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Some Thoughts About Dorico The Morning After

Members of the Ensemble Perpetuo join composer/pianist Thomas Hewitt Jones for the premiere of his new work commissioned for the launch of the Dorico music notation software program in London.

I’ll admit to being something of a notational geek.  Elaine Gould’s Behind Bars sits on my bedside table.  I collect contemporary scores.  I used to use Finale, then switched to Sibelius in 2005 after moving to London.

I don’t know any of its members personally, but it felt like a personal affront when Avid cut the Sibelius team.  And it felt akin to my team (Arsenal) winning the Premiere League (…insert joke here if you get the reference…) when I heard Cubase had scooped them up to build a brand new notation program.  All this is to say that, when I headed down to the Bush Theatre on October 18 to get my first full-on look at the new software, I was really excited.  I’m cheering for this entire experiment.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way very quickly:

• Dorico looks fantastic. It reminds me of the layout of Adobe Software such as InDesign and Photoshop. I want it. It looks intuitive and sensible. It might give me fewer rage moments than Sibelius.

• Dorico is a piece of professional notation software. (Hopefully this is not a surprise.) However intuitive it might be, there are plenty of idiosyncrasies, and it would take anyone time to learn it, and to make it do the things that you want. (It will almost certainly still cause you some rage moments.)

If you want to understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of Dorico, begin with the team that built it.  At the preview event l attended last night, Daniel Spreadbury told us that, when they first gathered together, they started with three basic goals.  Here they are, with some initial thoughts on how they impacted the software:

1. To be able to compose directly into the software.

This is fundamental to many of the innovations Dorico has created, especially the emphasis on flexibility early in the engraving process. Thomas Hewitt Jones, whose new work Doric Overture was commissioned for and premiered at the beginning of the evening, highlighted “flows” (the initial engraving step in Dorico) as inspirational and important to him because it allowed him to create an idea directly within the software without worrying about the time signature/key signature/tempo/details of that idea, and also said that this flexibility meant he would compose the remainder of his current (music theater) project in it.

2. To have a graphical output that is as good as possible, and built from the heart of historical notation.

As I’ve already said, Dorico looks great. The “graphical clarity” and attention to detail from the team is really quite impressive.  The defaults look great and, wonderfully, there is a really deep emphasis on customizability.  We naturally only skimmed along the surface of the program during the event (and I haven’t had the chance to trial it), but even from the short presentation we had, Dorico looked incredibly deep and nuanced.  This is to a point where I would bet money that most, if not all, of the major publishers will be working from Dorico very soon after its official launch. [Ed note: UPDATE – An extremely detailed description of Dorico’s history and design was just posted on the independent Sibelius blog.]

3. Since they were working at Steinberg, home of Cubase they wanted a program that sounds as great as it looks. (“At its heart is an audio engine.”)

Dorico contains within itself a playback control panel that effectively looks like the sequencer you’re used to seeing in ProTools/Logic.  It has impressive audio support (VST Plugins, 32-bit floating-point resolution, more than 1,500 sounds, etc.).  There are really no two ways about this, this is a huge step forward for the playback and programming possibilities through a piece of notation software.

I think most of the people reading this site will come to this post with two questions:

• Should I (assuming you are now an experienced composer/performer/engraver familiar with Finale or Sibelius) spend the money and time inherent in making the switch to Dorico?

• Should I tell my new/young students to start with/move to it? (Or, if you’re not yet working with Finale/Sibelius, should you start with Dorico over these competitors?)

Obviously these questions are impossible to definitively answer without actually using the software.  Intuitively, though, I think the second question is fairly obvious.  Dorico looks to be a more modern program in how it interacts with sequencing, and while I’m not sure everyone is going to love everything about it, it’s definitely every bit as powerful as either Finale or Sibelius.  Let me put it this way: I highly doubt you’re going to find something you used to be able to do in Finale or Sibelius that you’re not going to be able to do in Dorico.

But what about the first question?  This is harder to answer, particularly because we didn’t really get to see Dorico go through its paces or answer any truly difficult notational questions.  The new commission by Hewitt-Jones was fun, but there is really no question it could have been engraved in Finale or Sibelius quite easily.  And it’s great that the software is so quick and fluid at entering the music of Chopin (and Beethoven, the printed example we saw), but I write music that looks like this:

A sample of music by Aaron Holloway-Nahum engraved using Sibelius

and The Riot Ensemble, from time to time, performs music that looks like this:

A sample of music by Evan Johnson, engraving method unknown.

Now I don’t think Evan Johnson did that in Sibelius, but I made my score there, and while it wasn’t without its annoyances, my personal decision is probably going to come down to the price, unless the program really saves me a ton of time in producing this.

Two other little points:

• I write all of my music by hand first, and only then enter it into an engraving software. So, when it comes to their priority of being able to compose directly into the software, I don’t do this and the many options that facilitate it don’t really speak to me.

• I also don’t expect (or even want) my engraving software to play this back to me.In all my roles (composer, conductor, teacher) I’m a bit reticent about this move toward smarter and “better-sounding” software, because it hasn’t ever captured anything of the performance reality in new (contemporary classical) music, plus it can (and does) make a lot of composers lazy and a lot of performers lives a lot harder.  I’m involved in seeing and performing a lot of new scores each year with The Riot Ensemble, and without wanting to labor the point, we can tell really quickly when a composer is relying on the computer playback or notation engines.

