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.
Tania León has been awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her orchestra work Stride which received its world premiere in a performance by The New York Philharmonic conducted by Jaap van Zweden in David Geffen Hall in New York City on February 13, 2020. According to the Pulitzer Prize guidelines, the annually awarded $15,000 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 year.” The Pulitzer citation describes Stride as “a musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the US and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric.” Published by Peermusic Classical, Stride was one of 19 commissions of the New York Philharmonic as part of its Project 19 initiative commemorating the centenary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the United States constitution which established that women have the right to vote.
“I don’t know what to say!” said Tania León during a telephone conversation minutes after the announcement. “All the women that motivated me to do this: I am the product of my grandmother. My mother and my grandmother were both maids when they were eight years old. And Susan B. Anthony and all the suffragettes inspired me. I think of all these women and I want to honor them.”
The announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes, which traditionally take place in the Columbia University Journalism Building and are scheduled on the third Monday of April, were delayed again this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, this year’s announcement was made online by Pulitzer Prize co-chairs Mindy Marqués and Stephen Engelberg via a stream posted this Friday afternoon on the Pulitzer website and on YouTube.
Also nominated as finalists for the 2021 music prize were: Place by Ted Hearne (released on New Amsterdam Records on April 3, 2020) which is described in the Pulitzer citation as “a brave and powerful work, marked by effective vocal writing and multiple musical genres, that confronts issues of gentrification and displacement in Fort Greene,” and Maria Schneider’s Data Lords (a recording released by the Maria Schneider Orchestra on July 24, 2020 via ArtistShare), which is described in the citation as “an enveloping musical landscape of light and shadow, rendered by the many personalities of a large jazz ensemble, reflecting the promise of a digital paradise contrasted by a concentration of power and the loss of privacy.”
Tania León was the very first individual composer featured in conversation in NewMusicBox back in August 1999. You can read a complete transcript of that conversation here. Tania León is one of the eight composers involved in New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program and Stride is one of the six works submitted by New Music USA in consideration for performance during the 2021 International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) World New Music Days in Shanghai scheduled for September 2021.
The jury for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music was: John V. Brown, Jr. (Chair), Vice Provost, Arts, Duke University; Regina Carter, Jazz Violinist, Maywood, N.J.; Ellen Reid, Composer/Sound Artist, New York City (and prior winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music, in 2019); John Schaefer, Host, “New Sounds,” WNYC Radio; and Christopher J. Washburne, Composer/Trombonist; Professor of Music, Columbia University.
The ASCAP Foundation has announced the 20 recipients and 3 honorable mentions of the 2020 ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Awards. The recipients, who receive cash awards, range in age from 17 to 28 and hail from five continents. They were selected through a juried national competition; the ASCAP member composer/judges for the 2020 competition were Keyon Harrold, Hilary Kole, and Oscar Perez.
“Jazz is one of our most vital art forms and the recipients of the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Awards carry its innovative spirit into the future,” said ASCAP Foundation President, Paul Williams. “We are grateful to the Herb Alpert Foundation for helping us to recognize and encourage these young music creators and congratulate them on their success.”
The 20 winners of the 2020 ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Awards (pictured left to right): (Row 1) David Bernot, Eri Chichibu, Eddie Codrington, Grace Corsi, Angelo Di Loreto; (Row 2) Eliana Fishbeyn, Shimon Gambourg, Giveton Gelin, Bryce Hayashi; (Row 3) Jisu Jung, Takumi Kakimoto, Dave Meder, Zachary Rich, Rin Seo, Jueun Seok; (Row 4) Matthew Thomson, Elliott Turner, Gary (Kaiji) Wang, Matthew Whitaker, and Drew Zaremba. (All photos courtesy of the ASCAP Foundation.)
The 2020 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award recipients are listed with their age and the titles of their award winning compositions. Audio recordings of performances of the composers are linked from the titles.)
2020 ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Awards Honorable Mentions (pictured left to right): Michael Echaniz, Chase Kuesel, and Martina Liviero. (Photos courtesy ASCAP Foundation)
The Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Awards program was established in 2002 to encourage young gifted jazz composers up to the age of 30. It carries the name of the great trumpeter and ASCAP member Herb Alpert in recognition of The Herb Alpert Foundation’s multi-year financial commitment to support this program. Additional funding for this program is provided by The ASCAP Foundation Bart Howard Fund. Through a partnership with the Newport Festival Foundation, one of this year’s Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Awards recipients will be featured on stage at the 2020 Newport Jazz Festival, slated for August 7-9 in Newport, Rhode Island.
