Tag: orchestras

Open Letter from American Composers to Atlanta Symphony

[Ed Note: The following letter was posted on several composers’ pages on Facebook earlier today.—FJO]

From: John Adams, John Corigliano, Nick Demos, Steve Everett, Michael Gandolfi, Osvaldo Golijov, Mark Grey, Jennifer Higdon, John Anthony Lennon, Jonathan Leshnoff, Richard Prior, Adam Schoenberg, Alvin Singleton, Christopher Theofanidis
We write as a group of American composers in loud support of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its unique and important place in American concert music. We unanimously encourage those involved in its management, board and funders to do whatever necessary to keep this great orchestra vital and thriving. The ASO must not be allowed to degrade, piecemeal, into a second-class entity.

We are appalled to see the orchestra’s supremely talented players locked out from playing their concerts while at the same time being asked to accept painful salary cuts and submitting to the reduction in the size and quality of their ensemble. Artistically the Atlanta Symphony is one of the few in the country with a clear vision and proven track record of balancing the creation of new works with the preservation of the old.

The people of Atlanta cannot afford to preside over the slow, remorseless downgrading of its most important artistic institution.
The Woodruff Center and the city of Atlanta have a priceless jewel in the Atlanta Symphony, and they have a responsibility to preserve it. Its loss would be incalculable.

27 Orchestras Honored with 2013-14 ASCAP Awards For Adventurous Programming

Albany Symphony. David Alan Miller, music director

Albany Symphony. David Alan Miller, music director

Twenty-seven American orchestras will be recognized with 2013-14 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming at the League of American Orchestras’ national conference currently underway in Seattle.
ASCAP and the League present the awards each year to orchestras of all sizes for programs that challenge the audience, build the repertoire, and increase interest in the music of our time. Approximately $750,000 has been bestowed on orchestras since the awards were established in 1947.

Below is a complete list of this year’s winners:
John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music ($3,000)
Albany Symphony—David Alan Miller, Music Director
Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming ($3,000)
Los Angeles Philharmonic—Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director
Award for American Programming on Foreign Tours
San Francisco Symphony—Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director
ASCAP Awards for Programming of Contemporary Music
Group 1 Orchestras
First Place: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra—Kyu-Young Kim, Senior Director of Artistic Planning; Patrick Castillo, former Senior Director of Artistic Planning
Second Place: St. Louis Symphony—David Robertson, Music Director
Third Place: Seattle Symphony Orchestra—Ludovic Morlot, Music Director
Group 2 Orchestras
First Place: Alabama Symphony Orchestra
Second Place: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra—JoAnn Falletta, Music Director
Third Place: New Jersey Symphony Orchestra—Jacques Lacombe, Music Director

Group 3/4 Orchestras
First Place: Spokane Symphony—Eckart Preu, Music Director
Second Place: New Haven Symphony Orchestra—William Boughton, Music Director
Third Place: Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra—Carlos Miguel Prieto, Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin Music Director and Principal Conductor
Group 5/6 Orchestras
First Place: American Composers Orchestra—George Manahan, Music Director; Derek Bermel, Artistic Director
Second Place: Berkeley Symphony—Joana Carneiro, Music Director
Third Place: San José Chamber Orchestra—Barbara Day Turner, Music Director/Conductor
Group 7/8 Orchestras
First Place: The Laredo Phil—Brendan Townsend, Music Director & Conductor
Second Place: Michigan Philharmonic—Nan Washburn, Music Director and Conductor
Third Place: Pioneer Valley Symphony—Paul Phillips, Music Director and Conductor
Collegiate Orchestras
First Place: Lamont Symphony Orchestra—Lawrence Golan, Music Director & Conductor
Second Place: Cornell Orchestras—Chris Younghoon Kim, Director of Orchestras
Third Place: Peabody Symphony, Concert, and Modern Orchestras—Hajime Teri Murai and Harlan Parker, music directors
Youth Orchestras
First Place: Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras—Allen Tinkham, Music Director
Second Place: New York Youth Symphony—Joshua Gersen, Music Director
Third Place: Orange County School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra—Christopher Russell, Music Director
First Place: Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music—Marin Alsop, Music Director
Second Place: Sewanee Summer Music Festival—Katherine Lehman, Director
Third Place: Aspen Music Festival and School—Robert Spano, Music Director

A complete repertoire list is posted here.

