Counterstream Radio is your online home for exploring the music of America’s composers. Drawing upon New Music USA’s substantial library of recordings, our programming is remarkable for its depth and eclecticism. The station streams influential music of many pedigrees 24 hours a day. Keep listening and discover the sound of music without limits. Click here to open Counterstream Radio.
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.
Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Ornette Coleman rehearsing in 2010. Photo by Sound Evidence
Without question, the total Ornette Coleman experience for me has been nothing short of mystical, mesmerizing, educational, and sensitive. Everyone that has crossed his path has their own story, and here’s mine.
I grew up in Philadelphia in an area called North Philly. There you had the birth of some of the most famous musical artist to contribute to the world’s music scene. John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp, and so many more that it would take this entire space to mention. My first professional music experience was with an organist named Charles Earland who, in the late ‘70s, switched from playing bass on his organ to hiring me as an electric bass guitarist. I had just graduated from high school and received a music scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music. Going to Berklee and sitting in those classes did not sit well with me, as I wished to become an on-the-road, touring jazz musician, performing at global jazz festivals, playing club dates, and performing with all of the creative musicians who were making musical statements. (Boy, I was a dreamer.) Be careful what you wish for, as I soon witnessed a chain of events that would change musical history and the small role I played in it. After a one-year stint with Charles Earland, I was called into the backstage room at a small club in Newark, New Jersey, called The Key Club and told by Charles that I was fired from the gig. I asked him the reason, and he said that my timing was off. That seemed strange to me. I always kept the groove and when I would solo, the audience would go wild. But I guess some band leaders just will not stand for that kind of sideman attention from the audience.
At any rate, I was devastated. I left New York and headed back to Philadelphia without a gig and without my scholarship to Berklee. But, as destiny would have it, exactly one week later I received a telephone call from guitarist Reggie Lucas and percussionist James Mtume, two gentlemen who knew me as a youngster in Philadelphia and who had kept their eyes on me from early on. These guys were Philadelphians themselves and had already been out there on the road playing with Miles Davis and his electric band. When I arrived in Philly they told me that the saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman was planning a European tour and was looking for an electric bass player to join in. I didn’t know much about Ornette but, as destiny would have it, I had just been looking at a Downbeat article about Ornette featuring a photo of him playing saxophone and violin. It clicked; this was the same guy. I immediately said that I was interested in going back to New York for an audition for Ornette.
The day I arrived in New York, I went over to his famous Prince Street Loft in Soho where he resided and rehearsed his band. There was an elevator from the first floor that opened up directly into his loft space. I walked in and was greeted by works of visual art situated all over the room that would rival the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a matter of fact, the first art piece that I laid my eyes on was the famous mirrored colored mask painting that was used on the cover of Dancing In Your Head. There was so much more, I couldn’t take it all in.
Immediately Ornette came out of one of the rooms and greeted me. I noticed that he was not a huge man, he was shorter than me and he spoke in a very quiet voice, almost a whisper. Bern Nix was there, and I remember seeing the legendary drummer/composer Ronald Shannon Jackson there. Denardo Coleman was there, walking around, and we introduced ourselves to each other. We took our seats and my audition began. There was a music stand in front of me, and Ornette handed me sheet music. My music reading at that time was not as good as it turned out to be by the time I left Prime Time. I noticed that it was just notes written in the bass with no chord progressions. Ornette proceeded to count this tune off in a very strange way that I was not used to. In retrospect he did that only for me because, as I found out, he never counts any tunes off. He relied only on the melody to dictate the beginning and ending of any composition.
So we started. I struggled to play this finger buster melody, and we stopped. In my mind I knew that I did not nail this melody as it should have been played, but something clicked with Ornette and, with that sly look that he sometimes had, he said to me, “I want you to come to Europe with me.” Right there on the spot I, Jamaaladeen Tacuma (then Rudy McDaniel), had become part of a musical adventure that for me would change the way that the bass guitar was performed and how it was listened to. I stayed at the loft and we worked for a few more weeks on the material until we were ready. It was really prime time. Ornette needed another guitar player, and I suggested a guitar player from Philly named Charlie Ellerbe. That completed the initial Prime Time band lineup with Bern Nix and Ellerbe on guitars, Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, myself on bass guitar, and Ornette Coleman on alto sax, trumpet, and violin.
We rehearsed a series of compositions that Ornette had been writing to ultimately fit inside of the Paris premier of Skies of America. I was told beforehand that we were only going to Europe for a two-week tour, but again—as destiny would have it—we stayed in Europe for six months. We stayed at Ornette’s favorite Paris hotel, Hotel Le Prince on Rue Monsieur Le Prince, where he had known the owner for years, an older lady he simply called Madame. Isn’t it such a coincidence that the word Prince showed up in so many facets of Ornette’s life, his New York address, his Paris address, as well as the name of the Paris hotel? There in Paris, the beginnings of Prime Time and the education we all received under Ornette’s direction was absolutely priceless.
