Category: Amplifying Voices

New Music USA Submissions for the 2021 ISCM World New Music Days

The logo of ISCM

New Music USA has submitted six works for consideration in the call for scores for the 2021 International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) World New Music Days which, pandemic willing, is scheduled to take place in Shanghai and Nanning from September 17-25, 2021. Each of these six works is by a composer who was chosen to participate in New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program, which was launched in January 2020 to promote marginalized voices in orchestral music and now involves a consortium of 35 American orchestras. Since orchestral music is only one of 12 categories in this year’s call for scores, and each of these composers has created vital work in a wide range of instrumentations, New Music USA has submitted three orchestral scores and three works scored for other combinations. The six composers are Valerie Coleman, Tania León, Jessie Montgomery, Brian Raphael Nabors, Nina Shekhar, and Shelley Washington.

Every year since 1923, with the exception of hiatuses during World War II (1943-45) and the global COVID-19 pandemic (2020), there has been a festival of new music presented somewhere in the world under the aegis of the ISCM, which is a global network of organizations devoted to the promotion and presentation of the music of our time. Some now canonical contemporary music compositions which have received their world premiere performances during these annual ISCM festivals include Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (posthumously), Pierre Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître, Hindemith’s Clarinet Quintet, György Ligeti’s Apparitions, George Perle’s Six Etudes for solo piano, Stockhausen’s Kontakte, Isang Yun’s Third String Quartet, and one sixth of Anton Webern’s published output. These festivals have also had a laudable track record in embracing a wide diversity of new music aesthetics and have been historically way ahead of the curve in showcasing tons of emerging composers, in particular, some significant female composers relatively early in their artistic trajectories: Joan La Barbara, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Canada’s Barbara Pentland, Chile’s Leni Alexander, Serbia’s Ljubica Marić, Korea’s Unsuk Chin, etc. Zwilich and Chin have both credited the ISCM for helping to launch their compositional careers.

For each year’s festival, member organizations submit six pieces of music for consideration in a call for scores. If the member’s submissions follow the ISCM guidelines (the six works must be in at least four different categories of instrumentation, which varies each year), then at least one work must be selected for performance in the festival to ensure that new music from all over the world is presented each year. Many member organizations hold specific competitions to select their six submitted works. Each year New Music USA, which has been a member of the ISCM since 2014, submits six works which have been previously vetted through our various grant programs or through various initiatives for which New Music USA has served as a partner (e.g. EarShot, the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Edward T. Cone Composition Institute). Composers whose New Music USA submitted works were previously performed during the ISCM World New Music Days include Katherine Bergman, Chen Yao, Saad Haddad, Geoffrey Hudson, and Missy Mazzoli.

New Music USA’s submissions for the 2021 ISCM World New Music Days are three orchestral compositions and three works scored for other combinations.

A composite of photos of Valerie Coleman, Tania León, Jessie Montgomery, Shelley Washington, Brian Raphael Nabors, and Nina Shekhar.

The six composers whose works have been submitted by New Music USA in the 2021 ISCM World New Music Days call for scores: (top row) Valerie Coleman, Tania León, Jessie Montgomery; (bottom row) Shelley Washington, Brian Raphael Nabors, and Nina Shekhar.

Valerie Coleman (b. 1970): Seven O’Clock Shout for orchestra (2020)
Seven O’Clock Shout is a declaration of our survival,” says composer Valerie Coleman. “It is something that allows us our agency to take back the kindness that is in our hearts and the emotions that cause us such turmoil. … We cheer on the essential workers with a primal and fierce urgency to let them know that we stand with them and each other.” Seven O’Clock Shout was commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra which is the consortium lead for a future commission by Valerie Coleman as part of the Amplifying Voices program. Seven O’Clock Shout, which received its world premiere in a physically-distanced performance by The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin during the League of American Orchestras’ Virtual Conference in 2020, has become the orchestra’s anthem in response to COVID-19. In addition to honoring frontline workers, this special commission celebrates the strength of human connection even during times of isolation. (Read and/or listen to a conversation with Valerie Coleman.)