24 Orchestras Receive ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming

Twenty-four American orchestras received 2011-12 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming at the League of American Orchestras’ 67th Annual Conference in Dallas. ASCAP and the League present the awards each year to orchestras of all sizes “for programs that challenge the audience, build the repertoire, and increase interest in music of our time.”

This year’s winners are:

2011-12 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming

John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music
South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Delta David Gier, Music Director

Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming
San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director

Leonard Bernstein Award for Educational Programming
Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, Music Director

Award for American Programming on Foreign Tours
San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Donato Cabrera, Music Director

Awards for Programming of Contemporary Music

Group 1 Orchestras
First Place: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director
Second Place: Nashville Symphony, Giancarlo Guerrero, Music Director
Third Place: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

Group 2 Orchestras
First Place: Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Justin Brown, Music Director
Second Place: New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, Michael Tilson Thomas, Artistic Director
Third Place: Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Arild Remmereit, Music Director

Group 3/4 Orchestras
First Place: Chicago Sinfonietta, Mei-Ann Chen, Music Director

Group 5/6 Orchestras
First Place: American Composers Orchestra, Robert Beaser, Artistic Director; George Manahan, Music Director; Derek Bermel, Creative Advisor
Second Place: Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, Artistic Director
Third Place: Peoria Symphony Orchestra, George Stelluto, Music Director and Conductor

Group 7/8 Orchestras
First Place: Northwest Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Spain, Music Director
Second Place: The Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra, Warren Friesen, Artistic Director and Conductor
Third Place: Yakima Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Golan, The Helen N. Jewett Music Director

Collegiate Orchestras
First Place: Cornell University Orchestra, Chris Younghoon Kim, Director of Orchestras
Second Place: Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra, Jeffery Meyer, Director of Orchestras
Third Place: Lamont Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Golan, Music Director and Conductor

Youth Orchestras
First Place: Contemporary Youth Orchestra, Liza Grossman, Music Director
Second Place: Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, Allen Tinkham, Music Director

First Place: Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Marin Alsop, Music Director and Conductor
Second Place: Aspen Music Festival and School, Robert Spano, Music Director

(—from the press release)

Personal Filters

Recently, I asked my wife what she thought of a new choral work that a colleague of mine had written for our university’s commencement ceremony a few weeks ago. Since we had both attended the ceremony—me as an enrobed faculty member, she as a staff photographer—I knew that she had heard the same work and performance that I had. She responded that, while she liked the work overall, the unbalanced lighting on the choir caused by their placement in the auditorium made it difficult for her to fully enjoy the performance.

Then last week I had the wonderful opportunity to reunite with two of my good friends and classmates from my time in the USC film scoring program. As with any gathering of composers, once dinner and drinks were finished and the evening wore on, we ended up playing recordings of our recent works for each other. While we all had great fun catching up musically, what really stuck out for me was how these two top-notch composers who worked primarily in film and television interpreted my chamber and large ensemble works as if they were film scores. Their comments on how they could “see” a particular scene or how they could hear certain influences didn’t phase me a bit (since that mindset is very much a natural state with most composers in Hollywood), and, to be honest, it wasn’t long before I was hearing dramatic arcs in my own works that I was unaware had existed.

Both of these episodes were already resonating in my mind as I read Richard Dare’s article “The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained” which was published earlier this week on the Huffington Post. In the article, Dare—the newly minted CEO of the beleaguered Brooklyn Philharmonic—attempts to describe what a typical orchestral concert experience feels like from the viewpoint of a “typical” audience member accompanied by a “guide” affiliated with the orchestra giving the concert. The primary complaints that Dare brings up included the process of buying tickets at the ticket counter, the reverence his guide seems to place on the concert hall itself, his frustration at not being able to express his feelings for the music being performed by clapping, laughing, or shouting during a piece, his interpretation of the audience as deferential and “possibly catatonic,” and his guide’s seeming ignorance of his own confusion as to the concert-going experience.