So, I guess the summary is: be excited.  This is a really good-looking piece of software that has a lot of promise.  Do try it, and then you’ll have to see if it works for you.  I certainly will do this, and if NewMusicBox will have me, I’ll be back with further thoughts once I have!

Musical America Announces 2017 Honorees

The 1912 masthead for Musical America

New music is an important focus in the 2017 Musical America awards which have just been announced. Musical America, the United States’ oldest classical music magazine (published now exclusively online with the exception of an annual International Directory of the Performing Arts), will be presenting these awards formally in a ceremony in December at Carnegie Hall. In addition, each awardee is the subject of a tribute article that will appear in the concurrently released 2017 Directory.

The 2017 award for Composer of the Year has been awarded to Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra composer-in-residence Andrew Norman who was profiled in NewMusicBox in February 2014. Previous recipients of this award, which has been given annually since 1992, include John Corigliano (its first recipient), Milton Babbitt (1996), Stephen Sondheim (2000), Lou Harrison (2002), Christopher Rouse (2009), Meredith Monk (2012), and John Luther Adams (2015). Musical America’s citation describes Norman as “among the most versatile, not to mention performed, American composers of the day, with a list of commissions that would outdistance colleagues twice his age.”

The recipient of the 2017 award for Ensemble of the Year is the four-time Grammy Award-winning new music sextet Eighth Blackbird, which has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works including Steve Reich’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet, and which this year marks its 20th anniversary. Nearly 10 years ago, NewMusicBox posted a conversation with the entire ensemble about how they got turned on to new music, along with their fellow Oberlin alumni in the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

Other 2017 awardees have also been deeply involved with contemporary music. Helsinki Philharmonic Chief Conductor and former Ensemble InterContemporain Music Director Susanna Mälkki (Conductor of the Year), a staunch new music champion whose October 2013 appearance with the Chicago Symphony (which included the local premiere of Thomas Adès’s …and all shall be well) was described in great detail by Ellen McSweeney in NewMusicBox, will make her Metropolitan Opera debut on December 1 conducting the New York premiere of her Finnish compatriot Kaija Saariajo’s L’Amour de loin. Bass-baritone Eric Owens (Vocalist of the Year) made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2008 singing the role of General Leslie Groves in John Adams and Peter Sellars’s Doctor Atomic, a role he created at the opera’s world premiere at the San Francisco Opera in 2005. He also sang the role of the Storyteller in the world premiere of Adams/Sellars’s A Flowering Tree (a role which he subsequently recorded for Nonesuch) at the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna as well as the title role of Elliott Goldenthal’s opera Grendel at the Los Angeles Opera. In 2008, Molly Sheridan talked with Owens about his collaborations with contemporary composers for NewMusicBox.

Finally, Musical America’s 2017 Instrumentalist of the Year, Beijing-born pianist Yuja Wang, who has championed the music of New Zealand composer John Psathas, has also been chosen as Musical America’s 2017 Artist of the Year, the highest accolade among these awards.

Corigliano, Who Set Dylan Text, Reflects on Songwriter’s Nobel Lit Win

A great deal of reporting and online chatter flooded in behind this morning’s announcement of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win in literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” But could the text be separated from the music? Was this choice brilliant? Was this choice a publicity stunt?

Beyond the mainstream commentary and think pieces bound to follow, John Corigliano is in a unique position to reflect on Dylan’s text for a new music audience, as he set the songwriter’s work in 2000 to create the song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan. We asked him about the literary merits and character of Dylan’s text, from his perspective as someone who worked with this material at such a granular level.

When I wrote my seven-song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man, I had not heard the music to Bob Dylan’s songs; but I had purchased a large book of his lyrics and, on first reading, immediately recognized them for the poetry they are. These lyrics can evoke a Whitman-like grandeur, as in “Chimes of Freedom;” etch an Agee-like portrait of small town life, as in “Clothes Line,” or declaim a terrifying indictment of militarism (“Masters of War”). I can see why the Nobel committee awarded him the prize for literature.

The POTUS concurs:

My Oldest Friend and Best Collaborator: Remembering Richard Peaslee (1930-2016)

[Ed Note: Richard Peaslee was an extraordinarily prolific composer who worked in many different idioms including orchestral music, band music, soundtracks for film and television, dance, and jazz. But he is perhaps most widely known for his numerous theatrical scores. After learning of his passing at his home in Seattle in late August, we approached his frequent collaborator, playwright/screen writer/director Kenneth Cavander to share his thoughts with us about Peaslee’s music and his personality. The composer’s widow, painter Dixie Peaslee, provided us with these wonderful photos.—FJO]

It all started with a live snake. The live snake appeared in a 1969 production at the Yale Repertory Theater and threatened to steal the show, slithering around the head and shoulders of the lead actor who, to his credit, calmly went on with his performance with the sangfroid and wit the part demanded.

The actor was Alvin Epstein, the play Euripides’s Bacchae, a celebration of Dionysiac possession and the invasion of a civilized culture by forces of demonic power. Accompanying the snake and the bizarre and violent action were music and sound effects that perfectly complemented the sinister, hypnotic atmosphere of the work.

The music and sound were created by Richard (Dick) Peaslee, and it’s how I got to know him. (I had translated the play.)