Valerie Coleman: Seven O’Clock Shout
Performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Tania León (b. 1943): Stride for orchestra (2019)
Stride is a single-movement orchestral composition which was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and the Oregon Symphony as part of the New York Philharmonic’s “Project 19,” an initiative commissioning new works by 19 female composers in honor of the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which extended voting rights to women. It was first performed by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Jaap van Zweden in David Geffen Hall at New York City’s Lincoln Center on February 13, 2020. The piece is dedicated “In honor of Susan B. Anthony and to the visionaries Deborah Borda and Jaap van Zweden.” Composer Tania León, who will create a new work for the Arkansas Symphony as the lead commissioner in the Amplifying Voices consortium, has acknowledged that Stride was also inspired by her progressive grandmother. The work’s title refers to the action of moving forward. (Tania León was the very first individual composer interviewed for NewMusicBox back in 1999; you can read a complete transcript of that interview here.)

Tania León: Stride
Excerpts from a rehearsal by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Jaap van Zweden.
There is no publicly available performance of the entire composition online currently, but at least there is some rehearsal footage of the New York Philharmonic posted on their YouTube page.

Nina Shekhar (b. 1995): Lumina for orchestra (2020)
According to composer Nina Shekhar, who was recently selected by the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) to compose a new orchestra work for which they will serve as the lead commissioner in the Amplifying Voices program, her work Lumina “explores the spectrum of light and dark and the murkiness in between. Using swift contrasts between bright, sharp timbres and cloudy textures and dense harmonies, the piece captures sudden bursts of radiance amongst the eeriness of shadows.” The work, which was written for the USC Thornton Symphony and premiered by that orchestra under the direction of Donald Crockett at USC Thornton’s Bovard Auditorium in Los Angeles, California on February 28, 2020, was awarded the 2021 ASCAP Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize.

Nina Shekhar: Lumina
Performed by the USC Thornton Symphony conducted by Donald Crockett
Bovard Auditorium (University of Southern California) Los Angeles CA
February 28, 2000

Shelley Washington (b. 1991): Middleground for string quartet (2016)
About her string quartet Middleground, Shelley Washington writes: “MIDDLEGROUND: the space grounded, the between, the center. The Heartland. The prairie, the grasslands, Konza, Flint Hills, Manhattan, Emporia, Salina. Where we gathered. Home of the heart, heart of the home. The years spent in cars, daydreaming, scooping handfuls of wheat, racing out into amber fields, cycling together, water wheel ice cream, fireworks and apples. The stories shared, books read sprawled in the yard, family prayers over anything, late evening walks, quiet nights. Open arms, open hearts, humble and extraordinary. Together, with our wonder, our joy, we created an incredible painting with abounding colors. The kinds of colors that linger in the mind’s eye long after they are out of sight and cradle you long after goodbyes are spoken and car doors closed. The kinds that find you counting the days until the next birthday, the next holiday, the next bike ride, the next Camp, the next anything just so you can see them again. When you close your eyes you feel their warmth. They stay. The middle ground: my refuge born from the land living in my heart. Where my home is, living and breathing outside of my body, thousands of miles apart. This hallowed ground. For my family.” Middleground was first performed by the JACK Quartet in New York City in 2016 and has subsequently been performed by the Jasper String Quartet as well.

Shelley Washington: Middleground
Performed by the Jasper String Quartet
(J Freivogel and Karen Kim, violins; Sam Quintal, viola; and Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello)
Live in concert, Jasper Chamber Concerts 2019

Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981): Duo for Violin and Cello (2015/18)
Jessie Montgomery’s Duo for Violin and Cello, also known as Three Pieces for Violin and Cello, was written for the composer’s friend and cellist Adrienne Taylor. The piece is meant as an ode to friendship with movements characterizing laughter, compassion, adventure, and sometimes silliness. Montgomery will compose an orchestral work for the Amplifying Voices program which will receive its premiere performance by its lead commissioner, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. (Jessie Montgomery was featured in a conversation on NewMusicBox in 2016.)

