Tag: Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute

There’s Still So Much to Learn, But I’m More Confident Now

Early in 2016, one of my friends asked me to describe my career aspirations. Where do I see myself in five years, or in ten years?

I’ve always found this kind of question to be extremely difficult to answer. Careers and opportunities—especially in the world of classical music—can change so quickly, and sometimes quite arbitrarily. Often, planning and setting goals can seem like futile exercises. I’m always concerned that long-term planning will lead to disappointment, or will get in the way of larger opportunities.

So, in responding to my friend’s question, I kept my answer somewhat vague. “I want people to hear my orchestral music,” I said. “I want to write more of it, and I want opportunities for it to be heard!”

The past year has been extraordinary for me.

The past year has been extraordinary for me. Last November, I was attending rehearsals with the Yale Philharmonia as they prepared Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky for a December performance. The concert program only consisted of new works for orchestra written by composition students at the Yale School of Music. I learned so much throughout those rehearsals—not only from hearing my own piece, but from hearing my colleagues’ music as well. I didn’t imagine that Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky would have an interesting life beyond the December concert.

In February of 2017, I learned that I had been chosen to participate in the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings. Later in the spring, I received an invitation to attend the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. I now had opportunities to rethink sections of Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky and make revisions.

At this point, Likely Pictures is a strong piece, and it’s also a practical piece. The musicians of both the American Composers Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra seemed to understand what it was about fairly quickly. After several revisions, the notation is very clear, and there are very few questions regarding my intentions. I have been present at every performance of my orchestral music; ideally, a conductor and an ensemble should be capable of assembling my music without my presence and input.

A conductor and an ensemble should be capable of assembling my music without my presence and input.

In the spring of 2017, I learned that I had won a commission from the New York Youth Symphony. This was extraordinary news—I was receiving my very first orchestra commission! In my application, I had submitted Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky as my work sample. In a significant way, Likely Pictures had made this new opportunity possible.

Hilary Purrington standing outside Carnegie Hall in front of the New York Youth Symphony November 19, 2017 Concert Poster featuring a photo of her and listing her world premiere performance.

This past weekend, I heard the premiere of Daylights, my newest orchestral work. Commissioned as part of First Music, the New York Youth Symphony’s commission competition, Daylights literally opened the NYYS’s 2017-18 season. The work is a short, active concert opener. When I began composing it, I knew I wanted to create moments that capture the sensation of staring into a brilliant light. The word “daylights,” most often found as part of the expression “the living daylights,” is an archaic idiom referring to an individual’s eyes or consciousness. The title takes on many meanings—personal awareness and perception as well as the brilliant light of day.

Very often, my compositions come in pairs. I discover a sound or technique while writing one piece, and then I seek to improve upon it in a subsequent work. In a way, Daylights is an expansion of what I learned while composing Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky.

As I explained in a previous post, early drafts of Likely Pictures were extremely episodic, and my transitions between sections were less than graceful. My teacher, Christopher Theofanidis, encouraged me to revisit these sections and compose elegant transitions. Chris taught me to be thoughtful and deliberate when writing transitional material, and this new, increased awareness has impacted everything I have written over the course of the past year.

Similar to Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky, Daylights opens with a very sparse, delicate texture. The violins sustain very high, fragile harmonics, and a solo flute sings out a melody. I add glockenspiel, a second flute, and—eventually—solo violin and a very rude bass drum. In the final measures of the work, the music returns to a thicker, more active version of the work’s introductory, chamber-like material before blossoming into a noisy, active conclusion. In both Likely Pictures and Daylights, I contrast moments of intimate chamber music with expansive orchestral passages.

When composing Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky, I experimented with combining instruments to create percussive, staccato “hits.” It’s a defining characteristic of the piece, and I chose to incorporate this element into Daylights (although, in a less significant way). In this case, however, the “hits” are orchestrated differently, and I usually use something to lead into these staccato punches. For example, in one passage, a crescendoing snare roll and solo flute terminates with pizzicato strings and a choked suspended cymbal. This is an example of how I grow artistically: I find a musical element or effect that I like, and I experiment with it in different pieces and contexts. It then becomes something that I can keep in my “repertoire” of sounds and ideas.

I’m extremely grateful for opportunities to continue experimenting and developing.

Following the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings this past June, I learned that I had been awarded the Underwood Commission. Every year, one of the UNMR participants is selected to receive a commission for a future season. This is an extraordinary opportunity and privilege for me, and it will be my first commission from a professional orchestra. And, this opportunity is arriving at an interesting time for me, both artistically and professionally. I have learned so much about orchestral writing over the course of this past year. I’m a lot more confident in my ability to compose for orchestra, and I have so many ideas I want to hear realized. I also recognize that I still have so much to learn, and I’m extremely grateful for opportunities to continue experimenting and developing.

Daniel Schlosberg, Charles Peck, Peter Shin, Nina C. Young, Hilary Purrington, Andrew Hsu, and Saad Haddad talk through details in their pieces at a session with Minnesota Orchestra musicians during the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute.

Daniel Schlosberg, Charles Peck, Peter Shin, Nina C. Young, Hilary Purrington, Andrew Hsu, and Saad Haddad talk through details in their pieces at a session with Minnesota Orchestra musicians during the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. (Photo by Mele Willis, courtesy Minnesota Orchestra.)

You Study, Practice, and Improve

Last Sunday, I flew from New York City to Minneapolis. I boarded my flight and almost immediately fell asleep. When I woke up mid-flight (just in time for the drink cart to arrive at my aisle), the woman seated next to me commented, “You’re very quiet!”

I almost responded with “You’re welcome,” but I thought that might come off as a little snarky. Instead, I nodded and smiled and hoped she’d leave me to enjoy my lukewarm coffee. Much to my chagrin, she started asking questions. Am I from Minneapolis? From New York? Traveling for work? For fun? Blinking vigorously and rubbing my eyes in an attempt to re-moisten my contact lenses, I answered her questions, and I didn’t make a single thing up (as I usually do). I told her I was flying to Minneapolis to participate in the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute.

“A composer!” she gasped. “Wow. Just, wow. That is a true gift. Wow.” She then proceeded to barrage me with unsolicited, ill-informed career advice, which I won’t get into here. But, to return to her initial reaction–this kind of statement isn’t uncommon. Composing can be a mysterious thing to both musicians and non-musicians, and many people describe it as a “gift,” as if we composers possess special powers. Others simply say, “Composing? That sounds really hard.”

Much of composing, though, is just like any other skill or ability: you study, practice, and improve. I’m sometimes tempted to answer the question of “So, do you know how to play all the instruments?” with “Why yes, I do.” But, learning how instruments work and what is idiomatic is a long process that involves a lot of trial and error. Countless rehearsals and performances over the past ten years or so have taught me what works, what’s risky, and what fails. And I’m still learning! Every rehearsal and performance experience compels me to reexamine what and how I write.

Learning how instruments work and what is idiomatic is a long process that involves a lot of trial and error.

Orchestral writing can be particularly tricky because opportunities for readings and performances can be few and far between, especially for “emerging” composers. This past year, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked on Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky with three different orchestras: the Yale Philharmonia, the American Composers Orchestra, and most recently, the Minnesota Orchestra.

Hilary Purrington with score in hand discusses a detail in her score with Osmo Vänskä during a rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Hilary Purrington with score in hand discusses a detail in her score with Osmo Vänskä during a rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Directed by composer Kevin Puts, the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute lasts for five full days and includes workshops, rehearsals, and meetings with conductor Osmo Vänskä and musicians from the orchestra. The program culminates in the Future Classics concert on the final day of the program. The Institute is comprehensive, and each composer’s work receives thorough and generous rehearsal time. We were all astounded by the speed at which the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra learn and understand new pieces. By the second rehearsal, Maestro Vänskä and the orchestra musicians were no longer assembling the pieces and figuring out how they worked; rather, the ensemble had shifted its focus to musical and artistic decisions.

Throughout the week, the seven participating composers met with representatives from each of the orchestra’s sections. The musicians gave us honest feedback regarding our writing for their instruments and how we chose to notate and format our music.  Similar themes reappeared throughout these meetings. The musicians repeatedly reminded us that they have very busy musical lives and are responsible for learning massive volumes of music. Given the limited amount of practice time a musician has for a single piece, it is vitally important that our writing is as clear as possible and simple to put together. For very practical reasons, no performer wants to be responsible for solving a complicated puzzle.

Musicians also assume that everything they see in their part will be heard. It can be disappointing to find out that a technically demanding passage is either completely obscured or “just an effect.” The “just an effect” issue is a common problem, especially when extended techniques are involved. Certain effects may work well in chamber contexts, but they don’t necessarily translate well to orchestral writing. Many extended techniques are quiet and subtle, and their effects are lost because they are obscured or simply can’t carry through a large hall.

Certain effects work well in chamber contexts, but don’t necessarily translate to orchestral writing.

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra also stressed the importance of clear notation. Several individuals pointed out that modern notation created with computers can lead composers to make overly complicated parts. Rather than providing clarity, “over-notated” passages only cause confusion and frustration. In many instances, it can be better to use words to convey the composer’s intentions. But, don’t use too many words. One of the musicians asked me to use fewer adjectives and descriptions. So, you can’t necessarily please everyone, but it is helpful to consider the many perspectives and opinions of individual orchestra members.

