Tag: commissions

Bobby Previte Awarded 2015 Greenfield Prize

Bobby Previte

Bobby Previte
Photo by Michael DiDonna

The Hermitage Artist Retreat and its partner, the Philadelphia-based Greenfield Foundation, have announced that the 2015 Greenfield Prize will be awarded this year in music to composer Bobby Previte. This award includes a $30,000 commission for a new work to be realized within two years. In addition, the winner is given residency time at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, a performance by a professional arts organization on the two-year anniversary of the award, and assistance with future performances for the work.

“Winning a prize is always good,” remarked Previte. “Winning a prize to create music for great musicians is better. Winning a prize and writing that music on a beach will be…heaven!”

Semi-finalists, who will each receive $1000 along with a Hermitage residency, are composers Don Byron, Tyshawn Sorey, and Julia Wolfe.

The mission of the commission is to bring into the world a work of art that will have a significant impact on the broader or artistic culture. A small group of semi-finalists, selected by a jury, is asked to submit a proposal for their project based on this guideline. Serving on the jury that selected Previte were Linda Golding, former president of Boosey & Hawkes Music publishers, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, and Anne Ewers, president and CEO of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.

The Greenfield Prize is awarded in three rotating arts disciplines every spring. In addition to music, the award is also given in drama and visual art. Previous winners in music include composers Eve Beglarian and Vijay Iyer.

(—from the press release)

Bobby Previte is also a New Music USA project grant recipient! Learn more about his work here.

Fromm Foundation Announces 2014 Commissions

Photo of Paul Fromm seated with heads stretched out.

Paul Fromm

The Board of Directors of the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University have announced the names of twelve composers selected to receive 2014 Fromm commissions. In addition to the commissioning award, a subsidy is available for the ensemble performing the premiere of the commissioned work.
The 12 awardees are:
Andy Akiho (New York, NY)
Darcy James Argue (Brooklyn, NY)
Christopher Cerrone (Brooklyn, New York)
Javier Farias (Potomac, Maryland)
Michael-Thomas Foumai (Honolulu, HI)
David Fulmer (Lexington, MA)
George Lewis (New York, NY)
Osnat Netzer (Cambridge, MA)
Sam Nichols (Davis, CA)
Sam Pluta (New York, NY)
Annika K. Socolofsky (Ann Arbor, MI)
Aleksandra Vrebalov (New York, NY)
The Fromm Foundation is the legacy of Paul Fromm (1906-1987), one of the most significant patrons of contemporary art music in the U.S. in the second half of the 20th century. “I want to know you,” Igor Stravinsky once said to Fromm, “because contemporary music has many friends but only a few lovers.” The Foundation recently marked its sixtieth anniversary, and has been housed at Harvard University since 1972. Since the 1950s, it has commissioned well over 300 new compositions and their performances, and has sponsored hundreds of new music concerts and concert series. Previous recipients of Fromm commissions have included Elliott Carter, Chaya Czernowin, Gabriela Lena Frank, Leon Kirchner, Augusta Read Thomas, and Roger Reynolds. Applications for commissions are reviewed on an annual basis. The annual deadline for proposals is June 1. Requests for guidelines should be sent to The Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard.

(—from the press release)

Two Women Composers Commissioned in New League/EarShot Program

Photos of Eotvos and Adolphe

Melody Eötvös and Julia Adolphe, photos courtesy American Composers Orchestra.

The New York Times reported today that Julia Adolphe and Melody Eötvös will each receive a $15,000 orchestral commission as part of a new program administered by The League of American Orchestras and EarShot to provide commissions and premieres for scores composed by women. The new program is made possible through the support of the Virginia B. Toulmin
Foundation Program for Commissioning Women in the Performing Arts.

Adolphe is based in Los Angeles and Eötvös, who was born in Australia, currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana. Both were among the emerging composers chosen for readings and performances by the New York Philharmonic and ACO as part of the inaugural NY Phil Biennial in June of this year. For more details on the commissions and the new program, read Allan Kozinn’s New York Times article.

