few other-worldly sounds. In order to inhabit this world of amplified digital audio, the performers (flute, ‘cello, percussion, keyboard, and male and female vocalist) also needed amplification.

I had some experience using MAX/msp, a Macintosh-based program which allows you to basically control anything with anything. (The program is a graphical programming environment for music and media applications made by Cycling 74.) So, for “Death and Eros” I assigned the keyboard player – playing a MIDI synth controller – and the conductor – armed with a MIDI pedal – the job of communicating with MAX/msp by sending MIDI messages to the computer.

Practically, it would work like this: the keyboard player plays a note that sends a MIDI message to MAX/msp to, say, increase the delay of the amplified sound by a few hundred milliseconds. The percussionist softly begins a series of very fast crescendi on various drums and cymbals. The sound is distant at first, but MAX/msp is given another signal to begin increasing the amplification and the delay of the sound. At this point in the dance, the night has passed and the dawn begins to appear, with the sound becoming fuller and fuller, almost as if there are two or three percussionists. The keyboard player hits the button again, and MAX/msp plays a sound file which sounds like a growing storm, bringing the return of the main theme. Essentially, MAX/msp is another player, performing tasks throughout the ballet such as mixer fades, effects changes, and digital audio playback.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: How has technology influenced both how you compose music (your process) and the music you compose?

JON MAGNUSSEN: I started using music technology at around the same time that I began to have ideas about pursuing a career in composition. So my process has always incorporated some aspect of MIDI technology (except for three years I spent in Paris studying harmony, counterpoint and fugue). You could probably say that characteristics such as quick and sudden directional changes and dynamic changes are a direct influence of technology. These are so easy for the computer to perform (and they’re also a reflection of the time we live in). An argument could be made for the ease of cutting and pasting having some responsibility for unexpected juxtapositions in music, since experimentation with different orderings of sections is so easy to do on the computer.

As far as my own process is concerned, I use technology in essentially two ways: as a tool to write notated music for acoustic instruments, and as a participant in the performance. For both kinds of music, I usually start with pencil and score paper, writing down ideas as I hear them, or working them out. At some point, when I’m writing for acoustic instruments, these ideas are either entered into a notation program (I use Finale), or a sequencer program. The sequencer allows me to experiment easily with these ideas in different combinations, and the notation program lets me print different versions of the “sketch” and orchestrate easily. The advantage to using a notation program is mainly legibility, and also being able to make parts quickly. There are also error detectors that help speed up the process.

One of the challenges, though, in using notation and sequencing programs, has been dealing with their limitations. So, for instance, if I’m hearing a melody in a meter that has nothing to do with the prevailing meter, how do I notate it – so the player can easily read it – in a notation program that doesn’t have that flexibility built in? I either end up finding a way to deceive the software into visually representing what I intended, or I resort to handwritten notation for that portion of the score. I try to avoid handwriting at all costs, though!

When I compose music where technology is a partner in the performance – like my work with MAX/msp – the composition is much more informed by the technology and its limitations. I really enjoy the change of pace with this kind of work, because it’s much more about data manipulation and problem solving. But the goal is always to make music, and somewhere along the line, the fact that a computer is involved in the performance has to be secondary to the music itself.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: A few philosophical questions…

Considering all the different facets of the music industry today, what made you become a composer of “serious concert music” if you will? Do you think such labels really work anymore or have a use?

JON MAGNUSSEN: I think we can still use the term today – at least part of it – because there are still many composers who are only interested in composing for a very educated and select audience. I don’t define myself as a composer of “serious concert music,” though, but rather a composer of “concert music” or “modern classical music.” (The “serious” part puts a furrowed brow on my forehead, which makes me kind of uncomfortable.)

I began composing when I was in high school, and I had this idea that if I could do what Quincy Jones does (he was my hero then) – write music, assemble the players, coach them and record – this would be a great life. As I got older and came into contact with works like Stravinsky’sPetrushka” and “Symphony of Psalms,” Debussy‘s “Jeux,” Berg‘s Wozzeck and others, I began to realize that concert music had a depth of possibilities that just wasn’t there for me in pop music. I still enjoy a good pop tune, but I’m glad I am where I am musically.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: If you were going to label your music any way you wished, what would you call it and what other composers/music would you put in the category with you?