Jessie Montgomery: Duo for Violin and Cello
Performed by Airi Yoshioka (violin) and Alexis Gerlach (cello)

Brian Raphael Nabors (b. 1991): Énergie for flute and electronics (2015)
According to composer Brian Raphael Nabors, whose Amplifying Voices commissioned orchestral work will be premiered by its lead commissioner, the Berkeley Symphony, his 2015 work Énergie for flute and fixed-format electronics, “encompasses the very nature of energy and its purpose throughout the universe. It also uses its musical material to depict life’s everyday movements, as well as forces of nature such as wind and gravity. The flute is written in a way that captures a very expressive range of tone and timbre throughout the piece; to enhance the expressive nature of the electronics.” The electronics were created from synths using various effects such as phasing, reverb, granulation, and more. Processed vocals, educational material on the subject of energy, as well as recordings of President Barack Obama’s comments on green energy were also utilized. The work was first performed by Brittany Trotter on the Fresh Perspectives new music series launch concert at Lab Studios by Glo in Cleveland, OH in 2018.

Brian Raphael Nabors: Énergie
Performed by Timothy Hagen
Amplify, Concert No. 1, Virtual Concert
September 9, 2020

New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program was kick-started with a generous contribution from The Sphinx Organization which selected this initiative to shift the canon for future generations as a Sphinx Venture Fund (SVF) recipient for 2020. Additional funding from the Sorel Organization and industry partners ASCAP and Wise Music Trust has enabled the program to further expand. Through a national call, New Music USA asked orchestras to come forward with proposals for co-commissions and a commitment to promote existing repertoire that deserves further performances. There are now a total of eight orchestras serving as consortium leads in the program. The other two composers involved are Tyshawn Sorey and Juan Pablo Contreras who will work with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Las Vegas Philharmonic respectively. Other partner orchestras involved in the program include the Aspen Music Festival and School, Auburn Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Boston Landmarks Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, California Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, New World Symphony, Richmond Symphony, ROCO, and Seattle Symphony.

New Music USA Awards $287,050 to 54 Projects

New Music USA project grants 4

New Music USA has announced its fourth round of project grants awards, totaling $287,050 in funding to support artistic work involving a wide range of new American music. The 54 awarded projects include concerts and recordings, as well as dance, film, theater, opera, and more—all involving contemporary music as an essential element. Awarded projects from all four rounds can be discovered, explored, and followed by the public via media-rich project pages.

New Music USA President and CEO Ed Harsh commented, “We intend our support of new music to go beyond just money. We want to give our colleagues in the field powerful tools to build community around their work, to the benefit of all.”

During this round, an additional $30,000 over the program’s original budget was made available through the actions of a developing national network of individual new music enthusiasts. This additional investment adds support to projects chosen for funding as part of our grant program’s panel process. The network was piloted and convened by New Music USA over the past year, and it is designed to connect and engage individuals from across the United States to advocate for and empower the new music field.

In response to feedback from artists who were surveyed last summer following the two inaugural rounds of the program, the fourth round continued to include a special focus on requests of $3,000 and below. Approximately 44% of grants awarded were in this category. The next round of project grants will open for requests in September 2015 and decisions will be announced in early 2016. Including the awards announced today, New Music USA’s project grants program, launched in October 2013, has now distributed $1,219,300 in support of 233 projects.

More information about New Music USA’s project grants is available on New Music USA’s website.

(–from the press release)

ASCAP Adventurous Programming Awards Presented at League Conference

ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) joined the League of American Orchestras in presenting 26 awards to orchestras who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to contemporary composers at a special Awards Presentation held yesterday during the League’s 66th National Conference in Minneapolis. Cia Toscanini, ASCAP Assistant Vice President of Concert Music, presented the awards to American orchestras whose past season prominently featured music written within the last 25 years.