Ornette Coleman and Jamaaladeen Tacuma in performance. Date unknown.
We rehearsed, rehearsed, and toured throughout Europe using our Paris hotel as our base of operation. In those long rehearsals, we were introduced to the concept and theory of harmolodics and its function, application, and overall approach to the music that we played. Ornette’s early musical statements were met with such question and controversy. He never coined the phrase or said that what he was aiming for and what we were doing was “Free Jazz.” The term that was most endearing to him was “compositional improvising.” In harmolodics—unlike Western music where the melody, harmony, rhythm, and arrangement are neatly tucked in their place—all components are moving in the same direction simultaneously. The melody, or the composition, is the most important factor because from the melody one could extract their own musical ideas that could and should bring about the emotion that the listener reacts to. In compositional improvising, the musical idea is more important than the notes.
Sometimes the instrument and the notes could get in the way. As he stated in the beginning of my recording, For The Love of Ornette, “Fellas, fellas, forget the note and get to the idea.” What Ornette stressed was that each individual set up their own musical ideas with their own bridges attached. If you found the place that would enhance the other band member’s ideas, that could be a good thing. Also, on the flip side, one could also find that musical idea that could erase the others. The idea of being tied down to a riff was not acceptable. When this was applied and working, it was clear that the result was “pure music” and, to take it a step further, “pure sound.” Jazz, rock, classical, and other man-made genres are steps away from pure musical and sound expression. The music business as we know it today dictates the limitations, and this is what Ornette drove home to me and my fellow band mates.
A promotional photo of Ornette Coleman and Jamaaladeen Tacuma from around the time of the release of Tacuma’s 1983 Gramavision album Show Stopper.
This freed us, this freed me of looking at my instrument as just that. An instrument. The instrument didn’t rule me, I ruled it. It was just a vehicle and a means to express our musical ideas. Being able to concentrate on musical ideas allowed me to capture any music style and also leave it whenever I wanted to. This was a blessing and we owe that to Ornette Coleman. As the band Prime Time, we recorded several records with Ornette and for my first solo album recording, Show Stopper on Gramavision records, Ornette was gracious enough to write an original composition entitled “Tacuma Song,” a solo piece that allowed me to exemplify the bass guitar in a completely harmolodic way, with the melody or composition being the basis for the improvisation. Since my first solo recording and leaving Prime Time, I have traveled the world, made many recordings, and in 2010, after long discussions and planning, I was able to reciprocate the wonderful gift that Ornette gave me in “Tacuma Song.” I organized a recording session where I wanted Ornette to do absolutely what he does best and that is to improvise in a beautiful compositional way. I was blessed with his appearance and returned the gift with an homage recording entitled For The Love of Ornette on my Jam All Productions artist-run label.
Ornette has meant more to me as a human being and musically than words can really express, and there is one more small gem of a story that would allow you once again to peek into the spirit of Ornette. There was one moment in my life as a young man when I was venturing on a spiritual path and decided that I did not want to play music anymore. Ornette heard of this and came to Philadelphia from New York, met with my mother, and pleaded with her to convince me to return to music again. I did and I thank God and I thank Ornette Coleman.
It’s clear that Ornette’s impact was not only rooted in preparing individuals to think outside of the box, but also to take very natural ways of doing something and bring them to the forefront. We often talked about certain places in the world where people did not know anything about Western concepts of playing. The idea of playing notes E to A or C to B. They don’t know anything about that in remote villages and they still create incredible music that brings about healing. Ornette’s idea and concept was to also bring certain emotions to the music and to have those emotions be felt by others. He wanted to make you cry. He wanted to make you dance. He wanted to make you think or just sit down in silence. So I think his legacy will exemplify that not only was he a good human being and a kind and soft-spoken gentleman, but musically he will continue to bring about a change in how folks think about music, how they will approach it, and how they will perform it. With the blessing of God, my thanks to Ornette Coleman for taking me in, allowing me to think as a human being, and to play music with the freedom of a bird in flight.
Another rehearsal photo from 2010: Ornette Coleman (left) and Jamaaladeen Tacuma (right). Photo by Sound Evidence.
American Composers Orchestra (ACO) has awarded composer David Hertzberg its $15,000 Underwood emerging composer commission for a work that will be premiered by ACO in the 2016-2017 season. Chosen from seven finalists during ACO’s 2015 Underwood New Music Readings on May 6 and 7, 2015, David won the top prize with his work, Spectre of the Spheres.