Actually, I had got to know Dick’s music five years before I met him in person, when I sat in London’s Aldwych Theater entranced, puzzled, and disturbed by another play in which forces from the unconscious were unleashed—Peter Brook’s groundbreaking production of Marat/Sade as it was called. (The actual title of the Peter Weiss’s play is 25 words long.)

Richard Peaslee conferring with Peter Brook (director) on the set of Marat/Sade with actors in costume in the background.

Richard Peaslee conferring with Peter Brook (director) on the set of Marat/Sade.

Dick’s music for Marat/Sade catapulted him to the forefront of theater composers. The songs thrummed, jolted, and seduced you with their sweet-sour melodies and jagged rhythms.

At the time, I was just beginning a career in theater and television, and I had never encountered anything like this. It took five years of experimentation with various theatrical forms and a string of personal happenstances and professional zig-zags to bring us together.

So, back to the snake. The production of Bacchae at Yale, directed by Andre Gregory, was a fraught experience for almost everyone, especially the actors whose loyalty was divided between Andre and a co-director who was responsible for the chorus movement. The members of that chorus—graduate students at the Yale School of Drama—were themselves going through the heady rebellions of the ‘60s. And, on top of it all, there was the snake.

In the middle of this tumult was a quiet, thoughtful, slender figure, adjusting sound levels, bringing in musical motifs, percussion beats, and seldom raising his voice above a quiet murmur. He seemed sane, grown up, self-assured, and I decided he was the person I could be compatible with.

“What’s the egg whisk for?’ I asked him.

“Well, you see, I think it would work for the scene where the women tear his head off.”

I swallowed hard and pressed ahead. Dick told me about his work with Brook on Marat/Sade—how he and Brook experimented with creating musical effects from everyday objects, banging spoons on the exposed strings of a grand piano or dragging a metal funnel across a grating in the floor to mimic the sound of a ratchet on a guillotine. His favorite was submerging a struck gong in a large cauldron of hot water. “It produces a perfect glissando,” he told me.

Peaslee writing music on manuscript paper on a table.

That first encounter with Dick encapsulates a lot of the essence of the man. At his core was a quiet and sturdy gentleness, a respect for others, and a grace that may have come from his Quaker upbringing, fortified by an education that took him from the Groton School to Yale to Juilliard.  At the same time, he possessed an openness to the unconventional and untried, along with a streak of irreverent humor and wildness that drew him to subject matter and musical expression outside the mainstream. The better I got to know him, the more clear it became that beneath the outwardly understated and modest gentleman lurked an uninhibited Great God Pan that mostly came out in his music.

After Bacchae, my memory tells me that he wrote the music for another play I translated for the Yale Repertory, Moliere’s Don Juan; this time, no snake, but the hero did go down in flames.

Dick and I kept in touch. He was working with Peter Brook again, notably on Brook’s revolutionary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was continuing to adapt, write, and direct. Then, in 1972, the director of the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts invited me create a show for their Second Company. I chose to adapt some stories from Boccaccio’s Decameron, and to turn it into a musical.

Tentatively, but hopeful, I asked Dick if he would agree to compose the music. I’m not sure why he said yes. I think there was something in Boccaccio’s stories—the setting of a deadly plague, rebelliousness and sexiness in the characters, a group of young people telling stories to each other—that appealed to the mischief in him and provided such an edge to his music. At any rate, whatever the motive, he responded to the tales, with their darkly satiric view of a society collapsing under the threat of a mortal pandemic. In one of them, the abbot of a deliriously corrupt monastery in an obscure village seduces the beautiful wife of a local farmer when she comes to receive absolution in his confessional. The lyrics I wrote were innocent enough, expressing Boccaccio’s sly satire while staying just this side of blasphemy, but Dick added a twist of his own—a backup group of swinging monks, chanting a miserere in a counterpoint blend of plainchant and soft rock.

It was in this production—which went on from Williamstown to the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., to other regional theaters, and briefly to New York—that I acquired my education in writing for musical theater, with Dick as my guide, mentor, and artistic lodestone.

I can’t remember a time when Dick presented me with a melody, or even a musical phrase, and said, “See if you can make your lyrics fit what I’ve written.” Invariably, he would wait for me to present him with the lyrics first, and then, a few days later, come back with a draft of the song. And then, subtly, gently, but with a persuasive mix of demonstration on the piano and tapping out of rhythms, he would show me how the lyric could be improved, expanded, edited, and dramatized in ways I had never imagined when I drafted it.

For a while after that, our paths diverged. Then, a couple of years later, Dick called me and suggested I come over and listen to something he’d been working on.

Around that time, composers were experimenting with synthesizers. Dick liked gadgets, and the synthesizer was the ultimate musical gadget. His apartment had been rigged up with four enormous loudspeakers, each as tall as an average citizen of New York City, and from these Dick could project an effect of being enveloped in quadrophonic music and sound effects that summoned aggrieved thuds on his walls from the neighbors in adjacent apartments. I don’t believe he ever connected these pieces into one organic composition, but for me they were fascinating as a way to subtly change the listener’s perception of reality.

Richard Peaslee performing on an upright piano with a synthesizer on top of it.

Richard Peaslee performing on piano and synthesizers.

At the time I had become interested in the Arthurian cycle, the mysterious tales, some by anonymous authors, of the Knights of the Round Table. I had an invitation to go back to Williamstown with another production, so the following summer the monster speakers and all Dick’s electronic equipment were loaded into his car and set up in the space provided for us—a school auditorium on the edge of the Williams College campus. In keeping with the eclectic nature of the synthesizer experiments, we strung together a group of stories from the legends and let the actors immerse themselves in the music. There were no lyrics, no songs, just the music and the action, with the music assuming the role of an independent actor in its own right.

