MATA at 20

The MATA Festival’s founders Lisa Bielawa, Eleonor Sandresky, and Philip Glass share their reflections on the Festival on its 20th anniversary along with 29 other composers featured over the years.

Written By

NewMusicBox Staff

[Ed note: It has been 20 years since the first MATA Festival. Since that time, it has been an annual New York City showcase for new music by early career composers selected from a free global call for submissions. Originally held at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan’s East Village, hence the acronym (which stands for Music at the Anthology), the Festival has subsequently been held at Le Poisson Rouge, the Brooklyn Lyceum, Roulette, and The Kitchen where most of this season’s concerts will take place. (Details for each of the concerts on this year’s festival can be found here.) Since MATA has been such an important stepping stone for so many significant composers, including many who served in an administrative capacity for the organization, we wanted to celebrate the MATA Festival’s 20th anniversary with a series of vignettes from some of the folks for whom it has meant so much. Time forced our hands in capping this at 32 before it went live (we had to have at least 20!), but we invite additional reminiscences in the comments.—FJO]

So much of what makes MATA what it is, is the community around which it has grown and continues to thrive. In the early years, back when we were still at the Anthology Film Archives, our indefatigable tech team, composers and founders alike would carry music stands and amps and instruments up that long flight of stairs and into the hall. One such memorable event was the premier of P(L)aces by Randy Hostetler, which is being performed again at the MATA Festival (on April 13, 2018). For that concert Lisa and I went around the East Village to the second hand furniture shops and borrowed lamps. Spoiler alert! Most players in the ensemble play lamps, switching them on and off in a rhythmic pattern. To facilitate this, our TD at the time, Dan Dryden, made special switches for each lamp, hand wiring them all. Everyone helped to carry lamps, chairs and stands up the stairs. It’s absolutely amazing to me that our little idea, hatched over breakfast with Philip while on tour, has not just blossomed, but flourished and spread, giving NYC the benefit of music from all over the world that has not been heard anywhere else. … yet! From those planning breakfasts around Philip’s kitchen table 20 years ago we could never have imagined this MATA. Thanks to you all for joining us in making it what it has become. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

Eleonor Sandresky (MATA Co-Founder and Artistic Advisory Board)

“Now I count hundreds among my MATA family.”

I remember like it was yesterday: a handful of us young composers struck out on a new path together, seeking community and a chance to be heard side by side, in joyful camaraderie regardless of our backgrounds and fascinations. Now I count hundreds among my MATA family, and I couldn’t be more proud of the role we have been able to play in the musical lives of so many—composers, performers, audiences. Thank you and congratulations dear friends!

Lisa Bielawa (MATA Co-Founder and Artistic Advisory Board)

The MATA New Music Festival was founded in 1996 by Eleonor Sandresky, Lisa Bielawa and myself. From the small beginnings (in the living room of my New York home) and the first concerts at the Anthology Film Archives in 1998, the MATA festival has become today one of the mainstays of New York’s new music world, with its annual festival, a board of directors and, thankfully, a substantial budget made possible by many patrons of the arts. I am very proud of our accomplishments and I am pleased to be honored as a part of the festival’s 20th Anniversary.

Philip Glass (MATA Co-Founder and Executive Producer)

A postcard from the very first season of the MATA Festival in 1998.

A postcard from the very first season of the MATA Festival in 1998.

The first few concerts I attended after moving to New York in 2008 were related to MATA. One in particular, Ne(x)tworks at LPR, left a huge mark. Truly inspiring concert, I hadn’t heard or seen anything like it, the event made me feel so lucky to be a musician in this city. A few years later, I had my own music performed at the festival. Music that I have written here. Music that in many ways couldn’t have happened without MATA. It was written originally for Cornelius Dufallo’s string quartet. Cornelius was one of the musicians of Ne(x)tworks who played that MATA concert at LPR a few years back. MATA is giving access to music that is at the forefront of music making. MATA is connecting people. And for that, we should be grateful. Congratulations MATA for 20 inspiring years, and cheers to 20 more!

Guy Barash

Details for each of the concerts of the 2018 MATA Festival can be found here.

MATA’s existence and continued success has always amazed and moved me. To see a scrappy artist-founded festival not only survive, but do incredible work, presenting such a range of musical work (and beyond!) at such a high level, and doing right by young creative artists from around the world, is a tremendous thing to experience. As a composer, performer, and audience member, and working behind the scenes, I’ve always been really proud to be associated with MATA.

Gordon Beeferman

As a veteran of the second festival (still at the Film Anthology), I have many memories of the splendid, audacious concerts curated by Lisa Bielawa and Eleonor Sandresky in the early years. So many unusual and inspiring sounds first alighted on my ears at MATA events. Twenty years later, it’s thrilling that MATA continues to be a trailblazer!