Hertzberg has also been selected as Opera Philadelphia’s fifth Composer in Residence which is a residency in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group in New York. Hertzberg was chosen from over 150 applicants for the position and now has the opportunity to follow a personalized development track focused on the advancement of his skills as an operatic composer.
ACO Music Director George Manahan said, “The musicians of the ACO were impressed with David’s music. His control of orchestral colors and his talent were obvious to us all. We look forward to performing more of his works.”
“Such a well-deserved award,” added Underwood New Music Readings mentor composer Gabriela Lena Frank. “David has an ear for color and pacing that’s really outstanding, and I can’t wait to hear the new work that he’ll create for the ACO and future orchestras to perform!”
In addition, for the sixth year, audience members at the Underwood New Music Readings had a chance to make their voices heard through the Audience Choice Award. The winner this year was composer Carl Schimmel, for his piece Two Variations on Ascent into the Empyrean. As the winner, Carl has been commissioned to compose an original mobile phone ringtone which will be available to everyone who voted, free of charge.
Gunther Schuller died on Sunday, June 21, 2015 at 7:55am at the age of 89. In the coming days, there will be a more extensive tribute to this major American composer, conductor, arranger, and historian who was equally fluent in the vocabulary of classical music and jazz and who coined the term “Third Stream” for music that incorporated elements of both.
We spoke to Gunther Schuller for NewMusicBox in May 2009:
The transcript of the entire conversation can be found here.
The 2015 Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence were announced during the luncheon of the annual meeting of the Music Publishers Association at the Westin New York Grand Central in New York City on Friday, June 19. Among the winners in 13 separate award categories (ranging from educational folios to piano and guitar solos to choral and full orchestra scores) were publications containing two of the final compositions of the late Elliott Carter, an unaccompanied choral setting of Psalm 23 by Paul Moravec, flute and piano duos by Shulamit Ran and Amanda Harberg, a wind quintet as well as work for narrator and orchestra inspired by the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Daniel Dorff, voice and piano collections of music by John Musto, Tobias Picker, and William Bolcom (whose solo guitar piece also received an award), and a suite for six violas by South African composer Elizabeth Rennie. (The awards are named in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, who was a printer by profession.) A complete list of award-winning publications appears below.
Besides the Revere Award recipients, there were several additional 2015 honorees. In recognition of their commitment to intellectual property rights and their efforts to sponsor bi-partisan copyright reform legislation, US congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries were presented the MPA Arnold Broido Award by composer and MPA vice president Sean Patrick Flahaven, who is also senior vice president of Theatre and Catalog Development for Warner/Chappell Music. “It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the law changes with the times and that those who create are able to prosper in the years ahead,” said Nadler during his acceptance speech. “While technology should continue to grow and flourish, we can’t allow it to undermine creators,” Jeffries added.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right) accepts the MPA Arnold Broido Award as Sean Patrick Flahaven (left) and congressman Hakeem Jeffries (center) look on. (All photos by FJO)
Ralph Peer II, chairman and CEO since 1980 of the 87-year-old music publishing company Peermusic founded by his father Ralph Peer, was presented MPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award by composer Mohammed Fairouz, the youngest composer signed to Peermusic Classical. “Ralph has made an impact in the lives of so many artists over the years,” said Fairouz. “Without his undying commitment, I would not be able to create my works.”
“Despite our successes in the popular music field, I find our work in the contemporary classical community to be very personally rewarding,” said Peer during an impassioned speech in which he urged right holders and performing rights societies to rethink the way that “long term” music is surveyed in an era where streaming is becoming the dominant mode of music listening.
The 2015 Paul Revere Winners
Some of the 2015 Paul Revere-nominated scores on display at the MPA annual meeting.
Ronald Whitaker, head librarian for The Cleveland Orchestra, announced the winners. This year’s awards were overseen by Metropolitan Opera Chief Librarian Robert Sutherland, who chairs the Paul Revere Awards committee and announced the winners. In addition to Whitaker and Sutherland, the adjudicators for the 2015 awards were: Kazue McGregor, principal librarian for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; graphics designer Dennis Suplina, formerly of Jaffe and Partners; and Nim Ben-Reuven, a freelance designer and graphics editor working primarily in print.
In addition to the presentation of awards, there were a variety of speakers at the 2015 MPA annual meeting. After welcoming attendees in her opening remarks, MPA President Kathleen Marsh, CEO of Musicnotes.com, described the progress on some of MPA’s initiatives in the past year. As a result of MPA’s coordinated anti-piracy efforts with the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), more than 200,000 infringing files have been removed from websites; one particularly offending website, pianofiles.com, has been pulled down, but they have re-emerged as sheeto.com.