British Report on Commissioning Fees Inspires Concern

Money and music
Sound and Music, a national agency for new music in Britain, has conducted a survey of 466 composers designed to explore the economic challenges facing the creation of new work. The full report is available here, but an article today in The Guardian highlighted some of the study’s key findings:

• 66% of the 466 composers who responded stated they do not find commissions to be a significant proportion of their income. Given that the respondents had an average of 2.65 commissions in 2013 with an average fee per commission of £1,392 it’s easy to see why.
• 74% of composers received the same amount or more commissions in 2013 than in 2012 but only 15% earned more income. We also discovered that those who had been undertaking commissions for more than five years were likely to win more commissions but get paid less per commission.
• There are significant variances in income: the best paid 1% of composers received over 25% of all commission income captured by our survey. Once we excluded them from our sample, average annual commission income fell from £3,689 to £2,717.

Read the full report here.

Washington National Opera to Mount 3 New 20-Minute Operas

Heatshots of the six commissioned composers and librettists

The three composers (upper row from left to right) John Liberatore, Rene Orth, and Jake Runestad, and the three librettists (lower row from left to right) Niloufar Talebi, Jason Kim, and David Johnston. Photos courtesy of the Washington National Opera.

The Washington National Opera has announced details for the third season of their American Opera Initiative, a commissioning program that brings contemporary American stories to the stage while fostering the talents of rising American composers and librettists. Three teams of new opera composers and librettists—John Liberatore and Niloufar Talebi, Jake Runestad and David Johnston, and Rene Orth and Jason Kim—will premiere new 20-minute operas, each based on a contemporary American story, in a semi-staged concert performance on November 21, 2014 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
For more information, visit the WNO website.

Sounds Heard: Duo Scordatura, The Act of Loving You, and Ritual

Three very different albums showed up on my desk recently. One came from a friend, another from a friend of a friend, and the last from out of the blue, and the wildly varied music reminded me of what NewMusicBox is all about: exploding the idea that contemporary American music is any one thing.
Duo Scordatura

Violinist Nicholas Leh Baker and violist Faith Magdalene Jones form the Houston-based chamber group Duo Scordatura. Their eponymous debut album is the result of collaborations with all the composers featured on the album and each of the works came from their ongoing commissioning project.

Jordan Kuspa’s Beneath the Magma starts out with quietly growling unisons glissing and whining wider and wider into small turns. High energy, quasi-Balkan (or maybe real Balkan?) rhythms evolve from these opening gestures, populating alternating odd time signatures. While not straight-up tonal, the piece is centered in this ballpark for the most part and serves as a strong opening to the album. Robert Garza’s Ill-Tuned Illusions is one of the two works that reflects the duos namesake. Here the violin is tuned G D A# E and viola C G D# A, and the extra tension on the instruments can be heard in the work. A series of truncated vignettes, the piece is almost cartoon-like in its extreme changes of mood and texture. This is not meant pejoratively and, while there are a number of disparate sections, it certainly holds together quite well.

Jack Benson’s Tightrope Sonata is in two movements, and the first features long lines, each instrument having a turn at shaping them. Long soliloquies traded between the players merge into a languid dialogue, the back and forth spiraling upward in register before returning to material reminiscent of the opening. The second movement comes out guns blazing with its muscular jetés across double-stopped lower strings. Throughout the movement, one player plays chordal material in the chunky double-stop vein while the other lays out melodic material above. There are larger, more distinct sections, some of which have enough character to possibly warrant their own movements.