That created an interesting dilemma.  With no live musicians to take visual cues from the actors, it was up to the actors to time their lines, movements, entrances, and exits according to the often complex rhythms and shifts of mood Dick had created in his recorded pieces.  This was before the era of computerized soundboards, and in any case we were working with a shoe-string budget. The only way the two elements—the actors’ performances and Dick’s music—could be coordinated was through the dexterity and concentration of a stage manager operating the switches and volume controls of the tape machine. All this was made even more complicated by the time lag between the reactions of the stage manager at the controls, the activation of the tape machine, and the emergence of the sound from the speakers.

It was the only time I heard Dick curse.

Nevertheless, the Arthurian legends had captured our imagination. They returned in a more conventional form to fulfill a commission for the Lincoln Center Institute. This time we left the synthesizer in the apartment and Dick went back to a score to be played by live musicians.

Once again, though, he felt the urge to play with stage conventions. In one scene, the hero Sir Gawain is subjected to a humiliating duel with an Invisible Knight. But how to represent this on stage, short of an unconvincing display of an actor slashing the air with a sword? Dick had a solution. He had a soft spot for the French horn. This was a golden opportunity to indulge it. He decided to bring one of the musicians on stage and make the sound of the instrument represent Gawain’s unseen adversary. It was both scary and a bit disturbing, though it wasn’t a solution that was practical for every production of the work.

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that the main reason Dick wanted to do this was so that, in future printed versions of the piece, the stage direction could read EXIT, PURSUED BY A FRENCH HORN.

Richard Peaslee at his home studio.

Richard Peaslee at his home studio in Seattle, 2010.

The last time I saw Dick, he was physically limited by the progress of the multiple sclerosis that disabled him in his later years. We talked over a long lunch in Seattle, his wife Dixie joined us, and though he couldn’t say much himself I felt strongly that his quickness of mind and humor were alive and well.

As I left Dixie confirmed for me that indeed the Dick I had known for nearly half a century was still there. She told me that only the other day, as he was leaving their apartment and passed a vase of carnations that were wilting and drooping from being left too long, he looked at the flowers and commented, “They look like they need a reincarnation.”

And that is how I think of him, reincarnated every time I listen to his music.

Peaslee (center) on the stage of Alice Tully Hall in 1989 with (starting on the left) cellist Eugene Friesen, composer Peter Schickele, choreographer Martha Clarke, singer Jim Naughton, and orchestrator Bruce Coughlin at the end of the Composers' Showcase tribute to Richard Peaslee.

Peaslee (center) on the stage of Alice Tully Hall in 1989 with (starting on the left) cellist Eugene Friesen, composer Peter Schickele, choreographer Martha Clarke, singer Jim Naughton, and orchestrator Bruce Coughlin at the end of the Composers’ Showcase tribute to Richard Peaslee.

Delivering the News You Need

Once upon a time, the flow of online new music content resembled a fairly impressive waterfall that gave off an encouraging roar of ideas and new sounds fed by individual music makers and appreciators. We bookmarked them. Later we followed their RSS feeds. When we look around today, it can feel like those many channels of commentary have more or less steadied into (main)streams of Facebook posts and Twitter links and SoundCloud files, but the volume has exponentially multiplied. Take your eyes and ears off it for a second, and this wall of ever-increasing thought and opinion looms like snow about to cut loose down the hillside. Yet we bravely wade in, anxious that we may be wasting time but too worried that we’ll miss something important to look away.

If you take a cruise through any of our index pages here on NewMusicBox, you’ll notice we’ve done a little restyling just in time for the new season. This fresh look will make mobile consumption of content a bit more friendly and hopefully offer you a better browsing experience both at home and while running between gigs. You’ll still find Counterstream Radio at the top of every page, the day’s birthday wishes in the content stream, and the same flow of original posts bringing you news and ideas from writers spanning the nation.

In addition, we’re going to mix in links to great content drawn from across the web. As users of any type of social media know only too well, the underlying design of these services is continually tweaked to help us better filter and sort through the firehose of online expression. Yet by adding so much machine to the curation chain, the result is imperfect (even if that is just how the internet works). Here at New Music USA, we have an office Slack channel devoted to sharing brilliant or otherwise thought-provoking content with fellow staffers as we come across it, just so no one misses out on an item worth consideration or a second look. Often these bits of news and discussion then flow out through our own social channels, to be bashed about in the content waves. Yet it’s never felt like quite enough. We wanted to more easily find this content again in the future and to make sure there was space to host conversation around current hot topics—especially when they related to our field concerns in ways that take us beyond an outside article’s surface.

So we are going to try some new ways to feature not only the same volume of original content here on the site but also great reading that we’ve discovered out in the wider world. See a post that you think warrants broader notice? Please do tip us off!

Julia Wolfe Named 2016 MacArthur Fellow

Julia Wolfe is among the 23 recipients of 2016 MacArthur Fellowships. She was recognized for the creation of music that “combines influences from folk, classical, and rock genres in works that are grounded in historical and legendary narratives. Often described as post-minimalist, Wolfe demonstrates an openness to sonic possibilities, with choral elements and instruments such as the mountain dulcimer, bagpipes, and body percussion often augmenting string and orchestral arrangements.”

