Tag: award-winning composers

Widening Inclusion & Visibility

Ed note: There have been a number of recent changes at the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM), including several new awards programs, which have been spearheaded by a group of highly energized newly elected group of board members. This month we’ve asked several of these board members to access the current new music landscape and to describe how they see IAWM helping to change the ecology for the better.-FJO

During the biting cold of the January 2018 blizzard in New York, I was attending the Chamber Music America conference. After the day’s sessions, I ducked into a restaurant on 37th Street for dinner. A trio was performing some great jazz – a blend of standards and original music. Startlingly, the trio was all female. A string trio comprised of women is no longer unusual enough to even register in my consciousness. Yet for as much as I wish it wasn’t, a jazz trio of women still is. As an alum from the University of North Texas, and a board member of the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM), the lack of visibility of women in jazz is noteworthy, especially when it comes to composers. Is it more an issue of visibility than activity?

Many of us are aware of the statistic published by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; only 1.8 percent of the music performed by America’s 22 leading orchestras during the 2014-2015 season was composed by women. Are the numbers of women composers proportionately that small, or is their music merely not being programmed? A similar study of 85 American orchestras (that was reported on by Lucy Caplan in the Winter 2018 issue of Symphony magazine) reveals that living composers represented only 12.3% of programming in the 2016-17 season, so the limited real estate for music by pre-21st-century composers certainly contributes the to the low statistic. But that’s another article.

Meanwhile, over at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, a couple of composers were musing, perhaps steaming, about the lack of women composers played by wind bands. In January, composer Katherine Bergman, wrote:

Of the 500 pieces performed at the Midwest Clinic by 51 different ensembles (including   bands, orchestras, jazz bands, and chamber groups), only 23 pieces (4.6%) were composed by women, and just 71 (14.2%) were written by composers of color. But what about the band concerts on their own? With such enthusiasm for new music, surely the wind ensemble programming would be more diverse than that of the orchestras, right?   Alas, of the 212 pieces performed by bands during the Midwest Clinic, only seven (a measly 3.3%) were written by women, and 26 (12.3%) by people of color.

I observed this myself! In March, I attended the College Band Directors National Association’s (CBDNA) West & Northwest conference at Sonoma State University. Out of 47 pieces of music performed, only one piece was composed by a woman. So are women not just composing for wind band, or is the music by women composers just not getting programmed?

Organizations such as the League of American Orchestras, Chamber Music America, and Opera America are putting more attention on women composers as well as composers of color through their granting opportunities.

Rob Deemer announced in January that the Women Composers Database, which he began embarking on in 2016, “was fully operational and ready for public inspection.” He and “a team of students at the State University of New York at Fredonia had compiled a searchable and browsable database of more than 3,000 women composers” for conductors, performers, educators, and researchers to use. The document lists THREE THOUSAND women composers. As Midgette mentions in her Washington Post article, organizations such as the League of American Orchestras, Chamber Music America, and Opera America are putting more attention on women composers as well as composers of color through their granting opportunities.

The mission of the International Alliance for Women in Music is to foster and encourage the activities of women in music, particularly in the areas of performing, composing, and research in which gender discrimination continues to be a concern. So IAWM further explored the landscape of major awards recognizing the prowess of women composers.

Since Joan Tower’s win of the Grawemeyer Award in 1990, only two other women: Kaija Saariaho and Unsuk Chin, have received it. The Rome Prize, first awarded in 1924, is given most but not every year. Typically each year, two composers are awarded the prize which includes a year-long residency at the American Academy in Rome. Barbara Kolb was the first woman awarded the prize in 1971 and she received it again in 1976. During the remainder of the 20th century, an additional seven women were awarded: Sheila Silver in 1979; Kathryn Alexander and Michelle Ekizian in 1989; Ellen Taaffe Zwilich in 1990; Bun-Ching Lam in 1992; Tania León in 1998; and Betsy Jolas in 1999. Since the 21st century, women have fared significantly better; a total of nine women have received this honor: Shih-Hui Chen and Carolyn Yarnell in 2000; Susan Botti in 2006; Erin Gee in 2008; Nina Young in 2015; and, in the past two years all four recipients have been women—Suzanne Farrin and Ashley Fure in 2017 and Michelle Lou and Jessie Marino in 2018. The Nemmers Prize in Music Composition began recognizing and honoring classical music composers of outstanding achievement in a body of work and a unique creativity in 2004. Of the eight recipients thus far, two have been women: Kaija Saariaho was the first, in 2008, and this year’s recipient was Jennifer Higdon.

Women have fared better with other prizes. The Pulitzer Prize, which Ellen Taaffe Zwilich won to much fanfare in 1983, has been awarded to seven women, four in the last decade, most recently to Du Yun in 2017. Representation of Women receiving American Academy Arts & Letters’ awards, founded at the turn of the 20th century to honor the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers, has been historically greater than other awards – 12.6% up through 1999, and 15.5% from 2000-2017. So the 21st century figures bear out a slow but growing trend toward rewarding women. Noted though that in 2017 and 2018, women were awarded 31% and 20% respectively. The American Composers Forum supports an eclectic mix of awards that recognizes diverse composers from around the country.