The winners are:

John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music:
Alabama Symphony Orchestra – Justin Brown, Musical Director and Principal Conductor

Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming:
Los Angeles Philharmonic – Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director
Leonard Bernstein Award for Educational Programming:
Minnesota Orchestra – Osmo Vänskä, Music Director

Awards for Programming of Contemporary Music:

Group 1 Orchestras (expenses more than $15.9 million):
1st Place: New York Philharmonic – Alan Gilbert, Music Director
2nd Place: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
3rd Place: Nashville Symphony Orchestra – Giancarlo Guerrero, Music Director

Group 2 Orchestras (expenses $7.5 million – $15.9 million):
1st Place: New World Symphony – Michael Tilson Thomas, Artistic Director
2nd Place: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra – JoAnn Falletta, Music Director
3rd Place: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra – Jeffrey Kahane, Music Director

Group 3/4 Orchestras (expenses $2.0 million – $7.5 million):
1st Place: Albany Symphony Orchestra (NY) – David Alan Miller, Music Director and Conductor
2nd Place: The New Haven Symphony Orchestra – William Boughton, Music Director
3rd Place: Dayton Philharmonic – Neal Gittleman, Music Director and Conductor

Group 5/6 Orchestras (expenses $550,000 – $2.0 million):
1st Place: American Composers Orchestra – Robert Beaser, Artistic Director/George Manahan, Music Director, Derek Bermel, Creative Advisor
2nd Place: Berkeley Symphony – Joana Carneiro, Music Director
3rd Place: Princeton Symphony Orchestra – Rossen Milanov, Music Director, Princeton Symphony Orchestra

Group 7/8 Orchestras (expenses less than $550,000):
1st Place: The New England Philharmonic – Richard Pittman, Music Director and Conductor
2nd Place: Yakima Symphony Orchestra – Lawrence Golan, The Helen N. Jewett Music Director
3rd Place: Pioneer Valley Symphony – Paul Phillips, Music Director and Conductor

Collegiate Orchestras:
1st Place: Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra – Jeffery Meyer, Director of Orchestras
2nd Place: Lamont Symphony Orchestra – Lawrence Golan, Music Director and Conductor
3rd Place: Cornell University Orchestras – Chris Younghoon Kim, Director of Orchestras

Youth Orchestras:
1st Place: Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras – Allen Tinkham, Music Director
2nd Place: Empire State Youth Orchestras – Helen Cha-Pyo, Music Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor
3rd Place: New York Youth Symphony – Ryan McAdams, Music Director

1st Place: Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music – Marin Alsop, Music Director and Conductor
2nd Place: Aspen Music Festival and School – Asadour Santourian, Vice President for Artistic Administration and Artistic Advisor

(—from the press release)

A Conversation with Peter Dickinson

  • READ an excerpt from CageTalk edited by Peter Dickinson.

    Composer/pianist/author Peter Dickinson

    Frank J. Oteri: Since his death, there have been so many articles and books published about John Cage, to the point where it seems that no stones have been left unturned, yet your collection of interviews manages to offer several fresh perspectives. Perhaps being on the other side of the Atlantic has afforded some necessary critical distance from both Cage and his detractors here in the United States?

    Peter Dickinson: CageTalk is a British perspective on Cage, and I have drawn on sources collected over many years in the U.K. that may not be readily accessible elsewhere. Something similar could be done for Cage’s reception in France, Germany, or Italy, but his British exposure is longer, usually more critical and probably more detailed.

    FJO: What initially triggered your fascination with Cage?

    PD: Attending concerts at the Living Theater in Greenwich Village and meeting Cage himself around 1960 after I had been a graduate student at Juilliard. Of course, he was utterly captivating. I think my admiration for him emerges through CageTalk, even though I probed his intentions rather sharply in some of the interviews.

    FJO: Your relationship to the music of American composers was a formative influence on your own development as a composer. What made you decide to study in the United States?

