Tag: commission

2014 Barlow Winners Announced

Ben Hjertmann

Ben Hjertmann

The Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University has announced commission winners for 2014. After reviewing 280 composer applications from 30 countries worldwide, the judging panel awarded Ben Hjertmann of Chicago, Illinois (now living in North Carolina and teaching at Appalachian State University), the $12,000 Barlow Prize to compose a major new work for saxophone quartet. The panel also granted Steven Bryant of Durham, North Carolina, the distinction of honorable mention in this competition.

In considering nearly 100 applications in the general and LDS commissioning programs, the endowment granted a total of $62,000 to ten composers. (Composers who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as any composer willing to engage LDS subject matter, may apply to the LDS commissioning program.)
The winners will write works for the following ensembles and musicians:

Dan Trueman (So Percussion and Jack Quartet)
Mikel Kuehn (Spektral Quartet)
Peter Van Zandt Lane (EQ Ensemble)
Christopher Fisher-Lochhead (Spektral Quartet)
Ted Hearne (Roomful of Teeth)
Mark Engebretson (Bent Frequency)

Chad Cannon (Farallon Quintet)
Steven Ricks (Manhattan String Quartet)
Matthew Nielsen (BYU Singers)
Curtis Smith (Bryan Lew/violist)

The judging panel included the endowment’s board of advisers: Todd Coleman, Stacy Garrop, Christian Asplund, James Mobberley, and Leilei Tian. Ethan Wickman served as a guest judge in most of the deliberations. Zachary Shemon, Stephen Page, and Ryan Janus represented the PRISM, ZZYZX, and United States Air Force saxophone quartets respectively in selecting the Barlow Prize. These ensembles form the endowment’s performing consortium that will premiere the new work in 2016.
Next year’s Barlow Prize will feature a new work for orchestra. Details for this commission will be available soon.

(–from the press release)

Todd Lerew Wins the 2014 ACF National Composition Contest

Todd Lerew - credit Nedda Atassi

Todd Lerew
Photo by Nedda Atassi

The American Composers Forum has named CalArts student Todd Lerew the winner of the 2014 National Composition Contest for his work flagging entrainment of ultradian rhythms and the consequences thereof. Lerew has been awarded a cash prize of $2,000 and his piece will be toured by So Percussion in future seasons. The piece was commissioned by ACF along with the works of two other competition finalists–Michael Laurello and Kristina Warren–which were workshopped by So Percussion as part of the the group’s Summer Institute at Princeton University and premiered on July 20.

Based in Los Angeles, Lerew (b. 1986) works with invented acoustic instruments, repurposed found objects, and unique preparations of traditional instruments. He is the inventor of the Quartz Cantabile, which uses a principle of thermoacoustics to convert heat into sound, and has presented the instrument at Stanford’s CCRMA, the American Musical Instrument Society annual conference, the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition at Georgia Tech, and Machine Project in Los Angeles. He is the founder and curator of Telephone Music, a collaborative music and memory project based on the children’s game of Telephone, the last round of which was released as an exclusive download to subscribers of music magazine The Wire. His solo piece for e-bowed gu zheng, entitled Lithic Fragments, is available on cassette on the Brunch Groupe label. His pieces have been performed by members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Wet Ink Ensemble (New York), the Now Hear Ensemble (Santa Barbara), and the Canticum Ostrava choir (Czech Republic).

flagging entrainment of ultradian rhythms and the consequences t

Sample page from Lerew’s flagging entrainment of ultradian rhythms and the consequences thereof.

Composer and vocalist Kristina Warren holds a bachelor’s in music composition from Duke University and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in composition and computer technologies from the University of Virginia.

Sample page from Warren's score for Choose.

Sample page from Warren’s score for Choose.

Composer and pianist Michael Laurello is an artist diploma candidate in composition at the Yale School of Music. He earned an master’s in composition from Tufts University and a bachelor’s in music synthesis (electronic production and design) from Berklee College of Music.

Sample page from Michael Laurello's Overwhelming Capacity.

Sample page from Laurello’s Overwhelming Capacity.

The National Composition Contest is open to composers currently enrolled in graduate and undergraduate institutions in the United States; this year’s installment drew more than 250 applicants from 39 states. Each finalist received an award of $1,000 plus an additional stipend of $750 to help defray expenses associated with attending the workshop and studio performance.
The competition began during the 2010-11 season as the Finale National Composition Contest, partnering with the group eighth blackbird. JACK Quartet was the ensemble for 2011-12. The competition went on hiatus last season, returning in September 2013 under its new name, the American Composers Forum National Composition Contest.