NMPA President David Israelite offered a report on the state of the music publishing industry. Flanked by a series of pie charts, he showed that performance rights, which constitute 53% of music industry revenue earned in 2014, are now the major revenue category. (The largest portion of that revenue, 36.6% is from terrestrial radio; digital is still less than half of that–13.1%.) Mechanical rights in 2014 only accounted for 21% of revenue. While revenue from physical recordings still accounts for the largest part of that, 44.9%, he predicts that digital will overtake physical as soon as next year. Already downloads (at 41.6%) and streaming (10.7%) constitute over half of the revenue, although the future of downloading is uncertain as more consumers are streaming music. Nevertheless, Israelite seems particularly hopeful. “We’ve turned the corner from an era that is marked by piracy,” he said, but he noted that publishers must think beyond the way they have been doing business for the last 70 years. He warned the members of the audience not to be “like a prisoner who’s been in jail for so long they’re not sure they want to walk out.”
Natalie Madaj, legal counsel to both MPA and NMPA, provided her annual update on the two organizations’ joint anti-theft program. The goal of the program is to remove unlicensed reproduction of lyrics and music from websites and to work with sites to properly license lyrics and music under copyright when they are posted online. Over the last year, notices were sent to a total of 18,954 URLs and 81% of them removed the infringing material.
John Raso, vice president for client services for the Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the agency which collects and distributes virtually all mechanical license fees in the United States, spoke about new licensing streams for publishers. “We live in a market now where it’s virtually impossible to police everything,” he acknowledged and encouraged publishers to be more pro-active in managing their data. “Part of why we’re now successful in reducing piracy is that there are now legal alternatives.” When Deirdre Chadwick, BMI’s executive director for classical music, asked Raso to address the immense difficulties involved with remunerating composers for digital usages when online files frequently lack metadata identifying the composers, he admitted that “it’s not easy without the authoritative knowledge of the publishers to identify the works in their catalogs.” According to him, in the era when mechanical licenses were primary collected from record companies, it was a lot easier since record companies worked very closely with the people they recorded, whereas technology companies are very distant from the process of creation.
In the next presentation, “YouTube Music Publishing 101,” Kim-Lorraine Gerlach, manager of content partnerships for YouTube, stated that there are more than 1 billion unique YouTube users each month (which is 1/7th of the world’s population). Users upload 300 hours of content per minute. A statistic that she was particularly proud to share with the members of this convening is that 25% of people who hear a song on YouTube buy it afterwards. YouTube is eager to better facilitate the discovery of music. According to Gerlach, YouTube now works closely with HFA to identify material that is owned by more than 7,000 partners using their audio scanning platform, Content ID. There are now more than 35 million reference files, and more than 3.5 million hours (400 years!) of video are scanned daily. During the Q&A period, several publishers complained to Gerlach that, given the volume, it is extremely difficult for publishers to properly monitor and identify everything that is being uploaded, but simply adding a few steps for uploaders to properly identify music that appears in YouTube videos would greatly simplify the adjudication of rights. She could not address that directly, since it is outside of her department, but she stated that she would raise this issue with other YouTube staff. Below is a graph showing YouTube’s current rights management process.
Updated 3:42 p.m.
Following the awards luncheon and an election of new officers to the MPA board of directors, a series of brief video memorials to recently deceased MPA members were presented followed by screenings of the National Music Council and MPA Copyright Awareness Scholarship Finalists. Launched by the MPA in 2010, the program has now awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to high school and college students in recognition of creative videos that engage students in copyright and intellectual property protection. (The 2015 finalists have not yet been posted online, but the 2014 finalists can be seen here.)
Bill Aicher, who serves as the digital strategist for Musicnotes, gave a presentation entitled “Going Digital: Building Blocks for a Successful Online Environment.” “The internet is life,” exclaimed Aicher. “Most people are now online all the time.” Aicher claimed that while it is important to have a website, no one should expect people to interact with that website on a daily basis; those interactions occur on social platforms. Facebook is where the most interactivity takes place. Twitter has yet to show business value. Advanced users should also consider using Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine as well as YouTube, which he suggested was ideal for product preview. Aicher opined that publishers should not worry about having an e-commerce enabled site since many people are now afraid of having their credit card information compromised; instead, he suggestions, that potential customers should be redirected to sites where they already shop at and trust. He claimed that all websites should be optimized to work on mobile devices but that creating an app is unnecessary. However, he also advised, “If what you can offer can be made available digitally, make it available. If you don’t offer it, someone else will–probably illegally.”
Updated 4:00 p.m.