The Bang on a Can co-founder and co­–artistic director is noted for the integration of music, movement, and visual elements in her work. Currently associate professor of music composition at the Steinhardt School at New York University, Wolfe won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for her piece Anthracite Fields, which explored the complex history of the coal mining industry.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a “no strings attached” award that comes with a stipend of $625,000 to the recipient, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years. More information about the 2016 MacArthur fellows and the awarding process is available on the MacArthur Foundation website.

American Composers Orchestra President Michael Geller Departing in December

After 20 years as executive leader of American Composers Orchestra (ACO), President and CEO Michael Geller will depart the organization at the end of 2016. He is leaving to attend to personal and family obligations while considering new professional opportunities. ACO’s Board of Directors is seeking a new executive director who will continue to build upon the success and stability that Geller has spearheaded over the past 20 years.

“Michael Geller’s contribution to ACO has been enormous,” according to ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel.  “Through a combination of vision and commitment, he has steered the orchestra through two exciting decades of evolution and innovation.” ACO Music Director George Manahan said, “Working with Michael for my past six years as ACO’s Music Director, I have seen first hand his strong commitment and devotion to the orchestra. We owe him our sincere gratitude for his many years of leadership.” ACO Board of Directors Chairman Frederick Wertheim added, “Thanks to Michael’s skilled leadership, his dedication to ACO and his passion for new music, ACO has survived and even thrived during some challenging periods for arts organizations. The board is very grateful for all he has done for ACO.”

Geller leaves ACO in a strong position financially and artistically. The organization’s endowment has tripled since his arrival in 1996, and ACO’s programs have expanded significantly. Geller said, “ACO’s balance sheet is stronger than it has ever been. And with the conclusion of our second New York City-wide SONiC festival, our third nationwide Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, and our 11th season of Orchestra Underground at Carnegie Hall, ACO has offered up some of its boldest and most diverse programming ever. This is also a time for planning what the next generation of ACO’s artistic agenda will be, and thus a great moment for a new executive to dive in and pursue that work.”

Geller has guided ACO for a generation, and his accomplishments include ACO’s first touring performances in 20 years; the Orchestra Tech initiative which integrated digital technology into the orchestra; the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI), which trains jazz composers and diversifies  orchestra repertoire, taking it in new directions; Coming to America, which explored the continual evolution of American music through the work of immigrant composers and won the inaugural MetLife Award for audience engagement, becoming an industry model for engaging multi-generational audiences in the emerging field of arts-based civic dialogue; Playing It UNsafe: coLABoratory, ACO’s R&D lab, which developed a model for creative experimentation in orchestra music; the creation and growth of ACO’s first educational program, Music Factory, now working with more than 15 schools and community organizations and reaching over 3,000 schoolchildren annually; the launch and growth of the EarShot network, sharing ACO resources and expertise with orchestras around the country, leveraging ACO’s mission, building new partnerships, and creating multiple expanded opportunities for emerging American composers in orchestras from Berkeley, CA to Buffalo, NY, and orchestras as large as the New York Philharmonic; overseeing and implementing the first digital releases and online streams undertaken by the orchestra, making dozens of world premiere recordings available around the world for the first time; conceptualizing and implementing Orchestra Underground, redefining the orchestra with new influences and multidisciplinary collaborations, premiering 90 new works in its first 12 years; the launch of major initiatives to promote diversity in orchestra music, including fellowships for minority composers, education programs, and career development programs for women and other under-represented artists in orchestra music; planning and executing two SONiC (Sounds of a New Century) festivals, the largest undertakings in ACO’s history, including 200 emerging composers with a diverse array of music, all of it composed in 21st Century.

ACO’s Board of Directors has formed a search committee to be aided by an executive search firm to fill the vacancy left by Geller’s departure.

Founded in 1977, American Composers Orchestra is the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers. ACO makes the creation of new opportunities for American composers and new American orchestral music its central purpose. Through concerts at Carnegie Hall and other venues, recordings, internet and radio broadcasts, educational programs, New Music Readings, and commissions, ACO identifies today’s brightest emerging composers, champions prominent established composers as well as those lesser-known, and increases regional, national, and international awareness of the infinite variety of American orchestral music, reflecting geographic, stylistic, and temporal diversity. ACO also serves as an incubator of ideas, research, and talent, as a catalyst for growth and change among orchestras, and as an advocate for American composers and their music. To date, ACO has performed music by 800 American composers, including 350 world premieres and newly commissioned works. Among the honors ACO has received are special awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and from BMI recognizing the orchestra’s outstanding contribution to American music. ACO is the 2015 recipient of the Champion of New Music Award given by American Composers Forum. ASCAP has awarded its annual prize for adventurous programming to ACO 36 times, singling out ACO as “the orchestra that has done the most for American music in the United States.” ACO received the inaugural MetLife Award for Excellence in Community Engagement, and a proclamation from the New York City Council.

(—from the press release)

Philip Glass Among 2015 National Medal of Arts Recipients

President Barack Obama will present the 2015 National Medals of Arts to 12 honorees, including Philip Glass, in an East Room ceremony at the White House on Thursday, September 22, 2016.

Recipients will be acknowledged in conjunction with the National Humanities Medal honorees. First Lady Michelle Obama will attend. The event will be live streamed at

The citations about the 2015 National Medal of Arts recipients will be read by the president at the awards ceremony. Philip Glass will be commended for his “groundbreaking contributions to music and composition. One of the most prolific, inventive, and influential artists of our time, he has expanded musical possibility with his operas, symphonies, film scores, and wide-ranging collaborations.”