(from the press release)

Sarah Kirkland Snider Awarded DSO’s 7th Annual Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for Female Composers

Sarah Kirkland Snider

Sarah Kirkland Snider

Sarah Kirkland Snider has been awarded the seventh annual Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for Female Composers from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Snider will compose a new work that will be given its premiere in the 2015-16 season. In addition to concerts presenting her work, Snider will receive a $10,000 prize and a one-month residency at the Ucross Foundation, an artist’s retreat in northern Wyoming.
Snider was chosen by the following jury: Evan Chambers, local composer; Johanna Yarbrough, French horn; Joe Becker, principal percussion; Marcus Schoon, contrabassoon.

Last year’s winner, Wang Jie, debuts her work, Symphony No.2, “To and From Dakini,” under the direction of DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin at this weekend’s concerts. Previous winners also include Stacy Garrop, Margaret Brouwer, Cindy McTee, Du Yun, and Missy Mazzoli.

The Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award was inspired by composer, teacher, poet, artist and lecturer Elaine Lebenbom, a resident of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who died in 2002. The DSO has premiered three of Lebenbom’s works. Kaleidoscope Turning received its world premiere under the direction of DSO Music Director Emeritus Neeme Järvi in 1997. Reflections on a Rainbow and Gamatria were debuted in 2004 and 2007, respectively, both after the composer’s death.

Details and submission deadlines for the eighth annual Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Competition for Female Composers will be announced this fall. The international competition, launched in 2006, is the only annual symphony orchestra sponsored award granted annually to a living female composer, of any age or nationality. Each year, one winner receives a $10,000 prize and the opportunity to have her original work premiered in the DSO’s Classical Subscription Series. The award is made possible by an anonymous donor.

To be considered for the award, participants must submit a resume; a completed application form; sample scores of up to three completed works, including one scored for full symphony; and supporting audio and/or video representation of at least one, preferably the symphonic work. Submitted entries will be judged by a committee formed by the DSO. More information can be found at dso.org/lebenbom. For questions, please contact Kathryn Ginsburg at [email protected]

(from the press release)

Wellesley Composers Conference and Chamber Music Center

Nestled in the picturesque Wellesley College campus each summer is the Wellesley Composers Conference and Chamber Music Center, a two-week meeting of composers, professional performers, and dedicated amateur players who come together to live and breathe chamber music old and new. I was fortunate to have been invited to be a fellow at Wellesley in the summer of 2012 and to have been asked to return as a commissioned composer this summer, so let’s start with that full disclosure. The conference is among the old guard of summer composer institutes and will celebrate its 70th anniversary next summer. Headed by Mario Davidovsky for nearly 40 years, the primary goal of the conference is to provide emerging composers with an opportunity to work with some of the best players from New York and Boston and to have their works performed and professionally recorded.
To say that my time at the conference was positive is an understatement, but let’s talk for a moment about what goes on there. During the program, the fellows participate in daily forums in which they present and discuss their music with each other and the guest composers. Formal presentations concerning technique, performance practice, pet peeves, etc. are made by the staff instrumentalists, but the atmosphere is such that informal conversations during meals are common as well. Afternoons are populated with rehearsals for the various concerts that are held over the two-week period. The Wednesday and Saturday night concerts are the main shows and feature two or three works by the fellows, as well as a variety of works from the canon.

Fellows check out a few scores

Fellows check out a few scores.
Photos by Andrew Sigler, except as noted.

Composers may write for any combination of the available instrumentation. This varies slightly from year to year but includes virtually all traditional instruments (though no harp presently, for instance) and tops out at chamber orchestra. The players are extraordinary and approach each piece with enthusiasm. Though the conference is all about new music, the concerts feature new works alongside well-known (and occasionally obscure) pieces from a variety of periods. When I attended the first Wednesday concert last summer I was preoccupied with the fact that my piece was going to be played that evening; I was sweating bullets, no doubt. When I sat down and looked at the program, I saw the other works to be played and initially thought, “Okay, a little Schumann, some Bach, some guy I’ve never heard of from the early 18th century. I’m sure it will be lovely, but aren’t we all here for the new stuff?” Then it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to hear just another run-through of one of the Brandenburg’s; I was going to hear a really good version of it. It added a whole new element of excitement and anticipation to the proceedings, and the players (while certainly top-notch new music performers) were also impeccable interpreters of the canon.

Rehearsal for Dan VanHassel's work Even Exchange

Rehearsal for Dan VanHassel’s work Even Exchange

Thursday nights are reserved for presentations by the guest composers. Though these composers typically change from year to year, it just so happened that both years I’ve attended the guest composers have been Melinda Wagner and Eric Chasalow. The presentations typically involve a discussion of the composer’s life and work as well as a live performance of at least one work, as well as recordings of previous works. They are, like all of the concerts, free and open to the public. Wagner’s live piece, Wick for Pierrot plus percussion, was fast and furious with only a brief respite while Miranda Cuckson’s performance of Chasalow’s Scuffle and Snap exhibited her deft technique alongside his rhythmically complex fixed media. Past guest composers at the conference have included Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Jacob Druckman, John Harbison, Lee Hyla, Earl Kim, Donald Martino, David Rakowski, Shulamit Ran, Gunther Schuller, Joan Tower, George Walker, Ollie Wilson, Charles Wuorinen, and Chen Yi.