For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the week was the opportunity to learn my colleagues’ music. The seven of us (Saad Haddad, Andrew Hsu, Peter Shin, Nina Young, Dan Schlosberg, Charles Peck, and myself) have very different musical instincts when it comes to composing for orchestra. Observing the choices that other composers make—whether musical or notational—and how these decisions impact rehearsals performances is both educational and inspiring.

An open program for the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute showing photos of the seven composers featured in November 2017.

It was also incredibly clear to us how important the Composer Institute is to the Minnesota Orchestra. Rather than handing the concert off to an assistant, Music Director Osmo Vänskä studied, learned, and conducted all of our pieces. He gave thoughtful feedback and criticism, and made us feel as if our music is just as important as the repertoire of any standard concert. The orchestra musicians, rather than sight reading in the first rehearsal, had actually taken the time to practice their parts; many had even contacted us beforehand with specific questions.

The Orchestra’s communications team worked hard to promote the concert, and it showed. The turnout for the performance was remarkable: the hall appeared almost full, and Orchestra Hall is not a diminutive space. During the intermission and following the concert, audience members sought to speak with us, and their enthusiasm for new music and the Minnesota Orchestra was more than apparent.

And, regarding the performances themselves, Maestro Vänskä and all the musicians were thoroughly invested in the music. All of our pieces were performed thoughtfully and musically. The Orchestra’s performance of Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky was flawlessly executed and beautifully paced, and I couldn’t be happier with how it sounded.

Hearing my own work is always informative. Rehearsal and performances reveal if my choices were correct or highly questionable. But, my experience at the Composer Institute went beyond the typical rehearse-then-perform process. We received thoughtful feedback from the musicians and the conductor, and we had the opportunity to learn one another’s works and witness how our colleagues’ compositional decisions played out.

We can’t experiment without hearing our music rehearsed and performed by live ensembles.

Compositional skill develops with study and experimentation; however, we can’t experiment without hearing our music rehearsed and performed by live ensembles. Experiences such as the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute give composers much-needed opportunities to hear works realized. I learned so much this past week, more than I can sum up in a blog post. I’m back in New York City now, and I’m excited to work and write and apply what I’ve learned.

The Minnesota Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall performing in front of a near capacity audience.

There was a nearly full house for the Minnesota Orchestra’s Future Classics concert on Friday, November 10.

Composing and Revising Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky

For a while, I’ve claimed that clarity is the most important aspect of my music. I want musicians to know what’s going on so they can musically react and interpret their part, and I never want an audience member to feel lost or perplexed. For me, a large part of growing and improving as a composer involves learning how to more effectively communicate with both performers and listeners.

There are two sides to this. Musically, I strive to create narratives that both performers and listeners can follow. On a more practical level, I carefully edit my scores and parts so that performers and conductors know what I’m looking for. As simplistic as it seems, I’ve learned to notate my music so that it will sound exactly the way I want it to.

The process of writing and revising has been transformative.

The process of writing and revising Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky for orchestra has been transformative for my writing. It’s my third orchestral piece, and it’s the only one I’ve been able to revise for subsequent performances. In its current form, the work is the product of important previous experiences and careful revisions.

I’ve been fortunate to attend schools that give composition students opportunities to hear orchestral works read and sometimes performed. In the summer preceding my second year at Juilliard, I began working on my second orchestral piece. I planned to apply to doctoral programs and, knowing that a reading at Juilliard would be my only chance to make a decent recording before application deadlines, I intended to compose something that could function well with very little rehearsal time. It needed to be simple and straightforward with the potential to sound polished by the end of a brief reading session.

This became Extraordinary Flora (2014). Composing a delicate, straightforward piece forced me to carefully consider how I presented and orchestrated my musical materials.  If I had composed this piece earlier, it would have felt counterintuitive, as if I was wasting the ensemble’s potential. But, this experience taught me that writing for orchestra with a sense of restraint can actually be more effective. Carefully controlling the energy of a massive ensemble allowed me to harness and focus it for moments that really mattered.

I began thinking about my next orchestral piece, Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky (2016), early in the summer before my second year at the Yale School of Music. In a continuation of what I had discovered while writing Extraordinary Flora, I wanted to create delicate, chamber-like moments that would contrast with expansive, more “orchestral” sounds.

The opening texture of Likely Pictures was my first significant idea; before anything else, I knew how I wanted the beginning to sound. I imagined a dry, sparse introduction with solo pizzicato notes sounding from within the strings section. Then, I wanted a slow, simple melody (unison piano and vibraphone) to soar over the pointillistic activity. A low, indistinct rumbling noise (tremolo basses, very low piano, and rolled bass drum) would slowly emerge.

And then I had to figure out the rest of the piece. This is how I usually begin writing: I compose the opening, and then pause to consider what happens next. On a large sheet of paper, I create a timeline and draw out the trajectory of the piece, determining proportions and how important moments will occur. I continue to refer back to these initial, basic sketches, often changing my mind and adjusting my plan.

During the first phase of composing, I always write by hand, usually at a piano. I improvise and sing and play until I find what I’m looking for. I compose with paper and pencil until it feels counterproductive to do so—that is, when it becomes apparent that I’m notating, not composing. I then begin organizing my materials into notation software. For me, notation software allows for greater flexibility as I alter and rework. And, I like the idea that the final barline is always there, waiting for me to meet it at the end of the piece.

I think it’s important to experience the passage of time like an audience member might.

At a certain point, playback becomes valuable, and I know many composers who would disagree with me on this. But, I think it’s important to experience the passage of time like an audience member might. Playing through the music at the piano, or singing, or conducting, or just closing my eyes and imagining—these exercises force me to actively participate in the music, and this participation drastically alters my sense of time.

When school started in the fall of 2016, I had notated a nearly complete draft of Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky. I brought what I had to my teacher, Christopher Theofanidis. In initial drafts, the piece was very episodic, and Chris advised me cover these seams and create smooth, elegant transitions between sections. This transformed the work’s continuity and overall cohesion.

We reworked individual sections as well. For example, I had initially imagined the solo pizzicato gestures of the opening section as coming from players within the section. Chris convinced me that the drama of seeing the individual players was important, especially as these subtle sounds recede. At a certain point, an audience member can’t quite hear the pizzicato notes, but he or she can see them. Visual cues can smooth over transitions, too.

Two months after the piece’s premiere with the Yale Philharmonia, I found out that I had been chosen to participate in the American Composers Orchestra’s Underwood New Music Readings. I took this opportunity to make some revisions, as I realized that my notation wasn’t always as clear as it could be.

The most significant and time-consuming change I made was to tie over sustained notes so that the pitch stops on a sixteenth note. Throughout the first section of Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky, I ask the first violins to crescendo through sustained tones. I noticed that many of the players seemed to back away before the completion of the note value, causing a sudden decrease of energy. Tying these notes over to sixteenth notes conveyed that I wanted the sound to persist and grow for the duration of the pitch. It’s not the most visually elegant notation, but I think it better conveyed my point, and I was happier with the ACO’s treatment of this gesture.

A passage from Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky

A passage from Hilary Purrington’s Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky showing how she notated sustained notes in a way that maintained energy for their entire duration.

I made other, far smaller adjustments. Yale’s music library had returned my parts, so I was able to consider the performers’ notes. Aside from small notational changes, deciding exactly what to revise was tricky. The Yale Philharmonia usually performs in Woolsey Hall, Yale’s largest performance venue. Visually, the hall is an ornate, dramatic space; acoustically, however, it’s not unlike an empty water tower. Although I was happy with the performance and the recording, the muddiness and other acoustic peculiarities made it difficult for me to decide what actually needed to change.

The Underwood New Music Readings took place in the DiMenna Center. Aside from clarifying some notation, I wanted to leave many elements of the piece untouched because I was curious as to how Likely Pictures would sound in a drier venue. The change in acoustics made an incredible difference; – staccato notes were actually staccato, for example. Each performance had its strengths, and I don’t think I could say that I substantially prefer one recording over the other.

One of the most valuable experiences was receiving direct feedback from the musicians.

One of the most valuable experiences of the Underwood New Music Readings was the opportunity to receive direct feedback from the musicians. As regular performers with the American Composers Orchestra, these musicians have seen and played an unbelievable variety of new works, and they are quick to catch on and understand a composer’s intentions. The instrumentalists gave the same advice to all the participating composers: Make an individual musician’s purpose clear. And, beyond this: Make it clear that the musician’s role is necessary and valuable. If a passage is particularly tricky, at least make it gratifying for the player.

Hilary Purrington receives feedback from Underwood mentor composers Derek Bermel and Trevor Weston. Hilary Purrington receives feedback from Underwood mentor composers Derek Bermel and Trevor Weston (Photo by Jiayi Photography, courtesy American Composers Orchestra)./caption]

For me, generating material is the most straightforward part of composing. Using Western notation and occasional words to describe an abstract idea and a musician’s role within that is often a complex task. In November, I have the opportunity to workshop Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky yet again, this time with the Minnesota Orchestra as part of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute. The skill of effective and efficient communication can only be sharpened by experience, and I’m very grateful for another opportunity to continue learning and improving my craft.