The Recording Academy has announced the nominees for its 59th annual Grammy Awards. The list of luminaries includes many people who should be familiar to readers of NewMusicBox, and not just the nominees for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, although three of the five 2017 nominees have been the subject of NewMusicBox covers.
Jennifer Higdon, who has previously received this award in 2010 for her Percussion Concerto, has been nominated again this year for her opera Cold Mountain whose world premiere performance by the Santa Fe Opera was released on Pentatone Music. The disc has also been nominated for Best Opera Recording as has the Los Angeles Opera’s recording of The Ghost of Versailles by John Corigliano (also on Pentatone) which is additionally under consideration for Best Engineered Album, Classical (Mark Donahue and Fred Vogler, engineers).
Michael Daugherty, who received the BCCC nod in 2011 for his piano concerto Deus ex Machina, is a contender again with another concertante work, his Tales of Hemingway for cello and orchestra, which was released on an eponymous all-Daugherty disc by Naxos in a performance by Zuill Bailey with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero. Bailey is also up for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for his performance of that work, as is Leila Josefowicz for her performance of Scheherazade.2 by John Adams on Nonesuch, and the entire Daugherty disc is additionally being considered for Best Classical Compendium as is Universal Music’s collection of two suites from Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels conducted by Esa Pekka Salonen.
Christopher Theofanidis, who has yet to receive this award, is also under consideration for his Bassoon Concerto which was included alongside more standard fare by Mozart and Hummel on an Estonian Record Productions disc featuring bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann with Northwest Sinfonia led by Barry Jekowsky. The remaining two BCCC nominees are Mason Bates (for his orchestral work Anthology Of Fantastic Zoology recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Riccardo Muti) and C. F. Kip Winger (for Conversations With Nijinsky recorded by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under Martin West for VBI Classic Recordings). Other nominated classical recordings include Cedille’s collection of four Steve Reich works performed by Third Coast Percussion (Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance) and the New York Philharmonic’s all-Christopher Rouse disc (Best Orchestral Performance). Even among the nominees for Best Historical Album there’s an American composer, albeit not for his own music—Dust to Digital’s re-release of The Library of Congress collection of field recordings of traditional Moroccan music, which were made by late Paul Bowles, is in the running for Best Historical Album!
But that’s not all…
Fred Hersch has been nominated for two awards—Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album (for Sunday Night at The Vanguard) —and Ted Nash for three: Best instrumental Composition, Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Capella, and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album (for Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom). Also nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album is Real Enemies by Darcy James Argue.
A complete list of the 2017 nominees is available on the official Grammy site. The winners in each of the categories will be announced on February 12, 2017 (though most of the ones cited here probably won’t be mentioned on the nationally televised CBS broadcast).
The American Academy of Arts and Letters has announced the seventeen recipients of this year’s awards in music, which total $205,000.
Four composers—Robert Carl, Robert Kyr, Sean Shepherd, and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon—will each receive a $10,000 Arts and Letters Award in Music, which honors outstanding artistic achievement by a composer who has arrived at his or her own voice. Each will receive an additional $10,000 toward the recording of one work. Chia-Yu Hsu will receive the $10,000 Lakond Award in Music Composition, which was established through a bequest from Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond. Keith Fitch will receive the Walter Hinrichsen Award for the publication of a work by a gifted composer. This award was established by the C. F. Peters Corporation, music publishers, in 1984. Brett Banducci will receive the Andrew Imbrie Award of $10,000 for a composer of demonstrated artistic merit. Huang Ruo and Amy Williams are the recipients of this year’s two $15,000 Goddard Lieberson Fellowships. Named after composer and record producer Goddard Lieberson, these fellowships were endowed in 1978 by the CBS Foundation and are given to mid-career composers of exceptional gifts. Finally, Harmony Ives, the widow of Charles Ives, bequeathed to the Academy the royalties of Charles Ives’s music, which has empowered the Academy to give Ives awards in composition since 1970. Two Charles Ives Fellowships, of $15,000, will be awarded to Hannah Lash and Eric Wubbels. In addition, Thomas Kotcheff, Scott Lee, Dylan Mattingly, Jeffrey Parola, Sonnet Swire, and Liliya Ugay will each receive a Charles Ives Scholarship of $7500, given to composition students of great promise.
The winners were selected by a committee of Academy members: Yehudi Wyner (chairman), Martin Boykan, Martin Bresnick, Mario Davidovsky, Stephen Hartke, Stephen Jaffe, and Tobias Picker. The awards will be presented at the Academy’s annual Ceremonial in May. Candidates for music awards are nominated by the 250 members of the Academy.