Other citations noting musical contributions include those for Mel Brooks, Berry Gordy, Santiago Jiménez, Jr., and Audra McDonald. Full details on the NEA’s website.

Remembering Connie Crothers (1941-2016)

I always had a deep feeling as I still do to be one with the very minute I’m in.

While doing research during my first stay in New York in 1995, feminist blues record producer Rosetta Reitz handed me an LP Perception and told me to check out Connie Crothers.  I had compiled texts about women jazz instrumentalists and perused decades’ worth of jazz magazines in order to create an annotated bibliography for the Jazz Institute in Darmstadt.  Still, I had never heard of her. (An interview in the Village Voice existed, which she later gave me, but she had not been featured in any jazz magazine).

Connie agreed to my request to interview her for my dissertation, and I went to hear the Connie Crothers Quartet—which included Richard Tabnik, Sean Smith, and Roger Mancuso—at Cleopatra’s Needle.  Deeply moved by the tight band, their fast, swinging, effortless unison lines and seamless move between composition and improvisation, I felt this was a true new musical discovery and wondered why this band was not touring the jazz festival circuit all over the country. The band played original compositions by Connie and standards.  Several of her pieces are based on changes of standards,  with a bebop feel, yet with her own expression.

Connie invited me to her apartment on 9th Street near Astor Place and we talked for hours.  I learned how as a child prodigy she was trained at the piano to perform classical music and that she set out to study composition. Then she recalled her radical move to New York upon listening to Lennie Tristano’s Requiem, a bluesy tune and homage to Charlie Parker.  Connie had dropped her studies in Berkeley, traveled to the East Coast, and formally studied with Tristano for six years.   She immersed herself, studying countless hours every day, rethinking everything from the fingering of scales to how to hold the hands, how to approach a jazz tune or approach open form. It took her several years of profound study before she would perform in public.

I never improvised, though, that is a story also.  When I decided that I wanted to be a jazz musician, I knew that it was about improvising. I could really play by then, I was a good player, I was a very highly trained player, and I could play big works. I could sit at the piano and a lot of music could come out of the piano, and all that was wonderful, I appreciated it, but this was my moment of truth: I sat down at my piano with the desire to improvise, and I sat there for, oh, twenty minutes, a half hour. I could not improvise one note. And in that moment, I became angry. I realized that as much as I had given, and as much as people had given to me to learn, that this dimensional thing had been left out, and I was totally blocked. I was facing a wall, and I felt like I had been so deeply deprived of something that was so important. Not that anybody did that to me. It’s in the classical music culture—it wasn’t always like that, those great composers could improvise! It’s a deep story.  So, the thing that I credit myself with in retrospect is that in that moment I did not fake it.  I knew I couldn’t improvise, and I didn’t. I faced it.  It was rough. (…) I faced the enormity head on right away.  I took it in that I could not do it.

In her last decade Connie Crothers had become a profoundly admired and sought-after improviser.

To me, this statement was a powerful testament to her seriousness as an improviser.  She recalled how she eventually began to perform solo, and to experience rejection from the audience. She also offered reasons why her band would not perform more frequently.  She was adamant that it had to do with the divide in the jazz world—jazz tunes versus free jazz/free improvisation—and with the fact that she was a woman leader and would be hired less often because of it. (She explained that in the 1960s there was virtually no literature on women´s rights and highlighted that Lennie Tristano was ahead of his time: “Long before he was hip, I would say that Lennie was a feminist.” She felt that he took her seriously on a deeper level than she had experienced with her previous teachers, and that she was struck by the difference.)  Neither fitting the expectations of a jazz audience or of a downtown free improvising one, the band had by that time somewhat accepted that performances would be few; however, they rehearsed every week at Connie’s.  Fortunately, in her last decade she had become a profoundly admired and sought-after improviser.

Connie Crothers at the piano.

After our interview, I was determined to take lessons from her eventually.  Some years later, I was able to do so and came to her loft in Williamsburg.  I had not been living in New York for long at that point and was still developing my own playing, improving my standard chops  and free improvising.  Though I had taken various workshops as a student in Germany, Connie showed me a new level of profound dedication to studying and a range of new conceptual ideas, many of which she’d credit to Lennie Tristano: to connect with the melody of a tune through singing, to improve touch on the piano, to work on sound, to breathe, to play scales and melodies with new fingerings, to learn a huge variety of voicings, and, most importantly, to feel the music on a deeper level, to feel the energy of the piano.  She was puzzled by how most characterizations of Lennie Tristano would be about his technique rather than his way of teaching a deep feeling of the music.  (Tristano, well known for his dedication to teaching, would give lessons and students would be around waiting for their turn, as lessons could last for drastically different lengths of time, depending on what the student brought and needed.)

Connie showed me a new level of profound dedication to studying and a range of new conceptual ideas.

Connie had her own unique, personal way of teaching.  While she often mentioned how Lennie would see a particular approach and made it clear how much she had learned from him, which ideas were developed by him, why she would recommend a particular thought at this moment, she would always go with everyone’s personal needs, wishes, and ideas. She saw me as an individual and made me feel special to her.  By many accounts, she had this very outstanding ability to make the musicians, students, and friends around her feel special.  Many of us developed a personal relationship far beyond a standard student-teacher rapport.  A lesson would often begin with a conversation about anything from musical to personal to political to philosophical.  Two chairs were set, just a bit away from the piano.  She’d sit on the one closer to the piano, the student would be closer to the stereo. I’d often put a CD into it with the track I’d be singing for her.