Finally, there was a demonstration of StaffPad, a new notation app that recognizes handwriting and converts it into an engraved score that can then be further edited and printed. According to its developer Matthew Tesch, a software engineer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, it currently can only be used on a Microsoft Surface and other Windows 8.1 compatible devices since it requires a touch sensitive screen that supports a pen. “We wanted to also develop this for the iPad, but the iPad’s technology isn’t there yet,” said Tesch. The app, however, does support Finale and Sibelius platforms, allowing users to import and export files created using those notation programs.
The day’s activities ended with a reception featuring live jazz performed by the John Murchison Trio. Many of the attendees continued to talk about the day’s presentations. Stephen Culbertson, President of Subito Music Publishing, reflected on the pie charts that NMPA President David Israelite displayed earlier in the day and pointed out the economic realities of what it means for mechanical income to decline to 21% of publishers’ revenue streams.
Those economic realities are indeed sobering, but the reports that legal alternatives to digital piracy are becoming more normative and new developments such as StaffPad offer hope. It will be interesting to hear what the discussions will be at next year’s MPA gathering.
Jin Hi Kim and Peter Van Zandt Lane have been awarded the second annual Composers Now Creative Residencies. Each artist will receives a week’s stay at the Pocantico Center, the conference and cultural center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in Tarrytown, New York, to work on a project of her/his choosing. The residencies take place in November 2015.
Composers were nominated by partner organizations that participated in the 2015 Composers Now Festival. The jury was comprised of members of the Composers Now Board of Advisors and Distinguished Mentors Council: Noah Creshevsky, Joan La Barbara, Carman Moore, Melinda Wagner (chair), and Sebastian Zubieta. In addition to selecting Jin Hi Kim and Peter Van Zandt Lane, Angélica Negrón and David Bird were named alternates. More information is available on the Composers Now website.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has announced the second round of recipients of the Doris Duke Impact Awards, which are part of the foundation’s special, ten-year initiative to empower, invest in, and celebrate artists by offering flexible, multi-year funding in response to financial challenges that are specific to the performing arts. Doris Duke Impact Award recipients receive $80,000.
These 2015 awards are in addition to the annual Doris Duke Artist Awards, which were already announced in April. (Three of the recipients of those $275K awards—Muhal Richard Abrams, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Steve Coleman—had previously received Impact Awards in 2014.)
Additionally, composer/performers Dohee Lee and Pamela Z both received 2015 Duke Impact Awards in the theatre category.
The $80,000 Impact Award consists of an unrestricted, cash grant of $60,000, plus as much as $10,000 more in targeted support for audience development and as much as $10,000 more for personal reserves or creative exploration during what are usually retirement years for most Americans. Impact Award-winning artists will be able to access their awards over a period of two to three years under a schedule set by each recipient. Like the Doris Duke Artists, Doris Duke Impact Award recipients have the opportunity to participate in professional development activities, financial and legal counseling, and regional gatherings through Creative Capital, DDCF’s primary partner in the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards. By the end of the ten-year awarding cycle, 100 artists will have received Doris Duke Impact Awards.
The Doris Duke Impact Award recipients were nominated by previous Doris Duke Artist Award recipients. Nominators were required to identify multiple artists who have influenced and are helping to move forward the fields of dance, jazz, and/or theatre—but may or may not be artists in one of these particular fields. In addition to these criteria, they were encouraged to consider artists, including dancers, actors, and non-composing musicians, who are not eligible for the Doris Duke Artist Awards. A separate anonymous panel of artists then selected artists from this larger nomination pool.
More information about the awards and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is available here.
It has been a week of non-stop new music-related celebrations in New York City this week. Fresh from our own NewMusicBox LIVE and New Music USA Benefit Evening (thanks again to everyone who joined us), we now have time to report on some of the other highlights.
On Monday, May 18, the BMI Foundation in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) announced the winners of the 63rd annual BMI Student Composer Awards. The awards were presented by BMI President Mike O’Neill, BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick, and composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (who serves as the permanent chair of the Student Composer Awards) in a private ceremony at the JW Marriott Essex House Hotel, a lavish Art Deco space facing Central Park that was built in 1931. There were a total of nine awardees who received scholarship grants to be applied toward their musical education totaling $20,000. There were also two honorable mentions, which has happened rarely in the history of these awards.
BMI President Mike O’Neill (right) welcomes attendees as composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (left) and BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick prepare to announce the award winners.
Two composers—Max Michael Grafe and Daniel Silliman—tied for the William Schuman Prize, which is awarded to the most outstanding score among the submissions. Grafe and Silliman chatted with us and each other about sharing this honor.
(Later in the week, Silliman’s award-winning work, strain for cello and orchestra, received an ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award and Grafe received a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. More on those award ceremonies below.)