JON MAGNUSSEN: That’s tough. Early on I was very attracted to the surface sound of Minimalist composers like Steve Reich and John Adams, but it concerned me that sometimes this music required a different kind of listening – and sometimes a lot of patience! I’m kind of a musical polyglot. I’m a fan of Messiaen‘s celestial harmonies, Gubaidulina‘s free voice-leading and unconventional sound explorations, Corigliano‘s beautiful melodic lines and aleatoric ideas, Robert Beaser‘s shimmering orchestration and compelling rhythmic sense… I guess I’m an eclectic twenty-first century composer with no real category. Is there a category for that?

MOLLY SHERIDAN: I saw that your final lecture at the scho
ol will deal with what makes a work new. What are some of your thoughts on this topic?

JON MAGNUSSEN: It’s a very interesting question. Robert Taub, who will be performing the concert, suggested this title for the discussion (which will include composer Jonathan Dawe, Taub and myself). Does the fact that a composition is in C Major constitute grounds for labeling it “old?” Does a composition for synthesizer and kazoo automatically qualify as “new” because of its instrumentation? Given all we’ve been through in the last century, with the proliferation of new techniques and advanced doctrines, and then having Cage come along and say that anything is okay (Did he really mean that?) – the musical possibilities seem endless. And this is what really makes the world of a twenty-first century composer a great smorgasboard of possibilities.

I wonder, though, given that there are so many alternatives, if the anxiety to produce a “new” work has become less of a concern to composers. If the recent “Great Day in New York” concerts are any indication, there is a lot more to celebrate in the diversity of the music than in its “newness.”

MOLLY SHERIDAN: As we continue to rapidly globalize and develop technology, how do you see music developing over the next decade?

JON MAGNUSSEN: The changes in the transmission of music are exciting to watch, and I could see the CD becoming a rare item within the next ten years. With continued globalization, there’s bound to be more cross-fertilization of the world’s musics, but I worry that this will result in a loss of indigenous music cultures. I hope more quality recordings will document these music cultures for future generations.

BMI Celebrates 2001 Student Composer Award-Winners

Winners of the 2001 BMI Student Composer Awards with BMI President Frances Preston and composer Milton Babbitt, Chairman of the Awards
Photo by Gary Gershoff, courtesy of BMI

Nine young composers, ranging in age from 15 to 26, have been named winners in the 49th Annual BMI Student Composer Awards. They were recognized for “superior creative talent” and received scholarships to be applied toward their musical education. Frances W. Preston, BMI President and CEO, presented the awards on June 15 at a reception in New York City’s Plaza Hotel. Milton Babbitt, Chairman of the Awards, introduced the winners:

Judah E. Adashi (age 25, studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music) for Suite: Eight Haiku by Richard Wright, scored for marimba and violin

Christopher Ariza (age 24, studies at New York University) for holy the bop apocalypse, scored for tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, percussion, piano, and double bass

Félix Frédéric Baril (age 21, studies at Montréal University) for Symphonie Spectrale, scored for orchestra

Anthony Barrese (age 26, studies composition privately in Boston) for Mobile Cluster Study N. 1, scored for 12 violins

Christopher J. Fisher-Lochhead (age 17, studies composition privately in New York City) for Riesenfalter, scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Eric Peter Froeberg (age 20, studies at the University of Southern California) for Perdita and Florizel, scored for flute, alto saxophone, violin, cello, and piano

Vivian Fung (age 26, studies at the Juilliard School) for Three Love Songs, scored for soprano and orchestra

Marcus Macauley (age 15, studies composition privately in Seattle) for Night Meditation, scored for cello and piano

Jonathan Arthur Saggau (age 22, studies at Iowa State University) for Now I am Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds, scored for orchestra

The winning manuscripts, selected from more than 450 entries, were displayed at the reception following the awards presentation. Cash awards to the composers totaled $20,000.

In addition, two new BMI Foundation commissioning projects were announced that evening. Kevin Puts is the recipient of the first BMI Foundation/Carlos Surinach Fund Commission, to be premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in April of 2002, and DJ Sparr has received the first BMI Foundation/Boudleaux Bryant Fund Commission for the new music ensemble eighth blackbird.