Composer Advocacy Notebook: A Tale of Three Cities

Man sticking hand inside tuba bell shaped bowl next to another man holding a doll wearing an elf cap.

One of the most exciting aspects of my role as New Music USA’s composer advocate is that from time to time I participate in various music-related convenings around the country and sometimes internationally. I consider these trips to be an extremely important aspect of my work since they often afford me the opportunity to serve either as a mentor to or an ambassador for composers and, more broadly, to encourage and facilitate a wide range of new music (particularly at proceedings that are not exclusively focused on new music or where the definition of new music is narrower than it ought to be). Sometimes my role at these events is official (I’m asked to give presentations, etc.) but just as often it is more informal—I relish being a rabble rouser during Q&A time. An equally important benefit of these activities is that they help to increase my own awareness of the range of the new music scene, plus the experiences and knowledge I’ve gained are things that I can usually translate it into prose here.

But sometimes it takes a while for me to catch up with all of this stuff and to find an effective way to make sense of it. Over the past two months I attended three significant national music events which were extremely different from each other in terms of scope and scale—the Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute (January 25-29, 2016 in Minneapolis), the Midwest Clinic (an annual Chicago-based educational music conference primarily but not exclusively focused on wind bands which most recently took place between December 16 and 19, 2015), and the Chamber Music America conference (which takes place annually here in New York City, this time around from January 9 to 11, 2016). I’ve decided to write about these three events together instead of reporting separately on each since it has been in searching for common ground among these disparate gatherings that I think I’ve come to some clarity about them. I should point out that it made the most sense to offer my thoughts on these three events in reverse chronological order which might seem counterintuitive, but will hopefully make better sense for what I’d like to call attention to here.


A dusting of snow outside Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

It was often quite cold outside Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, but it wasn’t as nearly as cold as it has been in New York City the past few days.

In terms of scale, the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute is by far the smallest. It is typically, as it was again in 2016, an opportunity that benefits just seven composers (although in 2012 it was only six and in 2006 there were nine!). While the week’s intensive sessions with various musicians and industry professionals (on topics as diverse as effective public speaking, score and parts preparation, copyright law, and commissioning contracts) can be audited by anyone who is a member of the American Composers Forum, only the lucky members of that chosen small group get to have an original orchestra composition of theirs workshopped. And since 2006, when the program transformed from reading sessions (which began in 2002) to a week culminating in a concert, these composers have also had their works performed on a subscription concert by one of this country’s most respected orchestras and broadcast on the radio as well. The opportunity for such prominent exposure is a really big deal and arguably was a decisive event in establishing the careers of some of today’s most visible composers. Among the program’s alumni are: Lisa Bielawa, Anthony Cheung (the only composer to participate twice), Anna Clyne, Stacy Garrop, Ted Hearne, Hannah Lash, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, Narong Prangcharoen, and Sean Shepherd. I’m particularly thrilled by the gender balance in that list of names though admittedly it was a somewhat unscientific gleaning from the names of the 92 composers who have had music performed through this program, out of which only 18 were women. Still, though this is shocking in the year 2016, it is a better track record than most of what goes on in our field as a whole.

As in previous years, I was invited there to serve as a mentor to the composers (which on their official materials is described as “faculty”) which enabled me to have a considerable amount of face time with each of the composers and to attend all of the Composer Institute’s events (except for the private one-on-one consultations each composer gets with conductor Osmo Vänskä). As always, it was great to get to know these seven composers. I was impressed by features of all of their pieces, though what has remained most in my memory two weeks after attending the rehearsals and the concert are the progression of luscious harmonies in Kirsten Broberg’s Celestial Dawning, the unbridled humor and almost cinematic narrative arc of Matthew Browne’s Barnstorming Season, the sheer sonic audacity of Anthony Vine’s Transmission (which heavily features real radio static as well as orchestral simulacra of static), and the—to me at least—completely unexpected final chord of Emily Cooley’s Scroll of the Air (which I actually loved even more in the rehearsals than I did in the performance when I obviously knew what was coming). I also really enjoyed being something of a back seat driver during Performance Today radio host Fred Child’s presentation to the group about how to handle being interviewed. One of the seven composers, Emily Cooley, wrote a blog for the Minnesota Orchestra’s website which offers more details on the specifics of the week than I will here. Suffice it to say, every time I attend this thing I have newfound respect and hope for the future of the orchestra.

Kevin Puts and the seven 2016 Minnesota Orchestra Institute Composers sitting on the edge of the orchestra stage/

A group portrait of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Class of 2016 (from left to right): Michael Gilbertson, Anthony Vine, Kirsten Broberg, Composer Institute director Kevin Puts, Nick DiBerardino, Emily Cooley, Joshua Cerdenia, and Matthew Browne.


The annual conference of Chamber Music America, an event which has been on my calendar every year for nearly two decades, offers plenty more, albeit smaller scale (by definition), opportunities for composers. There are numerous occasions for attendees to check out a really broad range of music and, perhaps even more importantly, to engage in conversations with potential future collaborators. Unlike many of the conferences of national music organizations, which often tend to attract a much larger percentage of administrative personnel than folks who actually make music, the folks who show up to CMA’s get-togethers are a real cross-section of the music ecology—composers, interpreters, booking agents, presenters—and music always seems to be everyone’s primary focus. Above and beyond that, what keeps me coming back year after year, is that the range of music focused on there is pretty wide and much of it is new. It has been a long time since CMA first opened its doors to jazz in a very significant way, in terms of topics that get featured in panel discussions and ensemble showcases as well as through the grant opportunities it offers to its members. In recent years, the borders between so-called contemporary classical music and work that incorporates improvisation have grown more and more porous and CMA seems to be doing better than most organizations in reflecting that paradigm shift.

So I really looked forward to this year’s conference. It also helped that I didn’t need to hop on an airplane to attend it, plus two-thirds of it took place over the course of a weekend so it didn’t cut too deeply into the rest of my work schedule. And thankfully, it didn’t overlap with the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute like it did last year. Sadly, though, it almost completely overlapped with this year’s New Music Gathering in Baltimore. I was hoping I could at least witness the Gathering’s first day, but I was asked to be a mentor for a group of first-time CMA conference attendees which required being with them at an orientation session an evening before the official schedule began and being as present as I could be for them for the duration. I sincerely hope that in 2017 none of these events will overlap. Folks seeking to establish themselves in this community as well as the folks who can help facilitate that need to be at as many of these convenings as possible; it is a disservice to everyone in the community at large to schedule such important powwows at the same time.

I must admit, however, that I experienced several disappointments in addition to my usual aesthetic epiphanies by staying in NYC for CMA; I will try to address these in a way that I hope will be helpful as I offer a few of the weekend’s highlights. As they now have been for quite a few years, CMA’s panel discussions were relegated exclusively to the 9:00-10:15am time slot. Since the closest coffee was outside the hotel and was sold at Times Square tourist prices, scheduling these talks so early did not always yield the most engaged interaction. That said, there were some great insights proffered during a session on programming in the 21st century moderated by Del Sol Quartet violinist Charlton Lee. While Lee claimed that “an all-new music concert brings in a different audience because it’s more relevant,” Oni Buchanan, who runs Ariel Artists, countered that while “an all-new music concert is a completely different kind of experience … including a new piece on a [mixed] program gets audiences to listen to the old pieces in a new way.” Certain approaches are more effective than others depending on the community you are trying to reach. During the question and answer period, Atlanta Chamber Players’ general manager Rachel Ciprotti pointed out that concerts of mixed repertoire sell better than concerts only containing new work. Even more interesting was another session devoted to the Southern Exposure New Music Series that was basically a conversation between its founding director, composer John Fitz Rogers, and its current one, Mike Harley, a bassoonist who plays in Alarm Will Sound. Harley, in what seemed like a direct refutation to the aforementioned discussion led by Lee, claimed that “Mozart is a way harder sell than most contemporary music.” Admittedly Southern Exposure is a relatively small scale operation and they want to keep it that way. It has been central to their mission that all of their concerts are free and take place in venues that can only seat a couple of hundred people. Since the series operates on a somewhat tiny budget (accrued from funds raised from loyal patrons, grants and a small stipend from the University of South Carolina), visiting artists must often purchase their own travel and lodgings from a relatively small all-inclusive performance fee. But the option of home stays are offered to guests to help defray costs, plus they get taken out for great barbecue! And because it is a positive experience with a really engaged audience, many new music luminaries have still been willing to participate.