More than 700 online applications were submitted to the competition from student composers throughout the Western Hemisphere in 2015. One of the 2015 winners, Tonia Ko, described her steadfastness in applying for this highly competitive prize. She told us that she has been submitting scores for ten consecutive years; it finally paid off.
Another awardee, Joseph Meland, described the genre-defying piece he submitted that fetched a prize, a composition for chamber orchestra and rock band; Meland feels equally comfortable in both idioms.
The jury members for the 2015 competition were Matthias Pintscher, José Serebrier, Joan Tower, and Barbara White. Alexandra du Bois, Hannah Lash, David Leisner, and Sean Shepherd served as preliminary judges. Below is a list of all the 2015 BMI Student Composer Awardees and their award-winning compositions.
Sarkar additionally received the Carlos Surinach Prize, an annual award given to the youngest winner in the competition. Imágenes de Guanajuato, a composition for cello and guitar by Luis M. Ruelas Romo, a 23-year-old student at New England Conservatory, and Prelude and Tricotee for violin and piano by Lauren Vandervelden, a 15-year-old private music student in Boise, Idaho, received honorable mention. (Sarkar and Vandervelden’s pieces also received Honorable Mention in the 2015 Morton Gould Awards.)
As they have done annually since 1942, academicians and award recipients sit on the stage of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Auditorium awaiting the commencement of the Ceremonial.
On Wednesday, May 20, the American Academy of Arts and Letters held its Ceremonial in the 730-seat auditorium of the second of the three landmarked Beaux Arts buildings it owns in northern Manhattan. An annual tradition since 1942 (the very first ceremonial took place in 1941 on the main stage of Carnegie Hall but it has taken place in their own 156th Street space since the year following), the event is one of the few times in American cultural life that visual artists, poets, novelists, and composers share a stage to honor achievements in a broad range of disciplines. And the reception following the Ceremonial, which—when it’s not raining, and sometimes even when it is (luckily for once it wasn’t!)—is one of the great spring parties in New York City, was a great opportunity for people across disciplines and generations to connect with one another.
The coming together of these disparate artistic practices felt even more meaningful during this year’s event because several of the awards in one discipline were announced by practitioners of other disciplines; this was perhaps most poignant when composer John Harbison presented a Gold Medal, the Academy’s highest honor, to poet Louise Glück, whose verse he has set to music three times thus far–in one of the movements of his Symphony No. 5 for soprano, baritone, and orchestra (2007), The Seven Ages for mezzo-soprano and Pierrot sextet (2008), and most recently in his 2013 composition Crossroads for soprano, oboe, and strings. Composer Yehudi Wyner, who is the academy’s current president, described how difficult it has been to build bridges between the artistic disciplines but stated that it is something the academy has been steadfast in its efforts to do.
Although most of the awards that were given out during the course of the Ceremonial have already been announced, it still feels like a complete surprise to Scott Johnson, who received one of this year’s two Goddard Lieberson Fellowships in Music. He even wore a tie for the occasion!
It is certainly far from anti-climactic for the winners to share the stage with their counterparts in other fields as well as with many of the 250 celebrated composers, writers, and visual artists who comprise the academy’s membership, as composer/pianist Billy Childs, one of four winners of a 2015 Arts and Letters Award in Music, told us:
Another one of the winners, Erin Gee, one of two 2015 recipients of the Charles Ives Fellowship, described how being amidst people involved in so many different kinds of creative endeavors is really inspirational:
Although Emily Cooley, one of six Charles Ives Scholarship recipients, was disappointed that two of her favorite authors, who are members of the academy, were unable to attend this year and so she did not have a chance to meet them:
These awards, however, are much more than an opportunity to hob-nob with luminaries. They also offer important financial support to emerging artists for whom finding a balance between creative work and economic sustenance is frequently a challenge, as Alex Mincek, recipient of the Benjamin H. Danks Award in Music, pointed out:
But aside from how valuable these awards are to emerging and mid-career composers, writers, and visual artists, both in terms of offering peer validation and significant monetary support, they are a rare opportunity to honor achievements from practitioners from many different generations. The academy’s most significant award for an éminence grise, the Gold Medal, two of which are given each year to people who have already been inducted among the 250 Academicians as an honorific, is one of the ways that the academy attempts to establish a continuity between emerging and established creators. In addition to awarding Louise Glück the Gold Medal for Poetry, the academy awarded a Gold Medal in Music to composer George Crumb, who at 85 remains a vital force. Even though he has already received so many important accolades throughout his illustrious career, Crumb seemed genuinely exuberant in response to the academy’s recognition:
The stage is set for the opening of the 2015 ASCAP Concert Music Awards at Merkin Concert Hall.