I’ve only recently been aware of the Herb Alpert Award, presented annually since 1995 to “risk-taking mid-career artists” working in several fields of art.  Of the 24 awards presented in music, 46% were awarded to 11 diverse women, pushing musical boundaries. The foundation also supports Young Jazz Composer Awards for jazz composers under 30. Out of the 15 annual winners, one in 2018 and four in 2017 were young women.

Do fellowships skew differently regarding gender? The Guggenheim Memorial Foundation began offering Fellowships in 1925, “to further the development of scholars and artists by assisting them to engage in research in any field of knowledge and creation in any of the arts, under the freest possible conditions and irrespective of race, color, or creed.” During its initial 74 years, 568 Fellowships were awarded for Musical Composition, 39 (6.9%) to women. Since 2000, the percentage of women represented has increased over time. The Guggenheim has given 257 Fellowships with 55 (21.4%) to women.

The MacArthur Fellows Program, often called the genius grant is “intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations”. One must be nominated through an ever-changing of pool of appointed external nominators chosen from a wide range of fields. Only 42 people in the musician/composer category have been awarded; 10 have been women.

In jazz, gender bias seems to be more of a well-known secret. Erin Wehr, who has conducted extensive research in gender and jazz, recently wrote: “The reality is that negative stereotypes of women still persist in jazz today. Even if such biases are a minority, negativity is so powerful that even great amounts of positive social support often can’t take away the sting of one pointed, judgmental comment.” Chamber Music America has given out awards for New Jazz Works since 2000. Out of 362 awards, 14 (3.9%) have been awarded to women.

IAWM’s commitment to providing visibility to women composers has moved like-minded sponsors to support awards for the annual Search for New Music. These prizes for new music by women are offered in a number of categories ranging from chamber works to sound installations. Through a competitive call for works, with a theme that changes annually, IAWM also presents a concert of new works by living women composers. In 2017, ACF honored the IAWM as one of its three 2017 Champion of New Music Awards. The IAWM also sponsors the Pauline Alderman Awards for musicological and journalistic works on women in music, most recently for Denise von Glahn’s book, Music and the Skillful Listener. But it’s not enough. How can we do better? How can we broaden our scope to increase the visibility of the vast amount of music composed by women? At least THREE THOUSAND OF THEM.

How can we broaden our scope to increase the visibility of the vast amount of music composed by women? At least THREE THOUSAND OF THEM.

The IAWM board has acknowledged that significant numbers of women in other areas of music are equally lacking visibility, and we are seeking to become more inclusive. Following New Music USA’s lead, IAWM published its Statement of Equity and Inclusion in 2017. In addition to social equity, IAWM seeks to ensure that the organization welcomes women across genres and disciplines, by being explicit in our commitment to promote cultural and professional musical diversity and inclusion within our board and membership. Women in Music work as performers, composers, arrangers, media artists, conductors, theorists, producers, musicologists, historians and educators. We know that a diversity of ideas, approaches, disciplines and musical styles are essential to inclusion and equity.

In analyzing our membership and the musical landscape, the IAWM board realized that we needed to expand our support networks and increase our relevance in the field. We are ramping up our advocacy efforts and our commitment to providing visibility to women writing in various genres of music, as well as to provide recognizing of our members working as performers and educators and in other areas of music.

In October 2017, the IAWM Board voted to create two new composition awards, for jazz and wind band, which rolled out this spring with a deadline of April 30. Sponsored by a consortium of jazz musicians in Portland, Oregon, the PDX Jazz Prize is a competitive award of $300 for women jazz composers for pieces of any duration from small ensembles to big band. The Alex Shapiro Wind Band Prize, which includes a $500 cash award and mentorship/consultation from Alex Shapiro, is for works of any duration for large ensemble wind band requiring a conductor, with or without a soloist, acoustic or electroacoustic, published or as yet unpublished. IAWM will soon be rolling out a Performer award, and an Education grant targeting K-12 music educators. As the membership of IAWM is becoming more diverse, so will our awards.

As the membership of IAWM is becoming more diverse, so will our awards.

An example of progressive change is occurring in the UK. The PRS Foundation announced its new Keychange Initiative earlier this year, which, as Amanda Cook reported in I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, is “empowering women to transform the future of the music industry and encouraging festivals to achieve a 50:50 balance by 2022. While a number of contemporary music festivals have committed to this initiative, the Borealis Festival has already achieved gender-balanced programming.”

Women are working in all genres of music, from chamber to choral to jazz; from orchestra to wind band to film and media. The International Alliance for Women in Music is working to bring awareness and visibility to music that is under-represented in the musical landscape.