Mike Harley and John Fitz Rogers

Mike Harley and John Fitz Rogers

One of the reasons panels are only scheduled in the mornings is to reserve the most optimal portion of the day—the afternoon hours—for ensemble showcases. These showcases have been the heart of the CMA conference for several years now and they probably should be. But there are some logistical problems to the way they are presented. All of the ensembles featured perform in the same room, an acoustically-challenged, partitioned-off ballroom space, yet surprisingly most groups usually make the most of it and sound relatively good in that environment. However, every half hour a new group takes the stage—for four consecutive hours on Friday and five consecutive hours on Saturday. With no breaks! Aside from the inevitable auditory fatigue of processing so many performances at once, the format makes it a real challenge for musicians to make deeper connections to the people who just heard them and vice versa. Talking to someone who just performed—a conversation that could lead to bookings, commissions, and who knows what else—requires walking out on the next ensemble and missing the music they have to offer. So often quick chats happen right outside the door, but the sound proofing is inadequate. I confess to being someone who runs out to chat with performers immediately outside the door, but I usually try to run back inside before the next showcase starts, sometimes losing my seat in the process. There’s got to be a better way to organize this to ensure that all the musicians have a chance to both perform in the most optimal possible conditions (it can never be perfect) and also to have sufficient opportunities to speak to people who could further their careers in a meaningful way.

Still some extraordinary music-making took place during this year’s ensemble showcases. I was very impressed with the energy as well as the tone quality of the Kenari Saxophone Quartet, which was particularly well displayed in their performance of an extremely moving piece called In Memoriam written for them by Joel Love who flew in from Texas to hear their performance. And I was completely floored by Organ Monk, a trio led from a Hammond B3 by Greg Lewis which totally funked out on a series of original compositions named in honor of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. They also included some unexpected twists in their interpretations of the classic standard “Lulu’s Back in Town” and material by the group’s namesake Thelonious. (Lewis and his group are performing at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola on February 16, 2016.)

Hammond B3 organ accompanied by drums and electric guitar.

Organ Monk in action. (Pictured from left to right: Greg Lewis on Hammond B3, Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums, and Ron Jackson on guitar.)

As I already mentioned above, the blurring of lines between strict score-based interpretation and improvisation-oriented performance has yielded some fascinating musical hybrids and some of the most interesting music that took place during the showcases fell into this zone. Though nominally a “classical” group, Sybarite5, a string quintet (quartet plus double bass) which released a disc of Radiohead covers in 2012, played much more than what was on their music stands. Similarly Matt Davis’s Aerial Photograph, though described on CMA’s webpage for the 2016 showcases as jazz, ultimately shouldn’t be pigeonholed. Davis, an electric guitarist, exclusively performs his own compositions, which tend to be long form and chuck full of subtle orchestrations. For the showcase, he was joined by nine other musicians—which included a tenor saxophonist, a drummer, and a string quartet—who performed music he wrote based on conversations he had with people in different communities around New York City. The Westerlies, a brass quartet (two trumpets and two trombones) who released a terrific CD of music by Wayne Horvitz in 2014, played their own comprovisational music this time out as well as an arrangement of a song by Charles Ives. The Carpe Diem String Quartet also proved equally adept at navigating classical and jazz idioms as well as Iranian microtonal inflections, in an excerpt from a work by Reza Vali, and even bluegrass, in a selection from the Fiddle Suite by their Montana-born violist Korine Fujiwara.

Another string quartet, the Argus Quartet, a youngish, more exclusively classical-oriented group from L.A. that is now in residence at Yale, made a really compelling case for Peculiar Strokes, a collection of miniatures by Andrew Norman which each explore particular a bowing technique. They had planned to play only selections, which would not have left the audience feeling cheated since the work is designed to be modular, though it was great to actually hear the whole thing. However, by playing all of it, they had to cancel their performance of a movement from Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas, which actually would have additionally given audiences an opportunity to hear their interpretation of traditional Peruvian sonorities. Even more distressing is that since they cancelled Leyendas and Sybarite5 did not perform a piece by Jessica Meyer that they had been scheduled to play according to the printed program, the only female composers represented during nine hours of showcases were women who performed their own music—the aforementioned Fujiwara; Montreal-based Lorraine Desmarais, who fronts a relatively straight-ahead piano trio; and Jen Shyu, who mixed jazz vocals, traditional East Asian instruments, and ritual theatre in a stunning duo with violinist Matt Maneri that ended with her simulating self-immolation. (I was there for the whole thing but couldn’t help but wondering what the experience was like for people who just showed up at the climax.)

But that’s not all. In addition to those nine hours of music during the showcases, there was also an off-site intermission-less two-hour-plus CMA concert on Friday night at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music which featured performances by four additional groups who had received CMA commissioning grants. Talk about sonic overload. Directly before the concert and immediately following the last Friday showcase (that of Sybarite5 which seemed to attract an audience that was well beyond the room’s capacity) there was an opening reception hosted by BMI which is one of the year’s most intense networking hangs. Usually nothing else is scheduled that evening which seems more prudent since conversations that begin over drinks at that reception often spill over to more informal dinners among various attendees. I imagine that they did this year as well since only a small percentage of the seats at DiMenna were occupied. So there weren’t many people in the audience for Duo Yumeno’s performance of Gene Coleman’s Kirigami. The work was an intense exploration of the timbral subtleties of the duo’s two instruments–Japanese koto (played by Yoko Reikano Kimura) and cello (Hikaru Tamaki)–that I, at least, would have benefited more from hearing earlier in the day. The same was true for pianist Fabian Almazan’s Alcanza, which he performed with his largish band Rhizome (another group that incorporates a string quartet into an ensemble of jazz improvisers), though I found the voice of Sara Serpa utterly mesmerizing. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson’s Touch Move, performed by his quintet Sicilian Defense, seemed mostly a platform for individual virtuosic flourishes rather than a cohesive composition, but again it was pretty late in the day at this point. I imagine that the somewhat disjointed form of the piece was by design, considering the chess references in both the name of his group and the title of the composition; I probably would have been more attuned to it had there been a program note or some pre-performance onstage commentary explaining what was going on. By the time PRISM came on stage to perform Julia Wolfe’s Cha I was ready to pass out, but the music thankfully wouldn’t let me. Though far shorter than anything else on the program, it was an incredibly dense 10 minutes filled with hockets and other kinds of tightly woven counterpoint that was completely seamless, both from a compositional and interpretational standpoint. (It was only the only time during the entire conference that a composition by a woman was performed by an ensemble that the composer was not a member of.) At 10:15pm I was completely wiped out and eager to finally have dinner, but I would have gladly stayed for more.

There’s undoubtedly a lot more I could describe about the 2016 CMA conference, but I will only make a few more small observations here. One of the conference’s highlights for me has always been the CMA/ASCAP Awards Ceremony which acknowledges ensembles and presenters whose programs have featured the most new music (music that was composed during the last 25 years). Additionally, during the ceremony, ASCAP member composers and publishers in the audience are invited up to the podium to briefly tell attendees about their own music. It is always a good way to gage what is going on around the country and in years past, I always wound up learning about a few more folks I had not been previously aware of. However, this year’s ceremony, which was scheduled on the last day right before the dismantling of the exhibits, was so poorly attended—only four ASCAP members (myself included) went up to the podium. Plus, unlike in previous years, no printed program was distributed to attendees listing all the qualifying new music repertoire on winner’s programs—an extremely useful list. It was a lost opportunity. Perhaps the distribution of these awards, which is a collaboration between ASCAP and CMA, should take place during the luncheon and membership meeting on the first day of the conference. It would reach a much larger percentage of the attendees and would set an appropriate exploratory tone for the weekend.

Lucy Shelton

One of the bright moments of this year’s CMA-ASCAP Adventurous Programming Awards was the introduction by new music championing soprano Lucy Shelton, who is a member of CMA’s board.

Many of the sessions of the 2016 conference were devoted to more effectively interacting (both personally and professionally) with other members of the community. New Music Gathering co-founder Mary Kouyoumdjian, in an essay she wrote for NewMusicBox in anticipation of that weekend’s contemporaneous NMG in Baltimore, claimed that she “really doesn’t like conferences” because they make her “think of barriers” and feel “pressure.” The folks at CMA did their very best to help attendees overcome this very real perception and it is perhaps a testimony to their success that I’ve received even more follow-up communications from folks I met for the first time at this year’s conference than I had in previous years, and I receive a ton of emails.

One of the best things that CMA did was to make first-time attendees feel more comfortable by assigning them mentors. I’d like to offer some space to the folks I mentored that weekend—all of whom are composer/performers active in the jazz scene, though as I can’t emphasize enough, the parsing of members of our community into jazz vs. classical slots is becoming less and less meaningful in today’s new music scene. I mentored four really interesting musicians. I’ve already described the music of Matt Davis, whose ensemble was a highlight of the showcases. Stephen Griggs is an extremely thoughtful Seattle-based saxophonist/composer, one the recipients of this year’s CMA/ASCAP Adventurous Programming Awards, who has composed suites about the Japanese-American internment camps and the plight of a still not-completely-recognized Native American community, the Duwamish, whose most prominent chief, Seattle (c1786-1866), lives on in the name of Griggs’s hometown. Will Holshouser fronts Musette Explosion, an extremely unusual, though completely delightful trio—consisting of his musette (a button accordion) plus guitar and tuba—that offers post-modern re-imaginings of gilded age Parisian café music. Finally, Sheryl Bailey, a guitarist who co-leads a delightful duo with bass legend Harvie S. as well as a Hammond B3-organ trio that would make an interesting double header with the group led by Greg Lewis featured during the showcases. (What’s with the sudden resurgence of the B3?) Unfortunately, when I wandered around recording chats with people during the final hours of the conference I couldn’t find Sheryl, but here are some brief musings about the weekend from Matt, Steve and Will:




If the breadth of activities I experienced at the Chamber Music America conference dwarfed the Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute, the Midwest Clinic possibly drowned every other music convening I have ever attended, in terms of its scale as well as potential, including the massive biennial conference of the American Choral Directors Association I wrote about last year that boasted more than 12,000 registrants. I attended the Clinic for the first time eight weeks ago and I still can’t completely make sense of its size and benefits to the greater new music community. It was simply overwhelming.