Derek Bermel

I was very grateful to have my music presented at MATA. Over the last 20 years MATA has been such an important launch pad for so many young composers working in so many different styles, and it was wonderful to have my work showcased as part of that. Here’s to 20 years and to many, many more.

Oscar Bettison

Being asked to present work at the MATA Festival was a pivotal moment for my career. As a composer and artist with an intermedia practice that is often hard to frame, MATA facilitated an outrageously supportive, legitimizing public platform for my work. At every step, I always felt like someone was right behind me, ensuring that my ideas were presented with zero compromise and I am still feeling the positive resonances of that exposure years later.

Seth Cluett

Having my videos screened at the MATA Festival six years ago was incredibly important for me in my development as a multimedia artist, encouraging me to continue down that path with a renewed enthusiasm. I attended all three concerts that year, and remember being struck by how well the evenings were curated—vibrant, inspiring pieces that were incredibly eclectic yet together formed a gratifying, cohesive experience.

Jacob Cooper

“Who on earth would ever produce this?”

I’ll always be grateful to MATA because they gave me my first show in New York City!  My friend Brad and I wrote a psychedelic orchestral hip hop re-imagination of The Rake’s Progress despite the thought: “Who on earth would ever produce this?” Well, MATA did. And I still sometimes meet someone who says to me “Oh, you’re that guy!”  Thanks y’all.

Elliot Cooper Cole

I am delighted to join the celebration of MATA’s bold, fearless, and vigorous championing of the new. When I was invited to perform my Electric Guitar Etudes over ten years ago, MATA already had such a reputation for presenting works of wild newness that nobody blinked an eye to see such a piece on the program. I arrived at the festival ready to perform and came away with my mind expanded. Thank you!

Mark Dancigers

The year is 2018. I am glad we are now talking about diversities in our society, because social and cultural change needs to start from somewhere.

I am proud of having worked at MATA, an organization that for twenty years has been built on this dialogue. For the most part, I think curiosity drives MATA and this curiosity guides MATA as it champions and stands behind the young voices that will ultimately change our cultural landscape.

Ever since I moved to New York City in 2004, I have been a loyal audience for MATA each year. I remember witnessing Missy Mazzoli and David T. Little running around on its behalf. I remember having invigorating conversations with Yotam Haber; hearing his visions for MATA electrified me. When he stepped down, I was inspired to apply for his position, simply because I wanted to be part of that vision.

MATA has given me a tremendous four years to get to know all its composers, musicians, and collaborators, and for me to learn from my peers and my colleagues, Todd, Alex Weiser, and Loren. Our team at MATA has worked hard to realize our composers’ visions, highlighting their voices as much—and as extensively—as we could.

“Social and cultural change needs to start from somewhere.”

This is my last year serving as artistic director for MATA. I want to take this space to thank MATA for having me as part of the family. I will continue to serve on its artistic advisory board; and whatever I will do next, I assure you, will have the stamp of MATA. I also want to thank the massive pool of fellow composers who have served on the rotating MATA panels throughout the years. Thank you for having open ears to all the composers from around the world who submit their work to MATA. Each of us is working hard to be part of this conversation: to have more voices heard and seen.

The time is now. To this present moment, and to our future.

Du Yun (MATA Artistic Director, 2014-2018)

My favorite MATA moment…

From: Yotam Haber <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 21:28:32 -0400
Cc: Garth MacAleavey
To: R. Luke DuBois

Hi Luke,

Can you please call me As soon as possible with a desperate max question regarding an Oscar Bianchi piece on tomorrow’s mata festival. It was created at ircam years ago and is now causing serious problems that we can’t seem to solve… Thank you

By the end it was MATA 1, IRCAM 0

Happy anniversary, you all.

R. Luke DuBois

Having my music presented at MATA was an amazing opportunity that came at just the right time. While I had already had performances in New York City, MATA felt like an especially good fit for my music, and I loved the energy of the festival. My friend and musical colleague saxophonist Brian Sacawa performed my work Tourmaline, and we both received extremely positive press from The New York Times, which was an amazing added bonus! A few years later I served on the panel making programming decisions for that year’s MATA, and that remains my favorite panel experience. The wonderful diversity of music presented, and the focus and enthusiasm of the festival organizers continues to be a huge inspiration. Happy Birthday, MATA!

Alexandra Gardner

Congratulations to MATA for twenty years of being such an important force in new music, and supporting young musical voices. I vividly remember Lisa and Eleonor contacting me to invite me to write for the Harry Partch instruments for the 2000 MATA Festival. I was in residence in the factories of Nuremberg, Germany, at the time. I was thrilled and taken aback; it was a musical fantasy come true! Although the instruments have been moved, I still carry the key to the old studio in Montclair, NJ, on my keychain to remind me of the incredible opportunity that MATA gave me to touch a part of musical history and work with the instruments that Partch, one of my heroes, built with his own hands. It’s an honor to be invited to write a new piece for Liminar, a dynamic young group, to commemorate two decades of MATA.