Also that evening Félix Frédéric Baril was awarded the 2001 William Schuman Prize, which recognizes the score judged “most outstanding” in the competition. This special prize is given each year in memory of the late William Schuman, who served for 40 years as Chairman, then Chairman Emeritus, of the BMI Student Composer Awards. In addition, two Carlos Surinach Prizes, underwritten by the special fund, were awarded to the two youngest winners, Christopher J. Fisher-Lochhead and Marcus Macauley.

The jury for this year’s competition included William Bolcom, Ingram Marshall, David Alan Miller, Joseph Schwantner and José Serebrier. BMI has given 459 scholarship grants to young composers since 1951, and eleven former winners have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize in music. The competition is co-sponsored by BMI and the BMI Foundation.

Meet The Composer Awards 5 New Residencies Grants

Meet The Composer has awarded three-year New Residencies grants to five American composers, the latest round in a national program that integrates the composers and their music into urban and rural communities nationwide.

When announcing the residencies, Meet The Composer President Heather Hitchens commented: “Through New Residencies, music of lasting value has emerged to help replenish the repertoire. Composers are afforded the opportunity to create work in a new and exciting context, and communities are exposed to and participate in the creative process. All of this has led to a greater understanding and enthusiasm for the work of a living composer.”

The five composers began working within each of their respective communities in March.

Mary Ellen Childs
Photo by Warwick Green courtesy of Meet the Composer

Mary Ellen Childs has focused her residency in the Minneapolis area, partnering with St. Olaf College, the Southern Theater, and Eden Prairie High School. She will include her performance company CRASH into her residency activities and has planned a number of public space performances to reach those who might not attend a formal performance. (Read more.)

Rebeca Mauleón
Photo by David Belove courtesy of Meet the Composer

Rebeca Mauleón will work to bring together the ethnically diverse population living in the San Francisco-area by partnering with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Bessie Carmichael Elementary School, and the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation. (Read more.)

Barbara Kolb
Photo by Carlo Carnevali courtesy of Meet the Composer

In Providence, Rhode Island, Barbara Kolb will score a new ballet for the Festival Ballet of Rhode Island and compose new works for the Rhode Island Philharmonic. In addition, she will teach and create programming for the Capital City Community Centers and write new music for WaterFire, a multi-media outdoor installation.

Mikel Rouse
Photo by Michael Mushalla Double M Arts & Events courtesy of Meet the Composer

Mikel Rouse returns to the rural south to work with the North Central Louisiana Arts Council, Louisiana Tech University School of the Performing Arts and the Lincoln Parish School District. His residency plans include involving the community in the creation of multi-media works and the large-scale collaborative projects for which he is known.

Marcus Shelby
Photo by Scott Chernis courtesy of Meet the Composer

And building on an already established history of collaboration, Marcus Shelby continues his work in the Mission District of San Francisco. He has partnered with local organizations such as Intersection for the Arts, Youth Speaks, Campo Santo, and the Savage Jazz Dance Company in order to address critical issues in the neighborhood through programming that emphasizes the context of culture and the positive artistic value of social conscience.

Each composer receives $100,000 over the three-year residency period and an additional $20,000 from a partnership of sponsoring residency organizations in the final year. Each residency partnership also receives $40,000 for production and partnership expenses.

“It’s a great source of income for a composer, but its not designed so that its simply money for the composer to write for three years,” explains Meet The Composer Business Manager Sharon Levy. Instead, the support allows the composer to delve into the community, sharing the art form with those who live there. But residency experiences often serve as a pool of inspiration for the composers as they pull the community toward them, hear their stories, and learn about their lives.

“Oftentimes perceptions and realities are not the same,” Levy says. “These three -year residencies particularly give everybody an opportunity to have those myths debunked. And it also makes us realize that music and the arts are happening in place and in ways that people don’t normally know about. There’s incredible stuff going on in all kinds of pockets in various communities. If the composer does a really good job getting inside [the community], we’ve found that some phenomenal work goes on.”