Finally, ASCAP presented its 16th annual Concert Music Awards on the stage of Merkin Concert Hall on Thursday, May 21. The centerpiece of the ceremony was the formal presentation—by composers Charles Fussell, James Matheson, Lisa Bielewa, and Paul Moravec along with ASCAP’s Cia Toscanini and Michael Spudic—of the 2015 Morton Gould Young Composer Awards which were announced in March (and can be found here). Brief excerpts from recordings of award-winning pieces by each of the composers who were present were played.
We spoke with several of the composers who were in attendance about their award-winning compositions. Scott Lee from Durham, North Carolina, and Paris Lavidis from New York City, described their very different approaches—Lee, in his Bottom Heavy for small ensemble, incorporates hip-hop grooves and other popular music elements whereas Lavidis explores extended techniques in what he describes as a “semi-tonal realm” in his String Quartet No. 2:
Anahita Abbasi, who was born in Iran and is now based in San Diego, described the structure of her composition Distorted Attitudes II/Labyrinth for flute (doubling on piccolo and bass flute), soprano saxophone, bassoon, two violins, cello, and doublebass:
Composer, singer-songwriter, and classical and jazz pianist Gabriel Zucker described spending more than a year creating Evergreen, an evening-length work which he also just recorded for future release:
After opening remarks from the afternoon’s master of ceremonies, composer, conductor and radio broadcast journalist Bill McGlaughlin, ASCAP’s new CEO Elizabeth Matthews, and John Titta, ASCAP’s executive vice president of creative services, composer Alex Shapiro presented J. P. Redmond with the Charlotte V. Bergen Scholarship, which has been awarded annually since 2006 to the top ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer age 18 or under. Redmond then went over to the piano to play the third movement of the work for which he received the award, Northeastern Sonata.
James Kendrick, president of Schott/European American Music, presented Brian Heim with this year’s Leo Kaplan Award, which has been given annually since 1995 to the composer of the score judged “most outstanding” in ASCAP’s Young Composer Awards. Heim’s award-winning piece, Two Portraits After Moby Dick, was inspired by the classic Herman Melville novel as he explained to us:
In addition to all of the awards presented to the emerging composers, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), now in their 10th anniversary season, was honored by composer and former Manhattan School of Music President Robert Sirota for “the virtuosity, passion, and commitment with which they perform and champion American composers.” Composer Timo Andres joined four of the members of ACME—Ben Russell and Caroline Shaw (violins), Caleb Burhans (viola), and ACME’s artistic director Clarice Jensen (cello)—for a performance of Andres’s Piano Quintet, another one of the Morton Gould award-winning pieces. We spoke briefly with cellist Jensen outside Merkin Hall:
Finally, Julia Wolfe was honored by retired ASCAP Vice President for Concert Music and current ASCAP consultant Frances Richard for being awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music as well as the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Wolfe spoke with us briefly about how much she enjoys sharing the stage with all these young composers:
Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe has been awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The work (which was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program and is published by Red Poppy Music/G. Schirmer, Inc. ASCAP) premiered on April 26, 2014 in Philadelphia in a performance by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Mendelssohn Club Chorus. The Pulitzer citation describes the work as “a powerful oratorio for chorus and sextet evoking Pennsylvania coal-mining life around the turn of the 20th Century.” The prize is for a “distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States” during the previous calendar year and comes with a cash award of ten thousand dollars.
The score of Anthracite Fields is featured below.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize has had a variety of ramifications for composers. For emerging composers, the accolade can be a door opener that leads to major performance opportunities and commissions. For more established composers, it can be a confirmation of a life’s work. Yet for some composers, its impact can be negligible.
“I really don’t know,” wrote Wolfe in an email correspondence following a telephone conversation. “I do what I do. As an artist you are used to plowing through, carving your own path. Sometimes no one answers your call or email and then sometimes someone shines a light on you or says hey that’s interesting or moving or cool. I am always challenging myself – reaching for something, in a way trying to understand something human in the reach. It’s glorious to write music. I feel so lucky to work with so many great musicians. It takes a village as they say, and especially in music. The village I am in is a beautiful one.”
Asked about how and why she came to compose Anthracite Fields, Wolfe added the following observations:
Anthracite Fields was commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. I was born in Philadelphia and am from a small town about an hour north of the city. When [Mendelssohn Club Artistic Director] Alan Harler called me about writing a piece I thought that I would look to the region. Where I grew up, if you took the long country road up to the highway, route 309, and turned right you’d be heading toward Philadelphia. If you turned left, which we hardly ever did, you would head in the direction of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton–coal country. We hardly ever turned left, maybe once in a while to go to a diner. So I thought that rather than looking toward the big city I’d look the other way. The Mendelssohn Club was incredible in setting me up with a guide to the region. Theater artist Laurie McCants, who has a company in Bloomsburg, PA became my guide. She had a library full of books on the region, about life in coal country. She took me to some amazing small local historical museums that depicted everything about the miners–from the tools they used to the medical facilities, to the disasters. For over a year I read a lot, interviewed miners and children of miners, gathered information, and went down into the mines. It’s a vast subject to cover, but powerful themes emerged and called out to be in the piece. Anthracite Fields is about this industry and the life surrounding it. The piece is not directly narrative, but looks at the subject from different angles. My intention was to honor the people that lived and worked there, this dangerous work that fueled the nation.