George Heathco’s Turbine features a Q&A between the two instruments that quickly overlap and become a sort of hockety canon starting in the lower registers and ascending by and by as the piece develops. A bright harmonic tonal center sways from dark to light and back again, as an ostinato in the viola plays against double stops in the violin. Pizz moments make their way into this trading texture, one that never gets too busy but always feels full and focused. This leads to a more legato section followed by a reductive ending in which a long phrase played between the instruments gets pared away until there is nothing left. Alexandra T. Bryant’s All True Passion Comes Out Of Anguish begins with a single keening line drawn out and punctuated with pizz. Glissando on the viola begins to break up the call while gentle dips in the violin mark the start of a new section, one in which arguably brighter harmonic content prevails. Chords long held by the violin are coaxed upward by sharp stabs in the viola, which upon dying away make way for a new and welcome texture of light arpeggiation from the violin and slowly gliding double stops in the viola. The arpeggiation moves into the realm of harmonics and dies away at the closing of the work. A final work by Benson, Fringe, provides an approachable and visceral close to a spectacular debut by the Houston duo.

Odessa Chen and the Invisible Stories Ensemble—The Act of Loving You

Odessa Chen’s chamber-folk EP The Act of Loving You is certainly an album of its time. Chen’s lyrical content and vocal delivery would fit comfortably in the pop rotation, though the former is more richly varied than much of that rotation and the latter has a breadth of character that outshines the average pop singer. Accompanying Chen are nine seasoned classical musicians and a composer/arranger.  (Full disclosure: the last is my friend Max Stoffregen.) The Act of Loving You has four charming tracks, each with their own character but wonderfully connected as well. The first thing that struck me about the opening song, “Our Hearts Boom Boom, was the distinctly different mic positions and distances between the vocal parts and the instrumental arrangements. Chen’s breathy vocal treatment is largely in line with typical pop production (the reverb is lush but not over the top) while the instruments are somewhat drier and more present. Delicate, intricate, and linear, the largely polyphonic arrangements set the piece apart from a pop track simply sweetened with orchestral instruments, though I admit that I missed the homophony a little bit in the choruses where, in pop, all things are tutti. Just a little.

In “Spring Comes On” a less rhythmically driven texture dominates. Filigree flute lines play around piano and bassoon while seagull strings serve to fill the space. The rhythmic activity does ramp up towards the end of the track, but the piece continues to float along by and large. “Objects May be Closer” begins with guitar and continues with a pulsing texture which at first blush is quite conventional. However, as the piece progresses and is overtaken by the orchestral instruments, one can hear the possibilities this sort of treatment has both in terms of density as well as timbre. Frankly, the pop world has no shortage of timbral possibilities, and that embarrassment of riches certainly plays a role in too many overly simplified broad-stroke arrangements. Here a strong understanding of each instrument and its timbral characteristics works strongly in favor of emphasizing the lyric at times, as well simply matching the quality of Chen’s voice, occasionally fusing the voice and instruments into a single entity.

The title track finally brings the homophony that I personally craved in the preceding arrangements while retaining the timbral matching of “Objects May be Closer.” While still floating along like “Spring Comes On,” “The Act of Loving You” is somehow bigger and thicker in spots, and when the piece ends like an indrawn breath, one is certainly left wanting more.

David Dominique—Ritual

David Dominique’s album Ritual reminds me of the best parts of the tradition of “rock band plus horns,” albeit with violin, flute, and flugabone in this case. The ten tracks feature four “Rituals” in spots one, three, seven, and nine, the first of which was salvaged from an opera and reworked from the original in which the piece acted as a sardonic fanfare for Saddam Hussein. As Dominique explained it to me:

The four “Ritual” tracks are all tied together by an emphasis on cellular repetition. In Ritual 1/BDB, that repetition gets a bit of development. Ritual 2/Dirge has a long chord progression that repeats once with repetitions in the way Andrew Lessman is improvising (not all exactly cellular). Ritual 3/Hostage overtly repeats almost the same material six times in a row, with small variations at the end of the “phrase.” And Ritual 4/Release takes an opening series of motives and deconstructs and varies them through processes of literal cellular repetition followed by a motivic group improvisation.

While the album is by no means derivative, listeners of a certain vintage will pick up on Zappa and Waits, while others may hear elements of Morphine and early Mr. Bungle channeled through Dominique’s tight arrangements. The album has a dirty, visceral quality, and while there is no story per se, there is a quasi-narrative forward motion—kind of like Zorn’s “Naked City,” without the hyperkinetic/schizophrenic arrangements and vocals.