Levy admits that it often takes the first year of the residency to build trust with the community, but many of this year’s composers already have a connection to their area and the others were selected in part for their perceived ability to forge this connection quickly. How the composer fits into the community can then varies greatly depending the location. In a small town, Levy says, “everybody in town knows the composer, and events make front page news.” On the other hand, composers generally make a more subtle impact in urban environments, penetrating a particular area or sub-community.

In all instances, the composers use music to connect and learn more about their aud
iences while bringing audiences closer to the experience through collaborations and educational programs. When a New Residencies composer comes into the area, Levy notes, it can also be “a tremendous boost for any other composers at work in the area. They feel supported. Residencies composers try and find them and include them in whatever way makes sense.”

Since it was initiated in 1993, the New Residencies program has supported 40 three-year partnerships in communities across the country, linking composers both to professional arts institutions such as orchestras, museums, and opera, dance and theater companies, as well as to community-based groups such as schools, park authorities, and social service agencies.

Paul Yeon Lee Wins 2001 Whitaker Commission

Paul Yeon Lee
Photo courtesy Paul Yeon Lee

Paul Yeon Lee has won the 2001 Whitaker Commission, a prize that includes a $15,000 cash award and a world premiere performance by the American Composers Orchestra. The 31-year-old composer’s work Phoenix was selected from among eight finalists at the ACO’s tenth annual Whitaker New Music Reading Sessions. Composer Joshua Penman received an honorable mention for his piece As It Is, Infinite.

Held in New York this past April, event attracted nearly 200 submissions from composers across the country. Under the direction of, ACO Music Director Dennis Russell Davies and Artistic Director/composer Robert Beaser, with guest conductors Jeffrey Milarsky (music director of the Columbia University Orchestra) and Gil Rose (artistic director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project), the ACO rehearsed and recorded the works of the eight finalists in six and a half hours. ACO Executive Director Michael Geller describes the day-long reading session as “quite emotionally charged, because it compresses everything about a performance – from literally the first glimpse of the music to the performance – into a very short time, so there’s a lot of pressure [on everyone]. On the composer most of all… It’s a long day, but a very rewarding one.”

In addition to a professional recording of their piece, each composer receives very specific feedback from the conductors, a group of mentor composers present for the day, and the orchestra’s musicians and librarian.

Geller says that Lee stood out as a “tremendous talent. I think he’s got a special gift that’s immediately apparent. Amongst the panel it was a unanimous decision that Paul was a terrific composer and deserved the commission opportunity.” The ACO musicians were also supportive of Lee’s work. Geller says the piece “got a lot of great comments. They really enjoyed the piece and looked forward to more from him.”

Lee is currently a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and has had his works performed by such ensembles as Speculum Musicae, the Charleston String Quartet, University of Michigan Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Haddonfield Symphony. He has studied under Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, Bright Sheng, Pablo E. Furman, and Allen Strange and has won the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Haddonfield Symphony Young Composers’ Competition, and an ASCAP award. In addition to the Whitaker commission, Lee is currently working on a piece for five percussionists commissioned by percussionist Anthony J. Cirone of the San Francisco Symphony, and a commission for cellist Stephen Czarkowski of the Contemporary Music Ensemble at Mannes College of Music.

The works of seven other finalists were also given performances at this season’s reading:

Joshua Penman, a senior at Yale University currently working on a 75-minute electro acoustical chamber opera, entered As It Is, Infinite (honorable mention).

Leonard Lewis, a University of Missouri at Columbia faculty member, entered Concerto for Orchestra.

Gregory Spears, previously a student of Augusta Read Thomas and David Liptak at the Eastman School of Music and a current student of Ezra Laderman, entered Circle Stories.

Dalit Warshaw, a student of Milton Babbitt and Samuel Adler, and, at the age of eight, the youngest person ever to win the BMI Award for Student Composers, entered Tyburne Dance.

Paola Prestini, co-director and founder of a multimedia group VisionIntoArt, entered Blue (Some Souls).

Roger Przytulski, currently completing a masters degree in composition at the University of Southern California, entered Blitz.

Thomas Tumulty, a finalist in the 1999 Mitropoulos International Competition and a recipient of a Helen Hayes Award nomination for his directing work in theater, entered Symphony No. 1.