In addition, three musicals have received Richard Rodgers Awards: Costs of Living by Timony Huang and We Live in Cairo by Patrick Lazour (book and lyrics) and Daniel Lazour (book and music), which have both been awarded staged readings; and Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell, which was given a production award. The Rodgers Award, which was endowed in 1978, provides financial support for productions and staged readings of original musicals by non-profit theaters in New York City; it is the only award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for which applications are accepted. The jury for this year’s award were David Lang (chairman), Lynn Ahrens, Sheldon Harnick, Richard Maltby, Jr., Jenine Tesori, and John Weidman. Librettist/lyricist Michael Korie will receive the Marc Blitzstein Award for Musical Theater of $10,000. Established in 1965 by friends of the late Academician Marc Blitzstein in his memory, the award is given to a composer, lyricist, or librettist to encourage the creation of works of merit for musical theater and opera. The jurors were John Harbison (chairman), J. D. McClatchy, Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, and Yehudi Wyner.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues. In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country.
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 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.
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.
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.
The American Composers Forum Board of Directors has voted to present its 2015 “Champion of New Music” award to three recipients: conductor Michael Morgan, flutist and director of the International Contemporary Ensemble Claire Chase, and the American Composers Orchestra at public ceremonies this year in Oakland, Brooklyn, and New York City.
The “Champion of New Music” award was established by ACF in 2005 as a national mark of recognition to honor individuals or ensembles that have made a significant contribution to the work and livelihoods of contemporary composers. ACF President and CEO John Nuechterlein will present the awards at three events in the coming months.
The award to Michael Morgan will be given on February 20, 2015, during a concert by the Oakland East Bay Symphony in Oakland, California.
The award to Claire Chase will be given on April 21, 2015, at a special anniversary event for ICE in Brooklyn, New York.
The award to the American Composers Orchestra will be given on May 7, 2015, at the Underwood Reading Sessions at the DiMenna Center in New York City.
Michael Morgan has served as music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony since 1990. OEBS comprises not only a professional orchestra, but also members of the Oakland Symphony Chorus and Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, and its staff, board members, and community volunteers. OEBS aims to make classical music accessible, particularly to those individuals in the community who might otherwise never hear live symphonic music. Morgan’s commitment to new works by American composers is well documented, and under his leadership OEBS won an ASCAP award for Adventurous Programming in 2006. While a student at Oberlin studying composition, Morgan spent a summer at Tanglewood as a student of Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa, and worked with Leonard Bernstein. In 1980, he won the Hans Swarovsky International Conductors Competition in Vienna, Austria, and became assistant conductor of the St Louis Symphony under Leonard Slatkin. In 1986, Georg Solti chose him to become the assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony, a position he held for five years. As a guest conductor he has appeared with most of America’s major orchestras.
Flutist Claire Chase, a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, is a soloist, collaborative artist, and activist for new music. Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her. In 2014 she began Density 2036, a project to commission, premiere, and record an entirely new program of pieces for flute every year until 2036, the 100th anniversary of the eponymous and seminal piece by Edgard Varèse. Chase is the founder and co-artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, which she formed in 2001 with the goal of creating the United States’s first large-scale chamber ensemble dedicated to new and experimental music. ICE, whose artist-driven nonprofit structure, alternative concert presentations, and educational initiatives have served as innovative models within the new music field, is a uniquely structured, modular ensemble comprised of thirty dynamic and versatile young performers which has now given more than 500 premiere performances all over the world.
The American Composers Orchestra
The American Composers Orchestra is the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers. Founded in 1977, ACO pursues a singular mission by maintaining an unparalleled range of activities, including concerts, commissions, recordings, educational programs, and new music reading sessions. To date, ACO has performed music by over 600 composers, including more than 200 world premieres and commissioned works. ACO’s innovative EarShot reading program in collaboration with the American Composers Forum, League of American Orchestras, and New Music USA, helps orchestras around the country to identify and support promising composers in the early stages of their careers.
Past recipients of the “Champion of New Music” Award include conductor Marin Alsop, retired ASCAP Vice President of Concert Music Frances Richard, percussionist Steven Schick (all 2014), the JACK Quartet (2012), eighth blackbird (2011), Bill Ryan and the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble (2010), Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra, Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence (both 2009), Bruce Carlson and The Schubert Club (2007), Dale Warland and the Dale Warland Singers (2006), and Cindy Gehrig and the Jerome Foundation (2005).
Underneath the logo for Chamber Music America on the organization’s website is a list of the genres of music they embrace–classical, jazz, contemporary, world, and early music. 21st century music is evolving into an amalgam of all of these things, and much more.