Mario Davidovsky, Emily Cooley, and Jenny Beck chat after the Meet The Composer evening

Mario Davidovsky, Emily Cooley, and Jenny Beck chat after the “Meet the Composer” evening

One of the particularly fun moments early on in the conference was when the group of fellows learned that public speaking was part of the fellowship. Tuesday nights are the “Meet the Composer” nights, and there’s nothing like a putting the spotlight on a bunch of nervous composers who spend much of their time working alone. Though the law of averages would seem to dictate a few awkward moments, all of the composers gave compelling snapshots of their backgrounds, the pieces to be performed at the conference, and their plans for the future. It’s good that these presentations happen relatively early in the conference as it presents an opportunity for the amateur players (“ammys” as they’re affectionately known around the campus) to get to know the composers and perhaps get a snippet of information that might spark a conversation at lunch. It’s been a long-standing goal to introduce the ammys to new music, since very few of them perform it with any regularity. The Chamber Music Center portion of the Wellesley experience is largely a separate entity in which these talented amateurs typically spend one of the two weeks (they rarely attend for both weeks) being coached by the professional players in several ensembles.

Chris Gross leads an "ammy" rehearsal

Chris Gross leads an “ammy” rehearsal
Photo by by Kathryn Welter

In 1987, the Chamber Music Center instituted a commission to be fulfilled by one of the ten fellows from the previous year. A panel of the ammys selects the composer to be commissioned. The first winner was Lee Hyla, and though his piece Anhinga was written for amateur players, it was well-received by the professional players as well and picked for performance more than once! Among the players I worked with on the commissioned piece this summer was violinist Joseph Singer. Joe has participated in the Chamber Music Center for 26 years and provided me with the following anecdote concerning his and other ammys growth as a result of the conference:

About fifteen years ago, one of the coaches was tired of hearing the amateurs complain about the new music and how dissonant it was. We came to the coaching session (the Scherzo of a Beethoven string quartet) and the coach gave us a line of music he asked us to play. We played it and were perplexed. It sounded familiar; it was the last line of the Scherzo but different; it was the same piece but it wasn’t the same piece. It was awful; it was sickly sweet and boring. “What did you do?” we asked. “You murdered Beethoven!” He smiled. “I changed eight notes,” he said. One by one he changed them back and we played the line each time, and each time it got better and better.
He was trying to make a point. Some of us thought we did not like dissonance, but he was showing us that what made the music beautiful, poignant, moving, what made it move forward and made us want to hear what was next, was—dissonance. It was the notes that did not “belong” that impelled the music forward and created tension that could then be resolved. So it was the structure that created expectations mixed with the dissonance that disrupted them, and all of this shaping moments in time.


Composer Jenny Beck, a 2013 Wellesley fellow, said of the experience, “The best part…for me was the emphasis placed on getting a good performance and a stellar recording of the pieces we had written. I think I can comfortably say that this was the best experience I’ve had working with an ensemble. Not only were they remarkably capable, but to have them display such commitment to the success of each piece was inspiring. James Baker’s rehearsal process is brilliant, and he seemed to know exactly what I wanted and what I was trying to do in the music without my having to say much. Finally, the recording engineer [Anthony Di Bartolo] handed my recording to me immediately after the concert: a flash drive containing the dress rehearsal and concert, broken down for mixing and also mixed together for immediate listening. You know how frustrating it can be to wait for a recording; it was really nice to skip that part.”

The flash drive was a new addition this year, but I can attest to the high quality of the performance and recording, as well to having been amazed that I got my recording (a fully printed disc with numbered tracks and the Composers Conference logo to boot) during intermission! The methodology of running and recording the dress rehearsal is the result of years of experience on the part of both Baker and Di Bartolo. Baker doesn’t simply run the works once or twice, he makes sure that each section is recorded such that alternative takes are available (and more easily spliceable) in the event that there are any issues with the live performance.