Lots of cymbals.

Have you ever seen so many cymbals in one place?

Part of why I’ve couched my description of the Midwest Clinic alongside two other events to which I’ve have a long relationship is in order to attempt to explain it. The first Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute (as I stated at the onset) did not occur until 2002 (and the first “official” concert wasn’t until 2006). The CMA conference has a much longer history; it first took place in 1978. But the Midwest Clinic has been going on now for 70 years (though alternately under the names “Band Clinic,” “Mid-West Band Clinic,” “Mid-West National Band Clinic,” “Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Clinic,” and “Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic”). So what is it and why is it called a clinic (the only thing that has been consistent about its name these past seven decades)? Everyone in the music community I’ve talked to who had no familiarity with this event was utterly baffled by the name when I told them I had been there: “Were you sick? Are you having a midlife crisis and enrolling in med school?”

Female and male mannequins in marhing band uniforms

At least I didn’t come home wearing one of these band uniforms!

By the end of my latest trip to the Windy City I came to understand that the term “clinic” is common parlance for a masterclass within the music education community and the folks who lead such sessions are called “clinicians,” a term which to the rest of humanity refers to medical doctors who have direct contact with and responsibility for patients. Yet considering how many “clinics” take place during this annual Windy City marathon, the singular form “Midwest Clinic” is still somewhat misleading, and “clinics” are not the only kind of activity that goes on there. It isn’t exactly a conference though many conference-type panels occur during its super jam-packed four days. It’s also not a music festival, though there were more concerts packed into that relatively short amount of time than during either Gaudeamus Music Week or the ISCM World Music Days, both of which consistently wow me with the sheer amount of music they present. And then there’s the larger-than-life exhibit hall which is a major locus of activity. In addition to being chock full of promotional fare from various universities, music organizations, and branches of the military, there are also tons of items for sale that many attendees flocked to—everything from band instruments and uniforms to sheet music and CDs. (Yes, people were actually buying physical recordings there; I personally came home with a bounty of 62 discs which I’m still attempting to listen through.)

Of all the music-related events I’ve attended during my professional life, the Clinic most resembles MIDEM, which is something of a cross between a conference, a festival, and an industry trade show. Though that’s probably not a completely accurate description, either, since MIDEM is pretty much a closed-door event for music industry insiders. The Clinic attracts a much broader range of music aficionados, everyone from numerous members of military, university, and high school bands (many of whom I witnessed delightedly trying out instruments in the exhibits) to some of America’s most prominent bandleaders and composers: I ran into Eric Whitacre and Michael Daugherty, both of whom led sessions during the Clinic, just walking around the supersized McCormick Place, which boasts being the largest convention center in North America.

Man sticking hand inside tuba bell shaped bowl next to another man holding a doll wearing an elf cap.

One of the more entertaining booths I visited was the one for the Northshore Concert Band in Evanston, Illinois. I wound up buying several of their discs.

The first day of the Clinic got off to an extremely early start—registration began at 7:00am, and by 8 (let’s be real here), there was still a massively long line but luckily it moved pretty fast since there was so much to see and ultimately precious little time despite each day’s activities going on pretty much non-stop for twelve consecutive hours. As a first time attendee, I was given a special sticker to affix to my badge, but there was no special welcoming reception. Certainly nothing resembling the TLC of the mentors for first-time attendees at the Chamber Music America conference. So I plunged right in. Throughout those four days, the only acknowledgment I received as a newbie was an occasional comment from an exhibitor who noticed my sticker. I now wonder if it was something of a Scarlet Letter and I might have fared better had I not worn it; despite how many people were there, I got into way fewer conversations with complete strangers than I normally do at music conferences. It’s a lesson learned for the next time there, although it is only possible to be a first-time attendee once.

Attempting to enumerate all of the various things I attended and all of the people I met there would probably require me to take another eight weeks to write, so I will only recount some of my most salient memories. Among the concerts I heard, the performances by the North Texas Wind Symphony (which, under the direction of Eugene Corporon, is the gold standard in the windband community), the Atlanta-based Tara Winds, the VanderCook College of Music Symphonic Band (the Chicago hometown favorites), and, most impressive of all, the Shujitsu Junior and Senior High School Wind Ensemble (who travelled here all the way from Okayama, Japan) were as proficient as any top tier symphony orchestra, including Minnesota. So as great an opportunity as a performance by a high profile orchestra is for an emerging composer, it might be equally satisfying to secure a windband gig and also probably more career savvy—these ensembles are far more eager to perform new music, will play your piece a lot more frequently, give it much more rehearsal time, and also be thrilled to give you a recording of it. People have been telling me this for years but witnessing it first-hand repeatedly is even more convincing.

A sprawling line of people that snakes around multiple times.

One of the most heartening thing I witnessed during the Midwest Clinic was the seemingly endless line of people waiting to attend a session featuring four composers–John Mackey, Eric Whitacre, Jonathan Newman, and Steve Bryant. The only disappointment was that because there were so many people ahead of me in the line, I ultimately wasn’t able to get in.

My other big epiphany was that the Midwest Clinic is not exclusively a gathering for folks involved with wind band music. I heard a demonstration by a mariachi band during one of the clinics as well as part of a concert by the Beckendorff Junior High School Honor Orchestra, a string orchestra from Katy, Texas, which featured works by two female composers: Soon Hee Newbold and Keiko Yamada. [Ed. Note: Subsequent to the publication of this article, it was discovered that Keiko Yamada was a pseudonym for the male composer Larry Clark. (See September 1, 2019 comment below.)] Few concert experiences I attended last year were as exhilarating as the concert I heard by the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra (who call themselves The Be-Bop Spartans) despite it taking place in a convention center! I’d also be remiss if I did not write something about the Hendrickson High School Saxophone Ensemble (from Pflugerville, Texas). A transcription they performed of a Double Violin Concerto by Vivaldi was surprisingly very effective but I was even more smitten with what they did with a new work written expressly for them by Daniel Montoya, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek nod to Philip Glass titled Einstein on 6th Street which juxtaposed the sound world of Glass’s motoric arpeggios with melodic shapes more characteristic of the various popular music traditions that co-exist in Montoya’s hometown of Austin, Texas. I had to talk to him about it:

In terms of saturation and inundation nothing prepared me for the New Music Reading Session given by the National Guard’s Bands of the Air, one of several such sessions that took place during the Clinic. Their plan was to get through over a hundred submitted works, playing about a minute from each one. After the first fifteen I thought my head would explode and I had to leave. It was impossible for me to distinguish any of these pieces from each other with so little to go on and constant bombardment from yet another piece of music before having anytime to process what I had just heard. Much more poignant, I thought, was a presentation called “Birth and Life of New Music” that was devoted to an explication and performance of a single piece of music, an extremely vibrant and timbrally thrilling concerto for bass trombone and wind band by David Gillingham that was passionately delivered by the Central Michigan University Symphonic Wind Ensemble under the direction of John E. Williamson featuring the New York Philharmonic’s George Curran, for whom the work was written, as soloist. But the most moving thing I attended the entire time I was there, however, was a session called “Teaching Children to Create,” co-led by Glen Adsit from the Hartt School of Music and maverick composer Michael Colgrass, in which students from the Plymouth-Canton High School band program (again, from Michigan) created and then performed some incredibly far out music using graphic notation. If the “professional” orchestras performed stuff as wild as this even twice a year, I’d become a lifelong subscriber! But it wasn’t just about being avant-garde. There was a remarkable formal cohesion to one of the pieces they played, a short aleatory work by one of the girls in the class whose name I regret I am unable to include here. (I jotted it down on a piece of paper that does not seem to have make it back to New York with me.)

Disappointingly, aside from her and the two women [Ed Note: actually one, see Ed. Note above and September 1, 2019 comment below] who wrote string orchestra pieces, the only woman composer programmed during the entire Midwest Clinic was Julie Giroux, three of whose wind band compositions were featured. I was grateful to get to hear two of the three and I brought back some additional pieces of hers on recordings I got there as well. Nevertheless, such a lack of representation is shocking in the year 2016. I already know tons of worthy repertoire for wind band composed by women and I still consider myself a rookie in this scene. African-American, Hispanic, and Asian composers were also marginal to the proceedings. In addition, the winners of various awards that were given throughout the four days were all white men. Banners of photos of previous Clinic honorees, all male and all white as well, greeted me when I entered the space to register on the very first day. For such an inclusive music event (in terms of its breadth and range) to be so exclusive was very disturbing.

A series of banners with photographs.

The banners of honorees that greeted 2015 Midwest Clinic attendees.