More than 50 composers have participated in the Whitaker New Music Reading sessions, including Melinda Wagner, Derek Bermel, and Jennifer Higdon. The event is made possible by a grant from the Helen F. Whitaker Fund.

The next reading will be held on May 24, 2002. Additional information and an application are available at

William Grant Still Family Donates $68,000 for Radio Promotion

William Grant Still
Photo courtesy Carl Fischer Music

The family of the late African-American composer William Grant Still is once again offering free recordings of his works to radio stations around the world. An ongoing project, the $68,000 needed to fund the purchase of CDs for this year’s campaign was raised from sheet music sales and performances of Still’s music that have taken place over the last year.

“The pieces that are played in our concerts halls and that are broadcast on the airwaves are often selected from a narrow field, while non-European and non-folk elements are ignored,” explains his daughter, Judith Anne Still, who works with Still’s three other children and three grandchildren on the CD project. “We want the public to discover the beauty and value of music that is American, multicultural, and modern.”

Ms. Still feels that the airwaves are the best way to advocate for her father’s music. “I think that William Grant Still gets a better response than other American composers from radio airplay. So that’s the way we’ve decided to go.” The stations that have participated in the project, she says, have found that “they get several calls whenever they play some special Still like the Afro-American Symphony. [Listeners] will call up and ask where to get the recording.” In addition, she has found that radio airplay can lead to live performances of the works. Oftentimes, she says, “a conductor will hear a piece on the radio and start calling around to see where he can get it.”

By all indications, the work of the Still family is making an impact. In the year following her father’s death in 1978, Still says there were only 15 performances of his works, though he wrote nearly 200 compositions. This year there have been more than 14,000.

“People are discovering his music. I’m not sure it’s because we’re getting more tolerant racially, because I’m not sure we are, but my father’s music was not available at all on widely distributed recordings when he died.” The family’s work is changing that. They made the first all-Still recording in 1980, and labels such as Koch, Chandos, and Newport Classic followed. “Somebody noticed that we had been successful with the first recording and other companies came forward. Now we have over fifty [recordings] and there’s more stuff coming out.”

Still speaks with satisfaction about the headway the CD project has made in disseminating the music to the public, but she has no plans to slow down now. The project does not have nonprofit status and so does not solicit outside donations. Profits from the sale and performance of Still’s music, in addition to funds contributed or borrowed by the family, she says, all go towards the purchase of CDs for distribution.

San Francisco Symphony and John Adams Embark on 10-year Plan

John Adams and Michael Tilson Thomas
Photo courtesy Shuman Associates

The San Francisco Symphony has announced a ten-year commissioning project with composer John Adams. The endeavor will result in the creation of four new works, beginning with a piece to be written for the SFS’s 2002-03 European Tour and culminating with a commission in celebration of the Orchestra’s 100th season. In between time, Adams will write a third work for the SFS and one for the San Francisco Youth Symphony.

The project allows the Adams and the SFS to continue a relationship begun when the composer was appointed the orchestra’s first New Music Advisor in 1979, then as its Composer-in-Residence, a position he held until 1985. The new commissioning project was announced on the twentieth anniversary of the world premiere of Harmonium, Adams’s first SFS commission.

Brent Assink, the SFS’s executive director, explains that Adams was a natural choice for such an extensive project. “We don’t have a relationship with another composer that is as deep or as broad as our relationship with John Adams,” he says. “We actually looked at our past relationship with John and realized that had been 20 years since the first work. We thought that it was also important to look ahead to the future, particularly our centennial year which is about nine years away.” In addition, he notes, the SFS considered historical relationships between composers and orchestras, most notably Copland with both the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra. He says that from this, “a kind of collective idea emerged that we solidify our past relationship with John into a future relationship that would ultimately culminate with a major orchestral work written for the SFS on the occasion of our centennial year in 2011.”

“I think it’s also important to point out that John knows this orchestra so well,” Assink adds. “He undoubtedly will write this music with the San Francisco Symphony musicians in mind, many of whom he knows personally.”

When the project was announced, Adams himself noted that “working with the San Francisco Symphony has always been a family affair. The orchestra has an innate feeling for my music, and we seem to understand each other as though we’d grown from a common gene pool. For twenty years and more, I’ve been inspired by these great musicians, and the thought of writing for them again fills me with pleasure and awe. This is the kind of opportunity composers dream of.”