Eric Chasalow, Mario Davidovsky, and the Fellows discuss Aaron Brooks's music

Eric Chasalow, Mario Davidovsky, and the Fellows discuss Aaron Brooks’s music

Again, the stated purpose of the conference is to provide the fellows with quality performances and recordings of their works, and if that was the extent of the offerings it would be time well spent. But the connections and friendships that are made are a large part of what I took from my time at Wellesley. I truly anticipated a more adversarial environment in which various camps and dogmas played a larger role, and while all the composers had distinctive sounds and strong personal opinions, the overall tone was supportive and genuinely inquisitive. Most people seemed as interested in hearing and learning about other people’s work as they were in discussing their own. The daily schedule was also thoughtfully constructed. A three-hour morning seminar (with coffee break!) followed by lunch, three hours of rehearsals for the fellows’ works (attendance encouraged but not required), dinner, then a concert or presentation provided just enough structure to keep us focused. But it was flexible enough that we could take care of upcoming projects, get in some practice, or just take in the picture postcard that is the Wellesley campus.

To cap it all off, there are the infamous nightly parties which are held in one of the larger rooms in the same dormitory where fellows, players, and amiss alike retire in the evening. Like any conference, having a few hours to unwind with your colleagues after a long day provides the perfect opportunity to really let one’s hair down. Discussions veer away from music in particular to life in general and back again. It was particularly nice to have frank, workaday conversations about gardening, exercise, and cooking with people who had negotiated one gnarly nested tuplet after another just an hour before.  War stories from the road gave way to the challenges of raising a family while maintaining a career. I heard more than one story about the role that Skype played in traveling musicians’ lives; about the quick and often harried trip to or from a concert to make sure that time with a partner or child would not be missed. These shifts from the sublime to the daily grind are not part of every career, and in the world of art the focus is typically on the former and rarely on the latter.  The Wellesley Composers Conference puts a frame around all aspects of this path, providing perspective on our present condition and giving insight into our future.

Sounds Heard: Duo Scorpio—Scorpion Tales

With Scorpion Tales, Duo Scorpio doesn’t require you to set aside all of your wedding prelude and garden party images of the harp before you hit play, but they are going to stretch those sonic ideas out of whack once things get going. This may be the sum distillation of the work included on this album—it doesn’t build barriers out of repertoire, but it does open quite a few windows in the library.

And that suits the broader mission of the ensemble quite neatly. When harpists Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade founded Duo Scorpio (they were both born on November 5, 1982, hence the astrological nod), they noticed somewhat of a hole when it came to contemporary repertoire for this instrumentation and set about trying to correct that absence through commissioning and arranging existing compositions. A portion of that work resulted in a Kickstarter campaign to record some of these pieces and promote them more broadly—an album that would ultimately feature three premiere recordings (including one commission) plus three other pieces for harp duo by contemporary composers. They exceeded their $12,000 goal and produced an impressively packaged collection drenched in the ethereal photography of Frances J. Melhop.

The disc takes its name from the nearly 15-minute work contributed by Robert Paterson (a commission by Duo Scorpio and the American Harp Society), each of its three movements a play off of the scorpion—animal, vegetable (hot pepper), and Greek mythological legend. Plenty of those iconic cascading harp lines run through each of the movements, but they appear in the mix amid intricately orchestrated moments, two harps and four hands filling the sonic image from top to bottom to deliver a neatly locking quartet-worth of sonic information. The play of harmonics, the dark and loose vibration of low strings, and the tight unison playing elsewhere accent the balanced clockwork-like integration of these passages.

Premiere recordings of Sebastian Currier’s Crossfade and Stephen Taylor’s Unfurl both take the harp out a few paces further into the stereotype-challenge, playing more aggressively with technique, rhythmic material, and slightly altered tuning. In Crossfade, quickly strummed repeated notes and patterns build a bed of nervous energy atop which each instrument rises and recedes, riding her own wave and offering sharp statements as she passes by, one often interlocking with the other in interesting ways. Where Currier was rhythmically adventurous, Taylor creates a floating (or perhaps drowning) world of unconventional harmonies. The retuning of certain strings is something his program notes suggest is an optional way to present the piece, but I can’t imagine the work not having this amazing color. Despite the sharp staccato of much of the delivery, this gives the same material an intriguing watery-edged gloss. For Caroline Lizotte’s Raga, the duo grabs a few extra-curricular percussion instruments and mixes in some Hindustani-flavored extended techniques in the harp lines, conjuring Indian colors that float in and out of the frame, accenting more than stealing the focus of the work. Perhaps we might subtitle this one “two Western harpists dream of the Subcontinent.”

Works by Bernard Andrès bookend the disc: the shimmering Le Jardin des Paons and the exotic Parvis. Both works, in their way, showcase the diverse range of timbral color that the harp is capable of delivering. If there was actually any question at the outset that the harp was the instrument of angels, fairies, and cocktail receptions, Andrews and Shade will likely have erased that notion by the close of the album (if they hadn’t succeeded in doing so within the first five minutes). Scorpion Tales is a showcase of way contemporary composers are finding their music within its timbral compass, and it’s likely to leave music makers and fans inspired to seek out more. I suspect Duo Scorpio will consider that appraisal mission accomplished.