Since there were so many simultaneous competing events, it was hard to decide from moment to moment where I should be. Most of the sessions I attended were less than stimulating, however, with many clinicians simply reading from handouts they distributed to attendees as they entered the rooms. So by the third day, I figured out the best way to gather information was to circulate among as many conference rooms as I could, grabbing all the handouts without sticking around for too long. I also wanted to devote a significant amount of time to wandering the exhibits since that seemed to be a congregating place where attendees actually had an opportunity to converse with one another. I managed, in addition to bumping into Whitacre and Daugherty, to chance upon other composers I knew—among them composers Jim Bonney, Jennifer Jolley, Martha Mooke, Jonathan Newman, Alex Shapiro, Jim Stephenson, and Stephen Bryant (who has the best business card I’ve ever seen–a thick card containing his photo that is also a USB stick containing perusal PDF scores and recordings of his band compositions). I also bumped into Scott Tegge from the Chicago-based super new music friendly brass quintet Gaudete Brass whom I met several years ago at a CMA conference. Plus I got to meet composer Joel Love whose saxophone quartet I had the pleasure of hearing a few weeks later, again at CMA. There’s clearly a connection here and yet several people who knew me seemed very surprised that I was attending the Midwest Clinic since they all associate me exclusively with new music. But there was so much new music there, which is why I was there and why they were there as well. Jonathan Newman perhaps summed it up even better than I could:

Rugged Individualism Meets the Orchestra—A Snapshot of the 2015 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute

The seven featured Minnesota Orchestra composers, Kevin Puts and Osmo Vanska standing on the stage of Orchestra Hall.

Pictured from left to right: Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Director Kevin Puts, Kati Agócs, Loren Loiacono, Matthew Peterson, Evan Meier, Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä, Eugene Birman, Texu Kim, and Michael Schachter. Photo by Greg Helgeson courtesy Mele Willis, Minnesota Orchestra.

The composer as rugged individualist. Sink or swim. Every man (or woman) for himself.

The composer as Elon Musk, as Steve Jobs, as Walt Disney, as both publisher and publicist, as public as possible.

The composer as creator, editor, engraver, buyer, seller, middle-man, and perhaps above all artist and inventor but also protector of copyrights, of rights both grand and small.

And there was of course the man most independent, most individual and inscrutable of all, Osmo Vänskä, who, by now, everyone knows rides a Yamaha and comes from that dark, bubbling cauldron of conducting talent that is Finland—the man, who, when asked whether Matthew Peterson’s soaring Hyperborea evoked Nordic emotions answered with: “I think you know, I’ve had seven pieces to prepare.”[1]

Osmo Vänskä with hands raised conducting the Minnesota Orchestra.

Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra rehearsing for the Future Classics concert. Photo by Greg Helgeson courtesy Mele Willis, Minnesota Orchestra.

Those seven new pieces, most seeing their professional orchestra premiere, were more than simply prepared. While orchestra members began learning their parts not simply days or weeks in advance but some two months ago, Osmo touched down in Minneapolis Wednesday night and arrived at an uncharacteristic 9:03am the following morning for what I jokingly labeled to a Star Tribune reporter as “The Judgment of Caesar.” But there was no judgment. These were one-on-one meetings with one of the world’s great conductors, at the helm of one of the world’s great orchestras. Those seven new pieces and their seven new scores, carefully marked up in pencil from top to bottom, were about to be rehearsed—truly rehearsed, not simply read. This is why the best way to introduce this year’s Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute—a week-long program held at the coldest possible time of the year in a city whose commitment to music, old and new, quite profoundly reverberates all around the world—is to start at the end: the concert itself.

Orchestra Hall was full, energetic, anxious, as NPR’s Fred Child introduced composer after composer, piece after piece, proverbially twisting the key into the mind and heart of each composer until we felt, if not entirely like our own publicists, then, at least, surprised at our own ability to communicate without having to write any notes down. The topic of communication through the Institute was, if not often directly referenced, undoubtedly the dominant theme: communication to musicians through parts, to conductors and artistic directors via email and phone (though never by phone to Asadour Santourian, by his own request!), to audiences by public speaking—ultimately, to ourselves by how receptive we were to such a barrage of well-meaning information and advice. On Friday night, there was just the music, a seven-composer feast (this was no tasting menu but a concert of fully fleshed out orchestral works) spanning essentially every aesthetic, style, and medium imaginable.

Living mostly in Europe these days and having to play the role of explaining just what is going on in contemporary American music to my composer colleagues there, I’ve run up against the opinion that seemingly everything is probably minimalist and if not, it’s loud and ambiguously tonal with orchestral tutti upon orchestral tutti, European orchestral music is taut, lean, precise, sophisticated, timbral, and we can go on. That kind of conversation isn’t just held on this side of the Atlantic. I have a great composer friend who is convinced that no European orchestra would be interested in his music because of how “American” it sounds. Well, wouldn’t the Composer Institute’s final concert, christened “Future Classics,” be the perfect place to find out what American music ultimately does sound like?

Inconclusive. Diverse, aesthetically all-encompassing. And without wanting to ascribe greatness to my own work or anyone else’s, I will just quote composer Kevin Puts, who has taken on the artistic leadership role of the program: “Wow!” I think that single word encapsulated how we all felt about it, we meaning that holy trinity of audience, performers, and conductor. We were all wowed by the challenge of the music (in many cases, a challenge not entirely necessary), the dedication of Osmo and the orchestra, the support from Orchestra staff and Kevin Puts, our own camaraderie, and most of all, that we got to finally hear this music done at the highest level it possibly could be done. Music, itself, that aspires to exist on the highest level as well.

What is the Composer Institute and why does it even exist? Whither the appetite for new music?

Ours was the twelfth iteration of what cannot surely be called an orchestral reading session, nor a commission of any form, nor a purely educational program as it is, in the end, all about having the music performed on the grand stage. The Institute assumes certain things that composers might not be used to, namely that by writing a lot of notes, performers might actually learn all of them even if it takes practicing through their vacation. Or that the best way to get a publishing deal is to have one already. Well perhaps we already knew the latter.

Orchestra members, arts administrators, publishers, lawyers, even a certain NY-based NewMusicBox composer advocate, offered their insight, wisdom, complemented by a steady (but generally well-deserved) airing of grievances. The message was uniform: you’ve done well to get here. But your career is in your hands, and no one’s else’s. Rugged individualism. Sink or swim. Et alii.

John Snow from the stage of Orchestra Hall holding his part and talking with Eugene Birman in the audience.

Acting Principal oboe John Snow discusses a passage with Eugene Birman. Photo by Greg Helgeson courtesy Mele Willis, Minnesota Orchestra.

But no matter the entrepreneurial route, the audience in Minneapolis on Friday the 16th was hungry for new music. During the post-concert Q&A session, an audience member exclaimed that this is her favorite concert of the year. Many others voiced their allegiance to the same. These people were not forced to be there. They weren’t bussed in. There’s no university. They came because they love their conductor, they love their orchestra, and they realize that for classical music to thrive, it has to keep being made.

We, seven—alphabetically (and in concert order) Kati Agócs, myself, Texu Kim, Loren Loiacono, Evan Meier, Matthew Peterson, and Michael Schachter—wrote the music. But it was made by Osmo, the orchestra, and the people without whom the Institute simply wouldn’t exist or function, like Mele Willis and Kevin Puts. And most of all, the likely thousand-strong audience who clapped and cheered no matter whether it was the microtonally inflected alto flute solo in my own Manifesto, a piercing oboe mulitiphonic in Texu Kim’s resplendent Splash!! [2], the simultaneous musical references to Stravinsky and Wagner in Michael Schachter’s clever Freylekhe Tanzen, Loren Loaicono’s dizzying vibraphone cross rhythms in Stalks, Hounds, Kati Agócs’s hypnotic electric solo sextet writing in Perpetual Summer, or the expansive, searing beauty of the climax of Evan Meier’s Fire Music.

One must ask the question why, if the appetite for new music is so huge in Orchestra Hall, more American orchestras don’t do it this way? Does the Orchestra Institute have to be unique? Surely, if the American Composer Forum’s suggestion that there are 10,000 composers living in New York City alone is reality, there are more orchestral masterpieces from young composers waiting to be uncovered. What if the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco and Atlanta Symphonies, the Cleveland Orchestra and all the rest set up their own Institutes? What would the course of American classical music be then? And why hasn’t it happened?

There are no easy answers to those questions, I’m afraid. But I might return to that notion of rugged individualism, of entrepreneurship—now, no longer in the realm of composers. It took those qualities in Aaron Jay Kernis, in Osmo Vänskä, in others around them to create what Minnesota created, and now for Kevin Puts to lead it into the future. It took vision and a belief that young composers like us deserve a shot now rather than later, rather than never. May that vision spread.

The seven composers featured at the institute with Kevin Puts around a dining table at a restaurant eating and drinking red wine.

From left to right: Loren Loiacono, Michael Schachter, Evan Meier, Composer Institute director Kevin Puts, Kati Agócs, Matthew Peterson, Texu Kim, and Eugene Birman at Vincent for dinner.