In addition to the eponymous tracks, highlights include Golden Retriever, with its wandering pizzicato strings and lowing tenor sax, and Mulatto Shuffle, which marches in on its namesake before shuffling off, and last but not least, Drunk Hump, which sounds like the end of the night, no doubt. The album is very evocative, totally begs live performance, and to my ear lends itself to additional elements of theater and dance. Dominique’s performing contribution to the album is on flugabone on all ten tracks, and my only criticism is that with an album with a vibe like this, if you play a flugabone, you should name one of your tunes after it. Ritual 5, anyone?

Wonder and Magic

Earlier this week, for a few brief moments, I got to play the role of Santa Claus. The receiver of gifts was not a young child but a colleague several years my senior to whom I was delivering a short new work for wind band, hot off the presses. It was a gift of sorts, written as a congratulatory gesture for the 30th anniversary of the local community band that he conducts up near Buffalo, but his reaction still caught me off guard. I’ve seen performers react with trepidation, “roll up our sleeves” enthusiasm, or even a quiet relief that their commission was a success or that the work was not too difficult, but his was a combination of excitement that he was sure his band was going to feel about the new piece along with a sense of wonder about the very fact that this music had not existed a week before.
misty forest
It was this sense of wonder that resonated with me long after I left him with his new piece. A cynic would have labeled it as naiveté, but that wasn’t it; this was an experienced performer and educator who still enjoyed music making at a foundational level with his friends for his community in an environment where newly composed works are quite rare, save for the occasional new march or Broadway medley. It reminded me that, outside of the established and growing circles of performers and ensembles that specialize in contemporary concert music, there is still a vast, untapped population that not only is able to enjoy listening to new music but that enjoys playing it as well.

I discovered proof of this several weeks ago when I was invited down to the Chautauqua Institution for a special concert that included a band work I had written years ago. Under the auspices of a national organization called the New Horizons International Music Association, the concert was special because the performers were adults, many over retirement age, who had either put down their instruments after high school or who had never played an instrument before. Invited from local New Horizons chapters from all over the country and Canada, they had gathered at Chautauqua for several days of music making for the sheer love of it. After the concert, many of the performers expressed that same wonder that my conductor colleague had about the creation of music and how it affected them.

It is all too easy for those of us who are active in new music to get so focused on the workings of the business–be they awards, commissions, premieres, recordings, scandals, spats, or celebrations–that we lose sight of the simple gifts inherent within our art form. As the comedian Louis C.K. points out regarding our society’s ambivalence towards the miracle of human flight, we take so much of our world for granted that we don’t see the magic around us. For we who are deeply surrounded by the trees, so to speak, it is not only uplifting but also necessary for us to seek out opportunities to be reminded of the forest.

Koussevitzky Commission Winners Announced

The Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Inc. have awarded commissions for new musical works to five composers. Jointly granting the commissions are the foundations and the performing organizations that will present the newly composed works.
Award winners and the groups co-sponsoring their commissions are:

Tristan Murail and YarnWire (This is Murail’s second Koussevitzky commission.)

Kaija Saariaho and Da Camera of Houston
Ronald Bruce Smith and the Del Sol Quartet
Kate Soper and Alarm Will Sound
Wang Jie and the League of Composers/ISCM (the U.S. chapter of the International Society of Contemporary Music)
The Koussevitzky Foundation does not make public the amount awarded for commissions. Applications for commissions are accepted annually. More information is available at Koussevitzky.org.