Annie Gosfield

MATA’s open call says: We accept all music from fully notated to improvised, sound art, video, electronic, found instruments, toys, installations and everything in between. That phrase really made me very happy.  I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary of MATA like many other composers who like to walk there: in between. Very few experiences in my life have given me so many satisfactions as having been part of MATA. Happy Anniversary! And many more years!

Carlos Gutiérrez Quiroga

MATA gave me my first proper, paid commission 12 years ago, when I was just out of school. I felt like someone special, professionally uncompromising, and absolutely committed had noticed my music and cared deeply about bringing it to light. When I served as Artistic Director, I carried that mission with me: to help composers not only present their best work on an international platform, but to also introduce audiences to electrifying, essential music of our time. I am proud each moment I hear of the superb achievements of our ever-expanding MATA family. To another 20 years of inspiring sounds!

Yotam Haber (MATA Artistic Director, 2009-2014)

It is a tremendous thing to look back at the history of MATA and its important mission through two decades of featuring young, emerging composers. As a young composer, when I was just starting out, I was honored to have my music featured. It was an important stepping stone, and one for which I am extremely grateful.

Jennifer Higdon

MATA asked me to perform my early voice/violin songs before I even had any inclincation that they were more than my own private etudes, and that perhaps they were worth listening to. Their faith in me and what I had to offer was a really an important stone in the path that brought me to where I am today. Thank you MATA, for being visionary, generous and so incredibly supportive of a generation of composers and musicians! Mwah!

Carla Kihlstedt

“I showed up at the MATA office in Williamsburg to find an eviction notice on the door.”

A story of the indestructible MATA: I was appointed as Executive Director of MATA in 2010, taking over from my good friend Missy Mazzoli, and joining Artistic Director Yotam Haber at the helm of the organization. On the first day of what was to be a three week-long transition period, I showed up at the MATA office in Williamsburg to find an eviction notice on the door: the building had been condemned by the city, and all tenants had to leave immediately. All of MATA’s stuff was inside: archives, computers, and most importantly, all of the recent score submissions. We managed to remove everything, loaded it into Nathan Koci’s pickup truck, and tried to figure out what to do next. After a brief stint in Missy’s living room we moved to Exapno, where we camped out for a week or so while frantically looking for a new office. Yotam found the new space—the current office on West Broadway—and we moved in right away. It was an adventurous start to my tenure as ED.

David T. Little (MATA Executive Director, 2010-2012)

My MATA commissioned piece in 2008 was my very first performance in New York. This fact alone was thrilling on its own yet I was even more taken by the high level of musicianship and ingenious programming of the festival. On the night of the premiere, one surprise happened that took my breath away: after the last sound of the piece when the clapping started, The Knights chamber orchestra conductor Eric Jacobsen gestured in my direction inviting me to the stage. And then I heard a chorus of orchestra musicians saying my name out loud. Louder and louder with each repetition! And they were pronouncing it correctly, which is quite hard to do with such an unusual Lithuanian name as Žibuoklė. Chills were running up and down my spine because at that very moment, I felt not only a part of the MATA family, but also validated and accepted as a part of the New York music community.

Žibuoklé Martinaityté

Looking back, it is perhaps the vision of MATA’s founders that is most remarkable to me. At the time, performance opportunities were scarce for young composers, but the MATA model has now been replicated far and wide. That MATA continues with its mission essentially unchanged is evidence enough that what Eleonor, Lisa and Philip started was rooted in something vital and important.

James Matheson (MATA Executive Director, 2005-2007)

Missy Mazzoli performing on a grand piano at the 2006 MATA Festival.

Missy Mazzoli (MATA Executive Director 2007-2010) performing at the 2007 MATA Festival.

“MATA continues to be an important model for inclusiveness in our increasingly divided world.”

I came into the MATA fold, first as guest curator under co-founder Lisa Bielawa and then as Artistic Director from 2008 to 2010, after several years of searching for my place in the NYC music world. I was fairly active as a player, was becoming more so as a composer, and had recently discovered a skill set for producing and curating. Joining the MATA community provided the necessary space I needed to fully engage all three directions simultaneously. That is one of the organization’s greatest strengths, the creation of a common space and network for artists to come together and share their Work. Not the dreaded “boundary crossing” of press releases but that of direct one-to-one connection through the larger project of music making. While it didn’t necessarily invent that space, MATA continues to be an important model for inclusiveness in our increasingly divided world.