    PD: My father had been to the U.S.A. before World War II for professional reasons—he was the contact lens pioneer Frank Dickinson. My family in Lancashire got to know Americans in the services based nearby during the war years. So when I planned post-graduate study, it seemed more enterprising to go to New York rather than follow others to Europe. I was one of the first British composers to do this.

    FJO: How did studying with American composers affect your own compositional identity?

    PD: At Juilliard I studied with the Dutch-American Bernard Wagenaar (I admired his compatriot Willem Pijper), came into contact with William Bergsma, and remember Charles Jones’s classes where I discovered Ives—the Concord Sonata and “General William Booth.” My sister, mezzo Meriel Dickinson and I later did many recitals including Ives and other American composers. These included Copland, Carter, Cage, and Thomson, and we made some first recordings. I was certainly affected by the lively atmosphere at Juilliard—my fellow students included Philip Glass and Peter Schickele—as well as what was going on in New York City. In the second of my three years in the US, I reviewed concerts for the Musical Courier—an unforgettable panoply of all the major orchestras at Carnegie Hall.

    FJO: Has Cage been an influence on your own music? If so, in what way?

    PD: Cage persuasively opened up everybody’s horizons so that one could approach or even embrace a kind of chaos in sound. The more dense passages of my larger works—such as the three concertos—reflect this, but I have never been able to relinquish control in the way that Cage did.

    FJO: What, in your estimation, are some of the key differences between American and European composers?

    PD: This is now a very complex question because there has been so much interaction for so long. By the mid-20th century—heard from this side of the Atlantic—the use of popular music by some American composers was a major defining feature. Copland said that was his intention in drawing on jazz idioms in the 1920s; Ives absorbed pre-jazz syncopations well before that; Carter has discussed a specifically American rhythmic sense in performance; Bernstein fulfilled Henry Cowell’s notion of “living in the whole world of music” more than Cowell himself. There was a celebration of diversity sometimes missing when European composers were involved in popular music where figures such as Weill and Maxwell Davies have given their references a sleazy or cynical connotation. More recently, popular elements in the music of John Adams come across in a positive way and have helped to create the wide audience response to what seems to be a specifically American personality. And the international public increasingly goes to Ives, Copland and Gershwin as well as jazz and musicals for their unique American qualities.

    FJO: I know that some people interviewed in the book, including Stockhausen have already pondered this question, but I wanted to turn it back over to you: Would a John Cage have been possible in Europe? Why or why not?

    PD: Very unlikely. And you can’t imagine a European Harry Partch either. Such figures arose from the wide open spaces: the open mind starting afresh, the absence of a dominating tradition. And Cage is a West Coast phenomenon affected by Eastern philosophy. There have been British eccentrics of an earlier generation who anticipated aspects of modernism before their compatriots: Cyril Scott, whose 1908 Piano Sonata No. 1 is almost Ivesian; Kaikhosru Sorabji, who forbade performance of his madly complex and dissonant works until the 1970s because he knew they would be played so badly; and Lord Berners, who was much admired by Stravinsky. Scott was also a writer of books on health and was interested in spiritualism. Sorabji’s ancestry was half Parsi. Berners made fun of almost everything. Unlike Cage, these composers have had little influence. There’s nothing as radical as the microtonalism of Partch and his homemade instruments or the incorporation of noise in Cage. Although there is a post-Cage generation represented in the U.K. by Cornelius Cardew and Gavin Bryars—and Cage affected young composers in other countries from his Darmstadt visits onwards.

    FJO: Cage was and in some ways continues to be a polarizing force in music, even among some so-called maverick composers—I’m reminded of Elliott Carter’s response when asked what he thought about John Cage: “I do not think about John Cage.” Why do you think his music and the ideas that generated it are so difficult for some people to acknowledge?

