Fran Richard: An Appreciation

Fran Richard: An Appreciation

Eve Beglarian pays tribute to Fran Richard, Honorary Board member at New Music USA, Founding Director, Vice President of Meet the Composer, and former Vice President and head of ASCAP’s Concert Music department, who passed away on February 8 at the age of 87.  Fran is sorely missed by Board and staff, past and present,… Read more »

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Eve Beglarian

Eve Beglarian pays tribute to Fran Richard, Honorary Board member at New Music USA, Founding Director, Vice President of Meet the Composer, and former Vice President and head of ASCAP’s Concert Music department, who passed away on February 8 at the age of 87. 

Fran is sorely missed by Board and staff, past and present, at New Music USA, and by the music community she championed and cherished. We hope you enjoy learning about Fran’s extraordinary life and work through Eve’s words. At the bottom of the page, you will also find a video that was made for a virtual tribute to Fran that New Music USA organized last March, where many composers shared their personal experiences of Fran’s incredible support.

— The New Music USA Team

Eve Beglarian (left) with Fran Richard (second from left) in 2016. Photo by Annie Watt.

I met the amazing Fran Richard in the early 1980s, soon after I arrived in New York City aiming to make my way as a composer. She hadn’t yet taken the helm of the Concert Music Division at ASCAP: she was working with John Duffy at Meet the Composer, the predecessor of New Music USA.

It’s hard to characterize how different the world of new music was in those days. Meet the Composer — then a young organization — was a breath of fresh air in a pretty pallid and constricted musical life. What we call “new music” had retreated into isolated tiny hideaways, where different sorts of music were performed for fellow aficionados and hardly ever visible in the wider culture. The simple idea of paying composers a fee to be present at performances, to introduce their work and actually interact with the public, was pretty thrilling. And the range of composers that were given these opportunities was completely transformative: that “jazz” and “classical” and “experimental” composers were treated as equally vital and necessary contributors to the art was a seemingly revolutionary claim, and one that Fran asserted every day, in every statement and every decision, big and small.

While Fran’s background was deeply rooted in the European classical tradition — she was a cellist, a musicologist, and a conductor by training — she always supported the homegrown American version — from her early days at Meet the Composer through her many years at ASCAP. Even though her ASCAP office was right across the street from Lincoln Center, that bastion of the safe and middlebrow that (with tiny exceptions) it has been for so long, her support was for music where the stakes are high, where the risks are meaningful, where the possibilities are wide open. She was more open to wildness in all its forms than her establishment position would indicate. Her standards were high, and she certainly did not suffer fools gladly or countenance fatuity in any form, but her definitions of excellence, of talent, of imagination were as capacious, as expansive, as those definitions could possibly be. Fran loved the messiness, the risk, the terror, involved in making something new, and having her as our advocate was a great gift.

Fran Richard at the 2015 ASCAP Concert Music Awards. Used with permission by ASCAP.

And Fran was an INCREDIBLE advocate. She went out to all those hidebound institutions, all those conferences and seminars and meetings where new music could easily be overlooked or neglected or shunned. And day after day, week after week, year after year, she stood up for us, testifying to the importance of what we do. New music, and the composers and performers who make it were vital and central to every single day of her life.

We all have our stories about Fran: those amazing lunches sprinkled with liberal amounts of vodka and expletives and cigarette breaks, where you felt like you were at the center of a movie of the artist’s life, a way of living that most of us didn’t and don’t experience on a regular basis! And there was nothing better than her post-concert congratulations. I think of how many premieres she heard, how many concerts she went to, but when she talked with you afterwards, it was never pro-forma, never perfunctory, never phoned in.

It was great to celebrate with Fran, but it was pretty incredible to grieve with her as well. She deeply understood that most of us composers can be fragile, a bit unsteady now and again. We do fall apart sometimes. Her ferocious warmth and loyalty and wisdom gave comfort to many of us, through many challenges. The loss of a family member, the collapse of a relationship, the failure of a much-anticipated project: Fran was there for me through the hard times, and I will carry her support and her faith in me and my work with me forever.

My guess is that the flowering we have seen in the last thirty or forty years in the world of new music in this country, the vast improvement in the health of our field: from Bang on a Can to Music Alive; from all the young composers she supported through the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Awards who grew up to become Missy Mazzoli and Conrad Tao and Clarice Assad and Huang Ruo and uncountable others who make the vital and varied and beautiful work that defines our time — we are all lifted up by the generosity, the vision, and the fierce and steadfast love that Fran Richard gave us all her life.

Fran Richard and Leonard Bernstein at Bernstein’s 70th birthday party, held at ASCAP in 1989. Photos used with permission by ASCAP.

Fran was known for her passionate support of composers and the impact she had on them at pivotal moments in their careers. At a virtual tribute to Fran organized by New Music USA last March, many of the composers who attended credited Fran with changing their lives. Fran’s unwavering commitment to composers extended through all areas of her life, including her long tenure as a Board member of New Music USA. If you would like to learn more about how you can support the composers and music community that Fran so dearly treasured, please click here.