(–from the press release)

5 American Women Composers Commissioned by American Pianists Association

The American Pianists Association has commissioned works for solo piano from five American women composers: Lisa Bielawa, Margaret Brouwer, Gabriela Lena Frank, Missy Mazzoli, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. The five compositions will receive their world premiere performances in Indianapolis on April 15, 2013, by the five finalists for the APA’s 2013 ProLiance Energy Classical Fellowship Awards. The finalists—Sean Chen, Sara Daneshpour, Claire Huangci, Andrew Staupe, and Eric Zuber—will perform the APA-commissioned works during a new music recital that is part of the APA’s Discovery Week, the culmination of a year-long competition for a prize valued at more than $100,000. On April 20, one finalist will be named the APA’s 2013 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellow, a musician with the potential to make significant contributions to American cultural life. New York City’s historic Trinity Church will present the APA’s newly selected winner and the four laureates in its Concerts at One series on April 25, when the five pianists will give the New York premieres of the five new APA-commissioned solo piano works.

Joel Harrison, president/CEO and artistic director of the APA, explains the role of new music in the Association’s competition process: “The competition process incorporates the various ways in which pianists participate in the musical culture—playing chamber music, solo recitals, concertos, accompanying singers, as well as working with composers and performing new works. It’s one thing to play a Beethoven Sonata where you can listen to decades of recordings. But when you’re assigned the premiere of a new work, you are the resource, the yardstick. It’s a special challenge for the pianists to come up with a compelling, imaginative performance, so it enables us to see another side of the pianist. For this particular occasion, we’re fortunate to have a very generous grant from The Sorel Charitable Organization. In our discussions with the leadership at Sorel—whose mission is to support female musicians—we decided to have a round of commissions for women composers. They’re all Americans, and to some extent, I leaned in the direction of the younger generation. Other than the charge to write pieces for solo piano of 5-7 minutes in length, I gave the composers no restrictions and no limitations on compositional style.”

Lisa Bielawa on Vireo Canons and Chorale:

Lisa Bielawa

Lisa Bielawa, photo by Liz Linder courtesy 21C Media Group

“There is something incredibly beautiful about watching young musicians discover the depth and expanse of their own talent. As I began work on this short offering for an as-yet-unknown young pianist, I remembered how that fierce energy felt to me in my early 20s when I was just discovering that I was actually a composer.
“Like Prokofiev in his third piano sonata, I went back to old notebooks from that time and found my drafts for a massively ambitious full-length opera entitled Vireo. I took a few fragments of material from these notebooks and created multiple canons and an expansive chorale from it—the piece is both a dialogue with my earlier self and a celebratory embrace of a new generation of musicians.”

Margaret Brouwer on Prelude and Toccata (working title):

Margaret Brouwer

Margaret Brouwer, photo courtesy 21C Media Group

“It was a challenge to write a solo piano work for a competition between fine pianists. Should it be virtuosic? Should it be more about expressivity? Should it be difficult? Should it not be difficult?
“In the end, I put aside these concerns and wrote the piece I wanted to write knowing it would get a wonderful performance by a fine pianist. This is a work with a forward thrusting motor rhythm, yet the underlying impetus of the music threads through various emotions.”

Gabriela Lena Frank on Karnavalito No. 1:

Gabriela Lena Frank

Gabriela Lena Frank, photo by Sabina Frank courtesy 21C Media Group

“Having attended the finals of an American Pianists Association [competition] in a previous year, I am well acquainted with the extraordinarily high level of skill and imagination on the part of the contestants. It’s an honor, therefore, to have been asked to compose a work for the competition, and I can’t wait to see what the young pianists will do with the Karnavalito No. 1!
“The piece is inspired by the distinctly Andean concept of mestizaje as championed by Peruvian folklorist José María Arguedas (1911-1969) whereby cultures can co-exist without one subjugating another. Allusions to the rhythms and harmonies of the mountain music of my mother’s homeland of Perú abound in this boisterous work, albeit freely transformed in the blender of my personal imagination. About five minutes in length, the work is dense in its virtuosity with stylistic nods to the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, a musical hero of mine.

Missy Mazzoli on Heartbreaker:

Missy Mazzoli

Missy Mazzoli, photo by Stephen S. Taylor courtesy 21C Media Group

“As a composer who started her musical life as a pianist, it was unexpectedly difficult to write a short piece for the American Pianists Association’s competition. I wanted to write something virtuosic but something that stood out from traditionally showy competitive pieces.