Lennie Tristano thought that his discovery of asking students to sing with the great recorded solos was his most important discovery of his teaching life. As he explained it to me, he thought that before he knew about this, he could teach theory to his gifted students and they could be very accomplished, but he could not teach true spontaneous improvisation. Singing with records does this. When you sing with one of the great early innovators—after you’ve done it enough—you will internalize what the feeling is of spontaneous improvisation. You will also discover and release an energy that can only be found there. It is dimensional. It can’t be described verbally and it can’t be reached by practicing some kind of musical procedure. I recommend singing with the great innovators of the early decades of jazz. They were all spontaneously improvising their great solos, and this was their context. Spontaneous improvisation was the jazz world norm then, as well as the requirement to express individuality.

(excerpted from a Connie Crothers workshop handout)

After singing, I’d go to the piano and she’d listen and make suggestions.  More and more, a friendship outside of the lesson developed.  She remembered conversations. She’d recommend something and occasionally push me. Most vividly, I remember my anxiety about performing solo.  I did not feel ready.  Connie curated a concert series at The Stone and invited me to perform solo.  She knew I had three quite active duos at the time and was very comfortable in those and in larger groups. She said:  “I want YOU to perform. I want to hear you play, not with a duo, by yourself.”  She talked about how wonderful an energy I’d feel from the audience, which would inspire me. I followed through and played a solo set with my compositions spread through an improvised set.  No other teacher had done such a thing for me.  She’d come to my gigs.  When nobody else would make the effort to come to a gig at a small venue that was hard to reach, Connie would get on the subway and be there.

In the earlier years I knew her, she was very dedicated to her quartet and to other close associates. After Tristano died in 1978, many of his students kept in contact and there is a network of mutual support and respect that is still intact today. Of all his students, Connie was probably the most active in continuing Tristano’s legacy. New Artists Records provided an outlet for like-minded musicians. Her first release on New Artists was an album of piano and percussion duos with Max Roach entitled entitled Swish (NA1001), which they recorded in 1982. Max thought highly of Connie and they had planned to release a second one. Sessions on Haywood Road, also recorded in 1982, unfortunately remains unreleased. Although they did not get to perform publicly, Connie and Max remained very close, particularly during the last years of his life.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the quartet stayed together, but performances were sparse. Connie taught a large circle of students and stayed immersed in music; however, she craved being out there and performing more frequently.  Around ten years ago, Jemeel Moondoc hired her, which introduced her to a new audience.  From then on, she’d be more and more embraced by the communities around Arts for Art, the Vision Festival, Roulette, and The Stone.  In just a few years she played and recorded with many outstanding musicians.  She brought trumpeter Roy Campbell into her quartet. Band of Fire can be heard on New Artists Records, a collective label she co-founded.  She was very affected by Roy’s passing and doubled her efforts to play, perform, teach, support others.  The New Artists Records catalogue has been expanding dramatically in the past few years. She was very dedicated to the label, which fortunately will continue under the auspices of pianist Virg Dzurinko. There have been many more interviews with her. She had been a frequent guest at radio stations, Adam Melville wrote a term paper about her teaching (Rutgers University), and Chris Becker interviewed her for his book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women In Jazz (Beckeresque Press, 2015).

In 2013, I moved away from New York to Kassel, Germany.  Our friendship grew to another level.  We saw each other during every stay of mine in New York, went to concerts together, heard each other’s gigs, performed a piano duo at the Firehouse Space in Williamsburg. In February of 2015, she came to Kassel for a solo concert at the Theater im Fridericianum and a workshop at the Institute of Music at Universität Kassel.  She stayed with my kids and I for those days and we treasured those memories—singing “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” with a record of Billie Holiday as a duo at the workshop; Connie sang Lester Young’s part and I sang Billie’s. Or, on the beautiful, sunny morning of her concert, walking through the Bergpark, covered with snow.  She walked and hopped around with such ease, everything about her was full of life.  I still cannot imagine that she is no longer walking and hopping around like this. This was supposed to be the beginning of much more to come!  She played a piece at night inspired by the waterfalls and birds and my children.

Fortunately, I had seen her more often that usual in these past months. As hard as it was to see her so weak, feeling the energy of the New York music community toward her was tremendous.  I am grateful to have been a part of a wonderful circle of friends who supported her.  Grateful to have seen her well and less well over the past months, to have been with her on her last day, hospitalized, breathing hard. To spend time with other close friends of hers at the hospital.  Some I know well, some I hardly knew at all, it did not seem to matter—we all felt connected through Connie, and Connie was surrounded by love at any moment.

She died later during that night. Strangely enough, she remains very present—many friends shared thoughts on social media, WKCR did a memorial broadcast almost immediately, WBAI did a memorial broadcast, The New York Times ran an obituary.  I began writing these words on my flight, in this surreal situation between different worlds, in a strange moment of time.  Listening to the WBAI radio broadcast I hear her voice talking about familiar subjects.  I sit at the piano and feel her presence. On September 17, during a larger cultural event in the city of Kassel, my musical contribution will be dedicated to her.