Adams’s performance history with the SFS is substantial. Between 1980 and 1990, he produced a string of orchestral works, many of them premiered and first recorded by the orchestra. They include Common Tones in Simple Time (1979-80), Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985), The Chairman Dances (1986), and Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986). Over the course of past twenty years, the SFS has commissioned four Adams works and given seven world and U.S. premieres, most recently the January 2001 North American premiere of Adams’s co-commissioned El Niño. Adams also appears frequently as a guest conductor with the orchestra and has been a supporter of the San Francisco Youth Orchestra, which has performed his music at home and on international tours.

Mary Ellen Childs on MTC residency

Mary Ellen Childs
Photo by Warwick Green courtesy of Meet the Composer

Mary Ellen Childs is known for creating both instrumental works and compositions that integrate music, dance, and theater. She will be working in the Minneapolis area collaborating with students and instituting a series of performances in public spaces with her performing company CRASH.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: What type of activities have you used to start your residency?

MARY ELLEN CHILDS: My own performing group, which goes by the name of CRASH, is involved in a number of projects. We’re a percussion group but very movement based and very visual, almost a cross between dance and music, and we’re doing a series that we call Street Noise this summer. We’re going out into outlying areas around the Twin Cities and playing festivals and fairs. This past weekend we played at a sculpture garden and they let us get up on the sculptures and play them and it was just wonderful. The idea is that not all performances have to take place in the concert hall where the audience comes to you and they just sit passively. We’re going out to our audience. I’m next collaborating with a visual artist, Norman Andersen. He is a sculptor who creates work out of old musical instruments and old musical instrument parts. Most of his sculptures are mechanized so they move and make sound, and I’ve asked him to create a piece that would be both its own sound maker but is also playable as a musical instrument. We plan to take that to all three sites.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Were you already established in the Minneapolis area or did you have to relocate for the residency?

MARY ELLEN CHILDS: I’ve been here 15 years. And I was really looking for partners that I already had good relationships with so we could go right into the work rather than take a year to get to know each other.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: What made you want to devote three years of your life to this type of project?

MARY ELLEN CHILDS: Well, it’s a direction I was already going in so it just sort fell into place as the right next thing to do. It let me go forward with the kinds of projects that I’m interested in. I’d already been doing a little bit of work with Eden Prairie High School students and with St. Olaf college students and was enjoying that very much. And it also seemed very natural to go out into a community, for instance with these Street Noise performances, because we want to connect with an audience when my group performs. To put it in arts administration terms, its sort of audience development when you can go to your audience. The idea for that sort of happened all by itself after we had the opportunity just to rehearse outdoors. We always attracted a crowd and then people got really curious and they’d ask questions. It was always just really enjoyable to interact with a general public.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: It seems many of your projects are really interdisciplinary. Is that a background you have too? What got you interested on approaching music that way?

MARY ELLEN CHILDS: Well, I grew up dancing and did some choreography early on, so yes that’s very much in my background. I started incorporating sort of a bigger picture thinking into my music about 15 years ago where I paid attention to the staging and what the lighting looked like and how the players entered and exited the stage, or setting up percussion instruments in a certain way for their visual effect. And then I started incorporating movement into what I was doing with players, in percussion music especially. It just sort of progressed naturally for me.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Because this project does place you so much in the community, what do you think is your role as a composer in today’s society?

MARY ELLEN CHILDS: As an artist. I mean I think it really is about creating work and bringing it to people in whatever form, whether its doing it in a theater or bringing it out to the street and then whatever that does for people — whether its pure kinetic enjoyment, or pure kinetic enjoyment plus it reminds them of clapping games that they did when they were a kid, or it just sorts of surprises and delights people because it was something unexpected. I really think it’s simply that. I do other things in the community connected with students or helping the Southern Theater arrange a concert series, but I really think the most important thing is the creation of work and what that does for people. So it’s really being an artist.

Rebeca Mauleón on MTC residency

Rebeca Mauleón
Photo by David Belove courtesy of Meet the Composer

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Why don’t you begin by talking briefly about your plans for the residency?