1. Even in a masterpiece, there is some room for improvement–or so we found out during rehearsals. I asked each of my colleagues to submit a page that either didn’t go as planned, or did but elicited some meaningful gripes in the process. (Click on any of the seven score images below in order to enlarge them.) Michael Schachter’s opening page asks for horns placed in the audience. “They didn’t quite get the hang of the sound I was after,” he says, despite the effect working out marvelously during the performance. Matthew Peterson’s excerpt asked for a tempo so slow, it was off the metronome. “Despite the music being really easy here, Maestro really didn’t want to do it in q = 32!” The page from my piece, Manifesto, elicited the most consternation for asking way too much in too short of a period of time. But it, like everything else, proved no obstacle to the Minnesota Orchestra. They played it all perfectly.–EB

Page of orchestral score of Kati Agocs's Perpetual Summer

Perpetual Summer

A page from the orchestral score of Evan Meier's Fire Music

Fire Music

A page from the orchestral score of Matthew Peterson's Hyperborea


A page from the orchestra score of Michael Schachter's Freylekhe Tanzen

Freylekhe Tanzen

A page from the orchestral score of Texu Kim's Splash!!


A page from the orchestral score of Loren Loiacono's Stalks, Hounds

Stalks, Hounds

A page from the orchestral score of Eugene Birman's Manifesto


2. During his interview with Texu Kim before the performance of his piece, Fred Child asked Texu why it had two and not one or three exclamation points and Texu responded that it was too lonely with one.


Eugene Birman with his hand holding his chin.

Eugene Birman

With performances across the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America by leading orchestras, choirs, and soloists, Eugene Birman (b. 1987 in Daugavpils, Latvia) is a composer of music of “high drama” and “intense emotion” (BBC). His highly public career (appearances on CNN, BBC World TV, Bloomberg, Radio France, and more) has seen premieres and commissions from the London Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, BBC Singers, and countless others. Eugene’s music can be found on commercial releases with Naxos, Abeille Musique, and on NMC Records’ 25th anniversary disc “Next Wave”. He is currently based between San Francisco, CA, London, UK, and Tallinn, Estonia.

Kernis Resigns from Minnesota Orchestra

[Ed. Note: The Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute has been an important fixture in the contemporary music scene and, over the years, NewMusicBox has published extensive reports from many of its participants, including Sean Shepard (2005), Missy Mazzoli (2006), Jacob Cooper (2007), Ted Hearne and Justin Merritt (both 2008), Spencer Topel (2009), Taylor Brizendine (2010), and Hannah Lash (2012). The following letter by Aaron Jay Kernis, the co-founder and director of the institute, was submitted earlier today to President Michael Henson, the board of directors, as well as the musicians and staff of the Minnesota Orchestra.—FJO]

Aaron Jay Kernis

Aaron Jay Kernis
Photo by Richard Bowditch, courtesy Dworkin & Company.

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I submit my resignation as Director of the Composer Institute at the Minnesota Orchestra.

I admit total bafflement and dismay at what has been done to allow the dismemberment of this superb orchestra at the height of its powers. The tactics of a lock-out have no place in the life of any artistic organization. The artistic and economic flourishing of a community of musicians cannot be ensured by essentially destroying it, nor by avoiding significant compromise on both sides.
I have personally never seen two sides that show such unwillingness to sit down together and attempt to tackle the major challenges that confront the orchestra. The collaborative spirit that is the essence of music-making has been completely absent this past year, and little can be forged without a modicum of trust and good will. In all of this, the audience of music-lovers, who most appreciate the orchestra’s extraordinary gifts have been forgotten and their voices disregarded. They have been left bereft.

Throughout this year I continued to hope for a resolution so the performers could return to Orchestra Hall and the Composer Institute program resume. The program has always put artistic education and collaboration above business models and branding, encouraging highly talented young creators in a generous and fulfilling way, with camaraderie and a strong sense of collaboration between artists and administrators being crucial to the effort. I can say confidently that the Institute had grown into one of the jewels of the Minnesota Orchestra’s programs.
But with not a shred of those sentiments left at the Minnesota Orchestra, I see no point in continuing my work there. Minneapolis has been a second musical home to me. The musical relationships and world-class performances I’ve encountered there have altered the course of my own creativity and path in the most transformative ways.

Over the 15 years of my tenure as New Music Advisor and Director of the Institute it has been one of my great pleasures to collaborate with its orchestra members, many of the finest musicians in the world. The program has been fortunate to receive gracious and passionate support of musicians, audiences, board and administration over the years. I also deeply honor the vision of former Artistic Director Asadour Santourian in the initial shaping of the Institute, unwavering dedication of previous co-director Beth Cowart, and recently Lilly Schwartz has been a joy to work with and has continued that deep engagement. The many wonderfully generous partners offered their experience and expertise to hundreds of participants. They offered an inspiring and true vision of a future for music that stands in the starkest contrast to the rancorous behavior shown during the last year.
I will greatly miss working with Osmo Vänskä, whose leadership and extraordinary, galvanizing and deeply inspiring performances raised the level of a superb ensemble to one of world class. I can speak for the nearly one hundred composers who have taken part in the Institute: their lives have been changed through working with the orchestra and this superlative music director. President Michael Henson’s critical support of the Institute has been greatly appreciated, but I cannot in any way condone the actions taken this year by the board and administration toward the musicians, nor can I see the point in the musicians’ intransigence and sense of violation. At a certain point one must seek a way to move forward, and now Osmo’s departure is a heavy penalty for the choices made by both sides this year.

This is a great loss for American culture and the Twin Cities. The endgame that has been played out creates a diaspora of musicians and a deafening silence for countless music-lovers. But I will not lose hope that eventually some resolution can be achieved that will allow the Minnesota Orchestra to continue to play a vital role in American arts and culture.

Seven Emerging Composers Selected For 2013 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute

Minnesota Orchestra

Seven emerging composers have been selected as participants in the Minnesota Orchestra’s 12th annual Composer Institute.  They are:

  • Canadian-born Kati Agócs of Boston, Massachusetts
  • Latvia native Eugene Birman of Oxford, England
  • South Korean-born Texu Kim of Bloomington, Indiana
  • Loren Loiacono of Ithaca, New York
  • Evan Meier of College Park, Maryland
  • North Dakota native Matthew Peterson of Stockholm, Sweden
  • Michael Schachter of Ann Arbor, Michigan

Chosen from a pool of 165 candidates through a competitive process, the composers will be in Minneapolis from January 7-11, 2013, for rehearsals, seminars, and tutoring sessions, as well as a public “Future Classics” concert of their works on January 11, led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä and held at Ted Mann Concert Hall on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus.

“I am absolutely delighted to say that the competition for the seven top spots was fierce, with many more imaginative and innovative pieces than would be possible to program on the upcoming season’s single Composer Institute concert,” says Institute Director Aaron Jay Kernis, who chaired the selection panel.  “Our jury noted that the number of works of excellent quality made the final choices of composers and works extremely difficult.”  Other panel members included composers Augusta Read Thomas, Kevin Puts, Minnesota Orchestra Principal Conductor of Pops and Presentations Sarah Hicks, and Sean Shepherd, the latter of whom is a 2006 Composer Institute alumnus.

In addition to the seven composers chosen to participate in the Composer Institute, the panel named the following composers as alternates: Alexandra Bryant, Saad Haddad, Michael Lee, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chris Rogerson.  In addition, these composers were designated as runners-up: Adam Zahller Brown, Hermes Camacho, Daniel Davis, Stephen Feigenbaum, Gregg Kallor, Jordan Kuspa, Tonia Ko, Yuan-Chen Li, Douglas Pew, Benjamin Sabey, Daniel Swilley, and Justin Tierney.  Cited for honorable mention are: Brian Baxter, Joshua Bornfield, Alican Camci, Stefan Cwik, Paul Dooley, Michael Djupstrom, Joshua Groffman, Mark Jacobs, Nicolai Jacobsen, Ji Young Kim, Grant Luhmann, Kenji Oh, Jim Peterman, Sidney Richardson, Leanna Sterio-Primiani, Phil Taylor, and Fay Wang.

(—from the press release)

Subito Music Names Brian Ciach as Subito Composer Fellow

Brian Ciach

Brian Ciach, photo by Paolo Vairo

Subito Music Corporation has chosen Brian Ciach to be the first participant in the Subito Composer Fellowship program, developed in partnership with the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. The Fellowship will provide professional promotional efforts for Ciach’s work, along with the opportunity for him to cultivate a practical knowledge of today’s publishing industry with on-site, hands-on training.

“Following the recent success of our new partnership with the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute,” states Subito Music founder and CEO Stephen Culbertson, “we’re pleased to welcome Brian Ciach as our inaugural Subito Composer Fellow. The Composer Institute is a celebrated training program for young symphonic composers; and this year, it presented Brian’s work Collective Uncommon. Brian possesses a unique way of connecting with listeners through his use of orchestration and intense sonorities to create a visceral, musical montage. We created the Subito Composer Fellowship as a mentoring program so that composers could gain an in-depth understanding of the classical music publishing world, and we look forward to working with Brian as he gains the insights and tools that relate the business of music to the art of creating music.”