    PD: Most people find it difficult to turn themselves into Zen Buddhists and accept what Cage said he liked best—”the sound of what happens” regardless. As Kurt Schwertsik said in CageTalk, “You have to be in good shape to listen to Cage.” He meant, of course, the indeterminate pieces rather than the earlier and later fully notated works.

    FJO: But in a post-Cage musical universe, is there anything to rebel against? Can there still be new music?

    PD: Cage emerged when there was still a kind of consensus culture in Western classical music and a perceptible mainstream, which he was able to infiltrate lethally but disarmingly. That situation has now exploded into a kind of cultural fragmentation with masses of different publics all downloading their own favorite music. Often the way in which music or video is presented is the main thing—it was more than forty years ago when McLuhan said “the medium is the message.”

    FJO: In your introduction, you cite a rather nasty dismissal of Cage by a New York Times music critic who claimed that only four works by Cage would be remembered twenty years hence, all of them writings rather than musical compositions. Hindsight, of course, has proven this to be completely wrong; Cage has emerged as a canonic figure and record companies can’t seem to get enough of him. There are hundreds of Cage recordings including multiple versions of many of his works at this point. What would you say are Cage’s most important musical compositions?

    PD: This is an issue that emerges frequently in CageTalk. The extensive keyboard works—involving piano, prepared piano, toy piano—now fall within the 20th century repertoire. The percussion works were pioneering and are now an essential contribution. Even the string quartets get played. The notated number pieces of Cage’s last decade are a final testament unlike anything else. In between there are taxing virtuoso pieces based on chance operations such as the Freeman Etudes for solo violin, the Music for Piano series, and a large group of works that involve performers in making arrangements to create the piece. As Earle Brown’s interview in CageTalk shows, there are problems when this technique is applied to established groups such as orchestras, but players continue to find these tasks challenging and, as you say, there are more and more recordings—which speaks for itself.

    FJO: As the compositions of Cage veer ever closer to standard repertoire status, might it be possible for Cage to be viewed one day as a conservative composer that a subsequent generation will need to rebel against?

    PD: Not exactly, but the more extreme aspects of Cage could be seen as having done their job even if the universalist and multi-cultural aspects of his ideas remain relevant.</p

Solo for Piano

Misha Dacic, piano

What do you get when you cross Morton Feldman’s obsession with consecutive minor seconds with an expressivity more along the lines of Schoenberg? Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you John Van der Slice’s Solo for Piano. This puppy is kind of weird looking, but still very cute and playful. The music is all about intervals, and it sticks to its guns, tossing taut little riffs around different registers on the keyboard, making for one spiffy piano piece.


The Friday Informer: I’m Gonna Live Forever, I’m Gonna Learn How To Fly

Photo of the Week:
Jade Simmons brings new definition to the prepared piano.
  • Apparently even the demurest of wallflowers secretly wants nothing more than her 15 minutes. I wasn’t convinced, so I asked a friend of mine, considering how he has a history with the subject. I kid you not: his eyes sort of glazed over, his toe started tapping, and he began to sing
  • Think you’ve got perfect pitch? Prove it. (Just make sure Johnny Depp doesn’t try to cheat and copy your answers.)
  • The latest in ironic irony: Don’t Download This Song.
  • “One of the year’s best commercial releases…were it not entirely free.”
  • “(Musical talent) signals that if you can waste your time on something that has no immediate impact on food-gathering and shelter, you’ve got your food-gathering and shelter taken care of.” No laughing…the dude is serious.
  • Things may be rough in Tehran, yet the symphony still manages to put three contemporary pieces (including one by an American) on the program. Proof that the marketing departments of American orchestras are actually more intimidating than Supreme Leader Ali Hoseini-Khamenei. [via sequenza21]

Steve from Puxico, Missouri writes: “I’m beginning ideas for a new theme and variations/symphonic poem piece. In your/your readers’ opinion(s), what piece would be considered the “ultimate” theme and variations or symphonic poem piece (or, perhaps, a work which fits both categories). Just looking for a model to study.”

Anyone? Anyone?