“My new work, Heartbreaker, is virtuosic in subtle, unusual ways. It starts out deceptively simple, and quickly spirals into something that is just within the limits of the pianist’s control. It requires a virtuosity that is not about playing faster than everyone else, or even about playing more accurately than everyone else, but more about striking a balance between rhythmic precision and the freewheeling abandon the piece requires.”

Sarah Kirkland Snider on The Currents:

Sarah Kirkland Snider

Sarah Kirkland Snider, photo by Murat Eyuboglu courtesy 21C Media Group

“Piano was my first instrument and musical passion, so a solo piano commission for a competition initially intimidated me greatly. I know the literature well—how deeply and imaginatively the instrument has been explored, and how difficult it is to invent new ways to challenge the pianist. There is an idea that a piece written for a competition should do this, that it should invent new technical demands and showcase extreme pyrotechnical dazzle. When I was younger, I wrote some piano music that consciously strove for virtuosity, but that is no longer where I am as an artist. These days I am more interested in getting at what is most peculiarly personal and in need of expression.

“So when I was asked to write this piece, I decided that my contribution would be something that challenged the pianist to be at their most expressive, poetic, and lyrical, something that would reward a sharp attention to detail and sensitivity to pacing and narrative. Of course, the fact that it was for a competition never fully left my mind, so the piece does require a formidable technique, but my hope is that The Currents allows the performer to exercise and display other kinds of skills as well—skills that, to my mind, are just as essential to becoming an unforgettable pianist.”

About the American Pianists Association
Unlike any other major piano competition, the American Pianists Association focuses equally on classical and jazz pianists. The APA’s Fellowship provides a $50,000 cash award and two years of career assistance and performances, valued together at more than $100,000. Performance opportunities during the fellowship period involve solo recitals as well as appearances with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and symphony orchestras of Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Santa Fe and Tucson. Steinway is the official piano of the 2013 Fellowship, and the chosen Fellow will issue a solo recording on the Steinway label, for distribution by ArkivMusic. More information is available here.

(from the press release)

Cheung and Shepherd Share In Kravis Prize at NYPhil

Anthony Cheung (Photo by Beowulf Sheehan) and Sean Shepherd (Photo by Jamie Kingham)

Anthony Cheung (Photo by Beowulf Sheehan) and Sean Shepherd (Photo by Jamie Kingham)

Anthony Cheung, French composer Franck Krawczyk, and Hungarian composer/conductor Peter Eötvös will share in the 2011 Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music at the New York Philharmonic at the request of inaugural recipient Henri Dutilleux, the New York Philharmonic has announced. In addition, Sean Shepherd has been named the 2012 Kravis Emerging Composer.

The Kravis Prize for New Music is bestowed every two years “for extraordinary artistic endeavor in the field of new music,” and French composer Henri Dutilleux was named the first recipient in 2011. At the award ceremony held in Paris on December 7, 2011, Dutilleux announced that he would share the $200,000 award with three composers, each of whom would write a work to be performed by the orchestra in his honor. Dates of the performances of these new works will be announced at a later time.

A Kravis Emerging Composer is to be named in years when the Kravis Prize for New Music is not awarded. The “promising up-and-coming” composer will receive $50,000 and an opportunity to write for the orchestra. As the 2012 Kravis Emerging Composer, Sean Shepherd will write a new work for the Philharmonic to be performed in the 2013–14 season.

Funding for The Kravis Prize for New Music comes from a $10 million gift given to the New York Philharmonic in 2009 by Henry R. Kravis in honor of his wife, Marie-Josée, for whom the prize is named, and which also endows The Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, a position currently held by Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg and soon to be held by Christopher Rouse. Prizewinners are selected by a committee comprising leading artists and administrators with close ties to the Philharmonic and a demonstrated interest in fostering new music. The total award—$200,000 to the winner of The Kravis Prize for New Music and $50,000 to the Kravis Emerging Composer—makes this among the world’s largest new music prizes.

(—from the press release)