Three ensembles and five presenters were honored for their commitment to new music with 2015 CMA/ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming during the 37th national conference of Chamber Music America, which took place at the Westin New York at Times Square from January 15-18, 2015. The eight award recipients were selected by an independent panel of musicians and presenters based on the amount of works composed during the past 25 years that have appeared on their programs during the 2013-2014 concert season as well as for innovations in engaging audiences with new music. Separate awards are given for ensembles and presenters devoted to contemporary music and jazz as well as groups which incorporate new music into a mixed repertory. Presenters are further categorized into large and small based on their annual budgets and the number of concerts they present during the year. This year there was no award given in the “Small Jazz Presenter” category.
A booklet distributed to conference attendees during the award ceremony listed all eligible repertoire presented by the eight honorees. While any work composed during the past 25 years that the honorees featured was eligible for inclusion (which means works dating as far back as 1989), it was particularly gratifying to see that the majority of the repertoire was created in the 21st century and for four of the eight awardees—FONT Music, PUBLIQuartet, Switchboard Music, and Music at Noon (whose oldest piece was Steve Reich’s 2009 Mallet Quartet!)—it was exclusively so.
The Adventurous Programming Awards Ceremony was one of several new music-related highlights during the CMA conference. Another was the concert, “New Music from CMA,” an annual conference component that is devoted to performances of new repertoire that was directly commissioned through CMA’s grantmaking programs. Works in the Classical Commissioning Program are supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the Chamber Music America Endowment, while New Jazz Works supported by the Doris Duke Foundation.
This year attendees braved a half-mile trek from the conference hotel to the DiMenna Center in extremely inclement weather, but it was well worth it. Nico Muhly’s Fast Dances for two harps was lovingly performed by Duo Scorpio. It was followed by a hefty excerpt from The Subliminal and the Sublime, an ethereal work by Chris Dingham played by his sextet Waking Dreams which, in addition to Dingham on vibraphone, featured Loren Stillman on alto sax, Ryan Ferreira on electric guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano, Linda Oh on bass, and Justin Brown on drums. What was supposed to follow that was a performance of Daniel Strong Godfrey’s To Mourn, To Dance by the Cassatt String Quartet, but unfortunately due to the severity of travel on roads in the New York City-Metropolitan area, one of the members of the quartet was unable to get to the venue. While this was extremely disappointing, the all-star Marty Ehrlich Ensemble—Ehrlich on clarinet and saxophone, Ron Horton on trumpet, Ray Anderson on trombone, Jerome Harris on electric guitar, Bradley Jones on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums—lifted up the doldrums with a rousing performance of Ehrlich’s Rundowns and Turnbacks, a politically-charged multi-movement magnum opus lasting some 20 minutes that he had recorded with a much larger group on his 2013 New World recording, A Trumpet in the Morning.
But ultimately the concert was just the tip of a new music iceberg. During the conference there were a total of 18 showcases (basically a half-hour mini-concert), each devoted to a different ensemble that was either categorized as “classical” or “jazz” and the majority of these groups focused on the music of our time. What was particularly interesting was that despite the nominal segregation, many of the groups were clearly indebted to both classical and jazz traditions, freely traversing between performance practices to create 21st century music. Some groups blurred additional lines as well. Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet (Byron on clarinet and sax, plus vocalist Carla Cook, bassist Brad Davis, drummer Pheeroan akLaff, and the extraordinary Nat Adderley Jr. on piano) found common ground between sacred and secular, making classic gospel hymns by the legendary father of the genre, Thomas A. Dorsey, totally swing. (Although it must be pointed out that doing so is not completely without precedent. Before Dorsey completely devoted himself to devotional music, he was a highly successful jazz and blues composer/pianist known primarily as “Georgia Tom” and in the earlier part of his career he felt equally comfortable creating music for both partying and worshipping.)
Don Byron and Carla Cook trade phrases at each other during the showcase of Byron’s New Gospel Quintet.
Meng Su and Yameng Wang—who call themselves the Beijing Guitar Duo even though they are both from Tsingtao (where, as they pointed out, the beer is made) and are currently based in Baltimore—made an extremely compelling case for Manuel Barrueco’s transcription for two guitars of Eight Memories in Watercolor, the opus 1 of Tan Dun (who was actually in the audience for this performance). The plucked sonorities of the guitars are perhaps even more effectively able to evoke the sound world of the folk music of Tan Dun’s native Hunan province which inspired what was originally a solo piano composition. In their performance on four saxophones of “Ori’s Fearful Symmetry” from Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s pan world music-inflected Vjola Suite, a work originally written for strings, the Asylum Quartet were extremely comfortable with (and sounded requisitely-informed ethnomusicologically for) every nuance the score required of them.