Ursel Schlicht and Connie Crothers

Ursel Schlicht and Connie Crothers

(Ed Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from Connie Crothers herein derive from Ursel Schlicht’s extensive interviews with her, many of which have been published in Schlicht’s book, “It’s Gotta Be Music First”: Zur Bedeutung, Rezeption und Arbeitssituation von Jazzmusikerinnen (On the Impact, Perception and Working Situation of Women Jazz Musicians), Karben: Coda, 2000. A complete list of Crothers’s recordings is available on Crothers’s website.—FJO)

Showcase of Six New Operas-In-Progress plus an Entire New Opera to be Presented in L.A.

The Industry, a non-profit, artist-driven L.A.-based experimental opera company, has announced the third installment of its FIRST TAKE series, a biennial West Coast workshop for new American operas. In addition, the company has launched a new initiative entitled SECOND TAKE, which will feature an entire performance of a new opera first heard on a previous FIRST TAKE program. The two programs will provide a rare and vital opportunity for American opera creators to test new works before the public in a concert setting with full orchestration.

Co-presented by its “house band,” LA’s wild Up ensemble, FIRST TAKE will showcase excerpts from six new opera works-in-progress, composed by Nicholas Deyoe, William Gardiner, John Hastings, Laura Karpman, Marc Lowenstein, and Dylan Mattingly. Audiences are invited to come and go throughout the three-hour performance, which is free and will take place Friday, February 24 2017 (from 8 to 11 pm) at Los Angeles’ Aratani Theater (244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo).

SECOND TAKE launches with the concert premiere of Bonnie and Clyde by composer Andrew McIntosh and librettist Melinda Rice on Saturday, February 25 (from 8 to 10 pm), at the ornate Wilshire Ebell Theatre (4401 W 8th St.). McIntosh and Rice were commissioned to complete the work with the generous support of Stephen Block, Leslie Lassiter, and Raulee Marcus.

A sneak listen to some of Bonnie and Clyde with commentary by its creators Andrew McIntosh and Melinda Rice.

FIRST TAKE and SECOND TAKE are curated by The Industry’s Artistic Director, Yuval Sharon, in collaboration with wild Up’s Artistic Director Christopher Rountree, The Industry’s Music Director Marc Lowenstein, and The Industry’s Executive Director Elizabeth Cline. FIRST TAKE is modeled on the format Sharon created during his four years as Project Director of New York City Opera’s VOX program between 2005-09. Of the 40 works Sharon workshopped at VOX, 25 have gone on to future life in companies around the world, including the first two operas produced by The Industry: Anne LeBaron’s Crescent City and Christopher Cerrone’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Invisible Cities.

FIRST TAKE scores are chosen from an open call; there were a record 68 submissions for 2017. Each opera performed during FIRST TAKE is introduced by a short video pulled from interviews with the creators and then presented unstaged, enabling the audience to focus on the music and libretto. FIRST TAKE will be conducted by Marc Lowenstein, and SECOND TAKE will be conducted by Christopher Rountree.

FIRST TAKE was launched on June 1, 2013 at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater. Among the six new works showcased was an opera by Pauline Oliveros, set to a text by the poet Ione, and a theatrical song-cycle by Mohammed Fairouz, set to Wayne Koestenbaum’s riff on Pierrot Lunaire. The second installment took place February 21, 2015 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; highlights included excerpts from new works by Anne LeBaron, Jenny Olivia Johnson, and Paul Pinto, as well as Andrew McIntosh’s Bonnie and Clyde, which will be heard in full in this year’s SECOND TAKE.

Singers during the 2015 FIRST TAKE performances.

Below are brief descriptions of each of the new operas that will be featured during the 2017 season of FIRST TAKE.

Little Bear
Music and Libretto: Marc Lowenstein (Los Angeles)

A family opera from the music director of The Industry, Little Bear explores what fairy tales reveal about the psychology of time, change, loss, and love.

Stranger Love

Music: Dylan Mattingly (Berkeley, CA)
Libretto: Thomas Bartscherer
An expansive and abstract love story in three acts, Stranger Love is an epic opera that traces the seasons and the velocity of universal expansion. Like Plato’s Symposium, it moves from love in a human and personal frame to archetypal and divine love.

The Former World 

Music and Text: John Hastings (New York)

More an installation than an opera, The Former World creates an artistic unfolding of geologic time in two time scales: earth and humanity. Musical layers are developed like the striations found in geology as four singers create a tapestry of text.


Music: William Gardiner (New York)
Animation and Text: Thomas Rawle (London, UK)
Real-time animations accompany music that explores the mentality of the modern Western mind.

Music: Laura Karpman (Los Angeles)
Libretto: Gail Collins (New York)

Balls dramatizes the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and draws on the comedic, dramatic, and hugely political nature of this match. “The Battle of the Sexes” changed not only the perception and treatment of women in sports forever, but substantially advanced the women’s rights movement.

Haydn’s Head 

Music: Nicholas Deyoe (Los Angeles)
Libretto: Rick Burkhardt (New York)

Haydn’s Head is intended as a puppet opera. It is based on a true episode: four days after Haydn’s death, composer Johann Nepomuk Peter and a friend of Haydn’s, Joseph Carol Rosenbaum, opened the departed composer’s grave at night and stole his head. Their quest was fueled by the vogue for phrenology, the pseudo-scientific study of skull shapes.

For more information, visit 

(—from the press release)