Also nominated as finalists in for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music were: Xiaoxiang by Lei Liang, premiered on March 28, 2014, in Boston by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra, inspired by a widow’s wail and blending the curious sensations of grief and exhilaration (Schott Music Corporation); and The Aristos by John Zorn, premiered on December 21, 2014, in New York City, which the jury described as “a parade of stylistically diverse sounds for violin, cello and piano that create a vivid demonstration of the brain in fluid, unpredictable action.”
Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded annually since 1917. The Music Prize was added in 1943 when William Schuman’s Secular Cantata No. 2, “A Free Song” received the first honor. Past prize winning works include Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1945), Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 3 (1947, awarded 30 years after its composition), Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa (1958), Elliott Carter’s String Quartets Nos. 2 (1960) and 3 (1973), Charles Wuorinen’s electronic music composition Time’s Encomium (1970), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Symphony No. 1 – Three Movements for Orchestra (1983), Wynton Marsalis’s oratorio Blood on the Fields (1997), John Adams’s September 11, 2001 memorial On The Transmigration of Souls (2003), David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (2008), Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto (2010), and John Luther Adams’s Become Ocean (2014).
Anyone–not only the composer or publisher of the work–can submit a work to be considered for the Pulitzer Prize in Music provided it is accompanied by a $50 entry fee and meets the qualifications of being composed by an American and having had its first performance or recording in the United States during the previous calendar year. As is the case with all Pulitzer prize-winners, the awarded pieces of music are chosen through a two panel process. Each year a different jury–typically consisting of five professionals in the field and which usually includes at least one previous winner of the award–is convened and selects a total of three finalists from works received for consideration. (The jury for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music consisted of only four people and did not include a previous winner of the award.) The three finalists are then submitted to the 20-member Pulitzer board, consisting mostly of major newspaper editors and executives as well as a few academics. (The board elects its own members who individually serve three-year terms.) The winner is determined by a majority vote of the board. It is possible for the jury not to choose any of the finalists–as was the case for the Music award in the years 1964, 1965, and 1981 resulting in no prize being given. The board can also demand that the jury selects a different work, as was the case in 1992 when the only work the jury submitted to the board was Ralph Shapey’s Concerto Fantastique. (The work which was ultimately awarded the prize that year was Wayne Peterson’s The Face of the Night.) Since 2004, in an effort to broaden the purview of the award, premiere recordings issued on commercial recorded releases from the previous calendar year have also been eligible. Thus far, two works that have appeared on recordings have thus far been awarded the prize: Ornette Coleman’s Sound Grammar (2007) and Caroline Shaw’s Partita (2013). In addition, over the years, lifetime citations have been awarded–most of them posthumously. Citation honorees thus far have been Roger Sessions (1974), Scott Joplin (1976 posth.), William Schuman (1985) George Gershwin (1998 posth.), Duke Ellington (1999 posth.), Thelonious Monk (2006 posth.), John Coltrane (2007 posth.), Bob Dylan (2008), and Hank Williams (2010 posth.).
The jurors for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music were: Carol Oja, William Powell Mason Professor of Music, Harvard University (Chair); Steven Mackey, composer, professor and chair, department of music, Princeton University; Maria Schneider, composer and orchestra leader, New York, NY; and Mark Swed, music critic, Los Angeles Times. A complete list of the 2015 Pulitzer board is here.
Pulitzer Administrator Mike Pride announced the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winners at a press conference held in the Pulitzer World Room in Pulitzer Hall, Columbia University at 3pm eastern time on April 20, 2015 that was streamed live on YouTube.
Frank J. Oteri is an ASCAP-award winning composer and music journalist. Among his compositions are Already Yesterday or Still Tomorrow for orchestra, the "performance oratorio" MACHUNAS, the 1/4-tone sax quartet Fair and Balanced?, and the 1/6-tone rock band suite Imagined Overtures. His compositions are represented by Black Tea Music. Oteri is the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and is Composer Advocate at New Music USA where he has been the Editor of its web magazine, NewMusicBox.org, since its founding in 1999.
Apr 20, 2015
Subscribe to our newsletter and never miss a beat!