REBECA MAULEÓN: Well I think that the most important aspect of it is in bringing together a diverse cross section of a population in San Francisco, which in general has been very underserved due to its economic situation. This is an area we call South Market. It has a booming industry and then a very substantial low-income ethnic minority population, so just the challenge of working in this kind of environment and bringing world culture to this kind of diverse community is both challenging and very rewarding. Many of these people are recent immigrants who otherwise wouldn’t really have access to the arts. However, I’m coming into a teaching situation [at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts] that has really already been well established. The other exciting challenge for me was sharing musical skills with unskilled artists, people who are just regular folks, and eventually entertaining the idea of composing with them and for them and having them explore some of their own creativity. The way we’re doing that, in particular with the seniors but also with the kids, is through poetry and spoken word, which is an area that as a composer I’d always wanted to get more involved in. So ultimately I’m kind of stretching my own creative horizons by working in that medium while at the same time giving them the benefits of my information in the whole world music genre. So we’re doing such diverse amount of things. I’m teaching them to do musical accompaniment so they can create their own score to their poems. And this summer I’m going to be teaching them how to make their own instrument.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: What do you hope to gain as an artist from the residency?

REBECA MAULEÓN: I’m getting a lot of material from what I’m doing with the educational program. It’s feeding me and fueling me for writing. It’s really an important opportunity for me to be able to sit down and get inspired, so I’m looking forward to working on a lot of new material. Usually with a lot of these residencies it takes a little while to get going, but we started in right away with the educational part, so I’m actually looking forward now to really getting into some more composing.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Do you think your previous connections to the community will in some ways be a distraction to your work?

REBECA MAULEÓN: You always make time for what you need to do. And also, the muse being what she is, you find that those moments of inspiration come whenever they come. There are moments that you have to be flexible within a residency like this because there are going to be times when you’re just doing a lot more of one aspect than the other. But we have three years, and the beauty of this really is the flexibility and how much we can morph and change to accommodate schedules and lives and things like that. And I know when it comes down to it it’s all going to get done. And then I’m also looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with various artists in the community. I’m very big on collaboration and excited about the potential of working with people that on a regular basis I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: What attracts you to collaboration?

REBECA MAULEÓN: Well I think it brings in refreshing perspectives and musical textures that normally you wouldn’t be able to access. That way it’s also not just a dictatorial concept where you are giving all of the information and they are regurgitating back what you want. It’s much more a process of their molding your vision, helping you to bring it to life. In many of my pieces I also leave a lot open to improvisation. I don’t like to have every single note written on paper, so there’s always going to be a segment of a piece that’s really free and open. Also, people from various aspects of community coming together and working — it’s a sign of cooperation and understanding.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: How have your previous experiences as a composer prepared you for the challenges of this residency?

REBECA MAULEÓN: Well, foremost is not only familiarity but my comfort level with working with people of all cultural backgrounds and all ages. I try to talk to everyone on the same level so they don’t feel they’re being condescended to. The first challenge was working specifically with a group of seniors and then specifically a group of children and then learning how we connect. And we found that we do connect constantly. Now, for example, in my senior group, they’ve established an interest in learning more of the technical aspects of music and theory, so we’re really finding that they also have the capacity to express what their needs are on the learning level. So that’s one of the things that I think is the most important to establish, that nothing’s set in stone, that there is a capacity to change and grow within the scope of the residency and that they themselves can shape it.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Since New Residencies is about composers getting grants not just to work, but also to work with the community, what do you think is the role of composer in a community?

REBECA MAULEÓN: Well, unfortunately I think the composer has on a larger scale always been somewhat invisible. The mass media and the mass population don’t even acknowledge the fact that there are people who create music. It’s more of an entertainment-oriented issue — an extra curricular activity as opposed to something that should be fundamental. So that being said, now I think the challenge is not only to educate the current population on what the role of the composer is, but in having them understand that they too can be creators and composers. It’s going to take a lot more of this kind of programming to bring an awareness of how music is made and how can people feel more connected to the process of music making. And that’s not going to happen overnight. I think for me the most important thing is the demystification of the composer and bringing the whole process down to a more grassroots level — giving everybody access and the opportunity, and letting them know that regardless of your training, you too can be a creator and a music maker and not just be a passive consumer.