Back to that restaurant on East 37th Street: inspired by their wonderful performance and intrigued by works I’d not heard before, I introduced myself and told them about the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) and the new award for women jazz composers. I hope they and many more apply. Unbeknownst to them, they made my night a memorable evening.

Musical America Announces Recipients of Its 2016 Awards

Koh/Machover

Jennifer Koh (Photo: Juergen Frank) and Tod Machover (Photo: Lucerne Festival/Priska Ketterer)

Musical America has announced the winners of its annual Musical America Awards which recognize artistic excellence and achievement in the arts. Tod Machover has been named 2016 Composer of the Year. Violinist Jennifer Koh, who has been commissioned music by Anthony Cheung, Vijay Iyer, and Andrew Norman, has been named Instrumentalist of the Year. Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), an orchestra devoted to music of the 20th and 21st centuries which, since its founding in 1996 by conductor Gil Rose, has presented more than 100 premieres and has made over 50 recordings, has been named Ensemble of the Year. British tenor Mark Padmore, who has performed works written especially for him by Harrison Birtwistle, Mark Anthony Turnage, and Thomas Larcher, has been named Vocalist of the Year. Musical America’s highest accolade, Musician of the Year, has been awarded to Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

BMOP

BMOP rehearsal (Photo: Liz Linder)

The awards will be presented in a ceremony at Carnegie Hall on December 8, 2015. The announcement precedes the December publication of the 2016 Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts, which, in addition to its comprehensive industry listings, pays homage to each of these artists in its editorial pages.

from the press release

Eric Nathan: Making It as Clear as Possible


“I just try to write the music that I want to write, and I’m glad the people seem to like it,” modestly claims Eric Nathan. It is a remarkable understatement. In a relatively short amount of time, the composer (who just turned 30 this past December) has already garnered the ASCAP Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize (2011), the BMI William Schuman Prize (2008), the first prize in SCI’s National Student Commission Competition (2008), Aspen Music Festival’s Jacob Druckman Prize (2010), and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (also in 2010). He has additionally been the recipient of a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Center, was one of five composers selected for the American Composers Orchestra’s 2009 Underwood New Music Readings, and is currently the 2013-14 Frederic A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize Fellow in composition at the American Academy in Rome. When we met up with him, he was in Bratislava, Slovakia, for a performance of a large chamber ensemble composition at the 2013 ISCM World New Music Days festival, a commissioned work that was the result of his winning the 2012 ISCM/IAMIC Composer Award.

While Nathan doesn’t have a secret strategy for garnering all those accolades, he is extremely pragmatic. According to him, “[What is] important is making the score as clear as possible. If there’s nothing that’s in the score that could be dismissed, you get more of a chance to be looked at on the music.” But Nathan’s music is not just a by-product of honing his compositional skills and being extremely accurate about what he wants to convey on the page. There’s also something of an element of whimsy that fuels his creative process:

Whenever I start a new piece, I open an iPhoto album and put images there. It could be of the place that I’m inspired by, like the piece I wrote for the [ISCM] festival, Paestum, which is a place in Southern Italy that is a site of Greek ruins. But also, for ensembles, I put pictures of conductors that I’m inspired by or orchestras and when I look at the pictures I hear sound in my head.

Because ocular cues have been such an important muse for him, it is no surprise that Nathan is a deep admirer of visual artwork. Details he has observed in his encounters with specific paintings and sculptures have directly helped shape pieces of his music, but in a way that’s more personal than technical. The impetus for the form, as well as some of the melodic shapes and timbres Nathan used in his sextet Onement (2007), came from the “fiery zip down the middle” of Barnett Newman’s seminal 1948 abstract expressionist painting Onement I. Icarus Dreamt, his attention-grabbing 2008 orchestral work, had a couple of equally important stimuli: the “broad lyrical gestures” of Henri Matisse’s paper cut-out “The Flight of Icarus” from his famous book, Jazz combined with the “fluttering and clattering of the gears” of contemporary American sculptor Arthur Ganson’s kinetic contraption Machine with 23 Scraps of Paper. The textures of Julie Mehretu’s 2009 ink and acrylic drawing Berliner Plätze are the source of the pitches that emerge out of trills in his 2010 brass quintet Spires.

In all of these works, Nathan’s deep affection for shapes and colors also has a direct correlation with his music’s meticulous attentiveness to orchestration. But his precision in crafting specific instrumental combinations has not prevented him from being open to multiple ways of exploring the same musical material. Last year, Nathan reworked Spires for wind quintet, and he believes that both versions are equally definitive.

Nathan’s combination of practicality with an openness and curiosity toward new experiences is ultimately why he has been so successful thus far. He sees himself not as a maverick composer but as the inheritor of a great tradition to which he hopes to add his own contributions:

I think of my music as a river. Everything that I hear is just adding to the river and makes it broader. I may choose to sail down one part of the river, but it’s not my goal to make a new river.