Chris McIntyre (MATA Artistic Director, 2008-2010, and current MATA Board Member)

Running riot in New York in my 20s punctuated by subversion into the depths of the red basement of Le Poisson Rouge for MATA was both informative and formative! The energy of the place and the festival wound up the creativity machine, setting in motion for months and years to come! Every year when it’s time for the festival I lament not being present. And to relive those early times in my memory keeps things real! So thanks MATA for your kick start and awesomeness!

Kate Moore

MATA was my first window into the exciting new music community in NYC. It allowed me to discover new paths, explore new possibilities, connect with other inspiring sound makers, and to develop my own voice. It’s an incredible honor to be a part of the MATA family and to see it continue to develop in a way that attests to their deep commitment to the young voices of our generation.

Angélica Negrón

In my years with MATA, I have heard every kind of music being produced by emerging composers everywhere. I attend every concert, and each MATA Festival tells me where “contemporary classical music” is right now, and where it’s going. There’s nothing like it.

—Jim Rosenfield (MATA Board President, 2005-present)

“MATA provided some of my earliest live exposure to new music.”

MATA provided some of my earliest live exposure to new music when I first moved to New York in the late ‘90s and hadn’t yet decided to become a composer. The diversity of the programming struck and inspired me, and gave me a sense of where in the world my music might belong. Nine years later I was enormously honored to be programmed by MATA, sharing a program with music every bit as diverse and eclectic as I’d heard almost a decade earlier, from young composers all around the world. There is no other contemporary music festival in New York as broad-mindedly supportive of young talent as MATA; may it continue to support and inspire emerging composers for many decades to come.

Sarah Kirkland Snider

I guess I should have known better when I took the job of Executive Director of MATA in 2012, because since then my days—and sometimes nights—are one long, seemingly intractable, problem solving session: last minute hotels, emergency visa applications, letters to consular officers around the world, back-up contrabass recorder players, renting and insuring an event in a swimming pool, finding money where there is none. All this on top of more grant applications than I can count, budgets, programs, marketing, trying again and again to find time to organize the archives and clean the office.

“A cosmopolitan vision of what music should be…”

I joke to myself that I’m the hardest working person in new music. Through it all are the things that make it worthwhile. I have had the thrill to have my hands on the pulse of the world’s contemporary music, guide one of New York’s most vital cultural organizations, and promote a cosmopolitan vision of what music should be.

Todd Tarantino (MATA Executive Director, 2012-present)

So Percussion got a chance to do a MATA show at LPR a while back and had the awesome chance to commission a new piece from Nicole Lizée, Dystopian Suite, that we toured the next couple of years and led to another work with Nicky playing with us called White Label Experiment. On that show, we also premiered Proximity by one of my best friends of all time, Cenk Ergün. MATA makes it happen and does it right! Congrats on birthday number 20!

Jason Treuting

John Barth describes life as a river and you encounter and re-encounter people as the boat comes ashore from time to time. MATA has been the shore of my musical timeline since 2002. Back then, I remember getting the call from Lisa Bielawa that my piece was being programmed, and how exciting that was. I was home on break at my childhood home, still a graduate student. After the concert, there was a big review in the Times featuring a glorious photo of Taimur Sullivan and Matthew Gold playing my piece. The festival was electric. I met so many composers from around the country and abroad, many with whom I am still in touch.  In 2008 on MATA, I got to perform my vocal concerto in NYC.  And, now, I am honored and happy to be performing again on MATA 2018. Life is different, I’m a grey-haired professor now, but just as excited. Thanks, MATA, for all these years.

Ken Ueno

I spent about five wonderful, fascinating years filled with learning and discovery helping to run MATA from Fall 2011 to Spring 2016. Every year I was astounded by the incredible diversity of artistry and thought represented in the music we would receive from around the world, as well as the kindness and generosity of spirit brought to the festival by the visiting musicians and composers. As a composer I deeply value the chance to imagine what music can be and what music can say, and there is no organization devoted to as international and eclectic a platform for posing these question as MATA. For this MATA is indispensable. I continue to enjoy MATA’s incredible work as an audience member and as a member of its Artistic Advisory Board, and I look forward to the discoveries that each new concert brings.

Alex Weiser (MATA Director of Operations and Development, 2011-2016)

Being a part of MATA’s composer and performer community has been critical to my career! MATA gave me an early start in NYC in 2003, kept up with my growth and commissioned me for 2016’s Festival. Long Live MATA!

Matthew Welch

 Pico Alt and Amie Weiss (violins), Miranda Silaff (viola), and Jane O’Hara (cello) rehearse Matthew Barnson's composition Sibyl Tones for a performance during the 2007 MATA Festival at the Brooklyn Lyceum.

Pico Alt and Amie Weiss (violins), Miranda Silaff (viola), and Jane O’Hara (cello) rehearse Matthew Barnson’s composition Sibyl Tones for a performance during the 2007 MATA Festival at the Brooklyn Lyceum.