Collective Uncommon: Seven Orchestral Studies on Medical Oddities was inspired by Ciach’s visit to Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, a medical oddities branch of The College of Physicians which was founded in 1787. “The Mütter Museum,” Ciach explains, “contains a host of specimens of various odd afflictions…[and it’s] goal is to inspire research into the successful treatments and cures of various unusual disorders. I was fascinated by the collection and thought ‘What kind of piece would these relics inspire?’ [These] artifacts, as unusual and as macabre as they may seem, were once part of a living human being…[and] as museum personnel reminded me ‘there is a terrifying beauty in the spirits of those forced to endure these afflictions’. [So] I set out to create a sensitive, chiarascuro-balance between light and dark, macabre and humanitarian.” Written for Ciach’s doctoral dissertation, Collective Uncommon explores seven medical oddities using specific compositional genres.

A native of Philadelphia, Brian Ciach (pronounced “SIGH-ack”) is an internationally performed composer and active new music pianist. He studied at Temple University and holds a doctorate from Indiana University. Ciach has taught at West Chester (PA), Temple and Indiana Universities, and is currently an Adjunct Instructor at Ball State University. He served on the piano faculty at Delaware County Community College, the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, and at the Darlington Arts Center. Upcoming Ciach premieres include two commissioned works: Blank Slate for the Square Peg Round Hole for percussion quartet, and The Einstein Slide (an appendix to Collective Uncommon) written for the contemporary group Alarm Will Sound who will premiere the work during the composer’s residency at the 2012 Mizzou New Music Summer Festival.

Subito Music Corporation (SMC) provides a wide range of production and distribution services for both composers and publishers, including engraving, printing, rental, sales, and copyright administration. Under the Subito and Notevole imprints, SMC also publishes a select roster of composers including Michael Abels, Kenneth Frazelle, Nancy Galbraith, Dan Locklair, Steven Mercurio, Paul Moravec, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), Roberto Sierra, and Judith Lang Zaimont. In addition SMC represents the music of composers published in the catalogs of Seesaw Music, Association for the Promotion of New Music (APNM), Columbia University Press, Canadian Brass Collection, Ben Rena Music, Sorom Editions, Dunstan House, and Zimbel Press.

Proof of Life

As weeks go, this one has been none too quiet for the symphony orchestra.

Last weekend, Zachary Woolfe made a strong call for more new music by the New York Philharmonic, eloquently calling Alan Gilbert out on his record of performing both contemporary and American composers and echoing an earlier blog post by Christian Carey. For several days we got the chance to follow along with Hannah Lash as she took part in the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute along with several other composers from across the country (you can follow along here, here, here, and here). Finally, just as some concert halls have been contemplating a “Tweeting Section,” a sad example of the power of the marimba ringtone has resonated throughout the land.

What I take away from these various and sundry items is that, for as much as folks like to say otherwise, the symphony orchestra is not going quietly into that good night just yet. Obviously, it would be preferable to have something—anything—having to do with a symphony orchestra other than an interrupted performance be seen as newsworthy by the mainstream media, but luckily the other examples I listed are more encouraging. Hannah’s posts, however, demonstrate not only that there are quality creators who see the orchestra as a viable contemporary vehicle for expression, but also that there are effective models for professional orchestras to encourage and enhance the growth of those creators. Zachary’s heartfelt argument is a great example of the audience (in this case a critic) demanding that the orchestra and its director not allow its repertoire to become ossified.

While I did not ask them specifically about the orchestral genre, there seems to be a wide range of reactions to the orchestra by the composers whom I have interviewed over the past year and a half. Some see it as their primary method of expression and have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to write for it many times. Others see it as just one of many compositional genres in which they feel comfortable working. Some ignore it outright, feeling perfectly at home within the chamber music world. Still others have expressed that while the orchestra is a wonderful sandbox to play in, the chances of getting a good opportunity to write for one is small enough that they don’t go out of their way for it.

This variety in existing attitudes simply shows that the orchestra, as it probably has always been, is neither the musical apex that every composer should be expected to pursue nor the desiccated museum destined for mothballs. It is just one of many options we as composers have to work with, and the optimist in me sees the aforementioned articles as proof that it remains a strong option at that.

The Big Day (The 2011-2012 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Blog, Day 4)

Dress rehearsal! We go in concert order, with Michael Holloway’s lush Rhythm: Theta Beta Theta starting. Michael is, I believe, the youngest composer here this year, having just finished his undergraduate education (which he did in two years). His piece is impressively orchestrated, and does exactly what he described in his speech about it: it opens with slow and more luxuriously paced music, with faster music in the middle like the more active Beta brain-waves, and finally the Theta waves return to close the piece. His music has a breadth that seems beyond his years, and the orchestra really sounds fabulous playing it.

Michael R. Holloway Orchestral Score Excerpt

Excerpted from Michael R. Holloway’s Rhythm: Theta Beta Theta. © 2011 by Michael R. Holloway. Reproduced with the composer’s permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
Andreia’s piece, like the geographical place, Xántara, that inspired her, is mysterious, elegant, magical. Her delicate textures and transparent orchestration are impressive. In her score, she uses such adjectives as “Floating” to impart the kind of playing she wants from the musicians. The ending particularly I found really breathtaking: quiet, with the kind of presence that demands a moment or two of silence from the listener before any applause would begin.

Andreia Pinto-Correia Orchestral Score Excerpt

Excerpted from Andreia Pino-Correia’s Xántara. © 2011 by Andreia Pino-Correia, Aljezur Music (ASCAP). Reproduced with the composer’s permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
My piece is in two movements: the GOD MUSIC movement, and the BUG MUSIC movement. In both, I was pushing canonic writing as far as I could, creating textures that feel to me colorful and exuberant, sometimes sounding statistical, sometimes highly organized. I’m very interested in the idea that my harmonies are organized by horizontal lines; and those lines are designed very carefully so that the harmonies will work out the way I want them to. I like my architecture to be clear, but I always strive for it to arise out of the materials I use: their details and internal directionality.

Hannah Lash Orchestral Score Excerpt

Excerpted from Hannah Lash’s God Music Bug Music: Two Movements for Orchestra. © 2011 by Hannah Lash administered exclusively worldwide by Schott Helicon Corporation, New York (BMI). Reproduced with the permission of the composer and publisher. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
Shen Yiwen’s music has a certain meticulousness and clarity that are truly admirable. His piece does have a certain “American” sound, featuring broad, open sonorities and lush orchestration. It is brief: only about seven minutes. But one thing I noticed about all the pieces from my colleagues here is that each one is the right length. That’s not always the case—we’ve all sat through pieces that seem to last hours when in fact they’re only ten minutes. Or pieces that seem awkwardly truncated, as if the composer lost patience with his/her material.

Shen Yiwen Orchestral Score Excerpt

Excerpted from Shen Yiwen’s First Orchestral Essay. © 2010 by Shen Yiwen Reproduced with the composer’s permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
Adrian’s piece Manchester is very quiet the whole way through, but incredibly detailed; it is about small things that happen within a broad framework—a framework that invites deep listening, meditation. It involves electronics that blend in and out of the live sound; their presence is never intrusive but rather they serve to expand the palette of sound. Adrian’s harmonies and timbres are inextricably linked in a way that displays real musical intelligence as well as a well-developed concept of what the music is. This is a piece that, despite its low dynamic level, has an extremely well-defined character whose presence commands the listener’s attention, pulls you in with its strong delicacy. It is anything but innocuous in its near silence.

Adrian Knight Orchestral Score Excerpt

Excerpted from Adrian Knight’s Manchester for Orchestra. © 2008 by Adrian Knight, Pink Pamphlet. Reproduced with the composer’s permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
Brian’s Collective Uncommon is almost outrageous in its imaginativeness, but avoids any sensationalism (despite the food instruments and the Tickle-Me-Elmo voice boxes); instead the music is really haunting and beautiful—yes, we are given aural images that are truly bizarre, but they are sensitively used and we come away feeling we’ve experienced something far more meaningful than a freak-show: something human, something beautiful and sad.

Excerpted from Brian Ciach’s Collective Uncommon for Orchestra. © 2010 by Brian Ciach. Reproduced with the composer’s permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
After individual mentor meetings all afternoon with Maestro Vänskä, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Steven Stucky, we had a brief break before the concert. Then we all filed into the Green Room to meet with Fred Child from MPR, who would host the event, interviewing each of us briefly on stage before our pieces. Fred is a wonderful interviewer; he had listened to all our speeches online in this blog from the Donor Dinner, so he already had a sense of each of us.

When it came time to go into the hall, we found out that the house was really packed—both on the orchestra level, and at least the first tier. I’ve never had a piece played to such a large audience before. The energy of the crowd felt overwhelmingly positive; there were a lot of different ages of people, and you got the sense that everyone was excited to be there and anxious to hear what was going on in new music for orchestra.

I won’t go through all the pieces again since I’ve already done that from the dress rehearsal, but I will say that the orchestra sounded even better than they had earlier in the day. It really is a thrill to hear such a tremendous force onstage, no matter what the repertoire, but to have them playing your own music is really exhilarating!

There was a brief reception for us in the Green Room during intermission; and the other opportunity we had to interact with the audience directly was in a Q and A session after the concert. It was great to know from people’s questions how interested they were in new music, and how much they wanted to encourage us as relatively newer composers alive today.