Though they’ve premiered pieces by composers on both sides of this ever-so-seeming arbitrary contemporary classical-jazz divide (e.g. Richard Einhorn and Uri Caine), the Sirius Quartet—a quartet of the string variety—devoted their showcase to their own compositions which were largely platforms for their own daredevil virtuosity and their ability to effortlessly traverse idioms as diverse as Chinese traditional music and Nuevo Tango. Another string quartet—Megan Gould and Tomoko Omura on violins, Karen Waltuch on viola and Noah Hoffeld on cello—were half of a larger group called Rhizome led by the aforementioned pianist Fabian Almazan. But in addition to performing Almazen’s own mixed-genre compositions (which also featured guest vocalist Sara Serpa), they also performed what can best be described as a “cover” of the Adagio from Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 10. Rather than just performing the music as it had been written (although they were all reading from scores), their performance was a surreal re-imagining in which the original 1964 Soviet-era music serves as a backdrop for on-the-spot musings created more than half-a-century later involving additional counterpoint and rhythmic underpinnings from piano, double-bass, and drums.
Perhaps most surprising of all, however, was the showcase by Andy Milne’s group Dapp Theory, a quintet consisting of Milne on piano, Aaron Kruziki on various reeds, Chris Tordini on bass, Kenny Grohowski on drums, and John Moon performing what the program listed as “percussive poetry” and what Milne introduced as “vocal poetics.” The majority of American listeners would identify what Moon was doing as rap, something that some more traditionally-minded chamber music practitioners might consider a cognitive dissonance during a Chamber Music America event. But the interaction between Moon and the four instrumentalists was formidable and undeniably chamber music, a testimony to how rapping can be enriched by direct collaboration with live musicians—something that other hip-hop creators, if only they had been in attendance at the conference, might have been extremely inspired by.
Milne (far left on piano), Kruziki (in center holding a saxophone), Tordini (barely visible in back on bass), and Grohowski (not pictured) offer some counterbalance to the “vocal poetics” of John Moon (in front of Tordini on the right) as audience members listen in wonder during Dapp Theory’s showcase.
All in all, the awards, the commissions’ concert and all of those showcases provided a real immersive new music experience throughout the weekend—one in which definitions were constantly being expanded and which celebrated diversity and inclusivity. The impetus to re-imagine what chamber music composition and performance could be also informed many of the discussions people were having during the rest of the Chamber Music America conference. It also was a backdrop for an extremely provocative statement made by flutist Zara Lawler during a fascinating panel called “Sharing the Stage—Reach Across Disciplines to Better Reach Audiences”:
People think Britney Spears’s music is her music even though she didn’t write it. The assumption of classical music is that we are just the vessel for something greater than us … It’s not a fair assumption for most audiences that music comes from the composers.
A brief moment of levity before an extremely serious panel “Sharing the Stage—Reach Across Disciplines to Better Reach Audiences” which featured, pictured left to right: bass trombonist and “hybrid artist” C. Neil Parsons (moderator), NY Neo-Futurists co-artistic director Joey Rizzolo, flutist Zara Lawler, singer Elizabeth Halliday (from Rhymes with Opera), and choreographer Xan Burley.
As music continues to evolve in the 21st century, the lines between composers, interpreters, and even the audience will perhaps grow even more porous and inclusive. And hopefully in future years, an even greater variety of people creating music today will have a role in these discussions and performances. Of all the ensembles featured in the commissions’ concert and the showcases, only 4 included vocalists even though the majority of people who perform music sing. This is not to imply that instrumental music shouldn’t merit a great deal of attention during these convenings, simply to point out that there is a ton of other non-instrumental chamber music repertoire and a ton of people who create and interpret it who merit inclusion here as well. Although women were widely represented in the performance and administrative spheres (as participants in showcases and recipients of adventurous programming awards), only 3 out of the 73 pieces of music scheduled for performance during the conference were actually composed by women (a mere 4.1%)—Polina Nazaykinskaya’s saxophone quartet Pavana Pour Quatre performed by Asylum and pieces by Tonia Ko and Caroline Shaw for the cello/percussion duo New Morse Code . New music—a great of majority of which is for smaller forces—is being created by people of all ages, geographic locations, economic milieus, faiths, genders, and orientations. Showing the broadest possible range of this form of artistic expression is the best way to ensure that chamber music remains the viable force that it is and should always be.
1. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the entire conference since I was in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute and could not fly back until Saturday morning, so the above report only reflects what I was able to personally experience.
2. This information is from the ensemble showcase program since sadly I missed New Morse Code’s performances as they occurred before I returned from Minneapolis.
Frank J. Oteri
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.
Jan 23, 2015
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