From these experiences, Dare then extrapolates outward, making broad statements as to what is wrong with the genre of classical music. After looking back at the (supposedly) halcyon days of Beethoven and early 19th-century Vienna, Dare compares our current concert traditions, including the (supposedly) strong emphasis on the conductor as high priest to, well, I should just let his words speak for themselves:

The most common practices in classical musical venues today represent a contrite response to a totalitarian belief system no one in America buys into anymore. To participate obediently is to act as a slave. It is counter to our culture. And it is not, I am certain, what composers would have wanted: A musical North Korea. Who but a bondservant would desire such a ghastly fate? Quickly now: Rise to your feet and applaud. The Dear Leader is coming on stage to conduct. He will guide us, ever so worshipfully through the necrocracy of composers we are obliged to forever adore.

This “once more unto the breach, dear friends” concept of rallying the HuffPo-reading masses, Occupy-style, to demand the removal of our silence-laden shackles and the “de-maestro-ization” of the conductor (classical music’s seemingly obvious analog to the “1%”) is both passionate and timely. Dare’s statements about composers being “real people” who “bleed like the rest of us”, while not exactly new, are well-intended and a breath of fresh air coming from an orchestra administrator. If one squints enough to miss that it was composers such as Wagner and Mahler who were some of the first to impose those evil distraction-free traditions on audiences so the focus might be directed towards the music being performed (which was mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on concert etiquette Dare links to in his piece), his overall zeal for changing the concert-going experience is both visceral and convincing.

The common thread that runs through my earlier anecdotes and Dare’s article is that all three are examples of the effect of filters—namely, a straightforward musical event being filtered through the eyes, ears, and experiences of an individual. There were probably hundreds of people who attended the same concert as Dare and, because of previous concert attendance and their attitude towards the environment, it is quite likely that many would have had a completely opposite reaction.

There has been an explosion of reactions to Dare’s article (which was, of course, one of the points of the article) in the comments section, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, and it is there that one finds the clearest example of these experiential “filters”. What is surprising with the reactions is not that they lean heavily one way or the other, but that there seem to be just as many detractors as there are supporters—for every “Amen” there seems to be a “WTF?” Not only that, but the reactions seem to exist irrespective of background or profession—non-professionals in the article’s comment section fall on both sides, but I’ve also seen examples of performers, composers, and even conductors who have come out strongly both for and against Dare’s article.

I’m sure one could draw comparisons to our current American political climate where our country has been seemingly bifurcated along party lines with neither understanding how the other can have the opposing view on exactly the same person/policy/event/etc. But inasmuch as our own expansive and inclusive artistic community is concerned, this binary “good/bad” knee-jerk reaction is as unwise as it is common.

Concert music has been dealing with its own three-way tug-of-war between those who enjoy music that is experimental, pop-influenced, or traditional in nature for many years now, and many of the arguments are just as surface-based as Dare’s rant against the totalitarian state of the concert hall. After all this time, we still haven’t figured out that there is enough room in our culture for each style, each genre, each musical language to not only stand on its own, but for others to present and interpret the music in new and unique ways. Hopefully, one day, we will realize that we do have our own filters, move on, and enjoy whatever music we wish in the manner of our own choosing.

Size Matters

(isshaku no taki mo oto shite yûsuzumi)

A one-foot waterfall:
It too makes noises
and at night is cool.
—Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), translated by Harold G. Henderson

If you’re looking for it, you’ll find music iconography everywhere; I spotted these valveless trumpets jutting out of the side of the Macy’s building (a holiday display) on North State Street in Chicago on January 4.

I’m back in the office after spending most of last week in Chicago and Minneapolis. It was a whirlwind five days. I was in Chicago for only slightly more than 24 hours, but while I was there—together with Molly Sheridan—we met with several folks involved in the Chicago music scene, and recorded a big talk with Bernard Rands. (Stay tuned.) I managed to carve out ten minutes to wander into my favorite Chicago record store, the Jazz Record Mart where I finally tracked down a 2-LP collection of recordings by the Luis Russell Louisiana Swing Orchestra (for which I had been searching for about a decade) plus some small combo recordings by the late Bob Brookmeyer. Most of my time in Minneapolis was spent participating in the annual Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, for which readers of this site should already be completely in the loop. (If not, go here.)

During these travels it is often difficult to find even a moment to pause and reflect substantively, because there is a constant barrage of information: new people, new music, and new ideas. But there’s one thing from the beginning of the week’s journey that stuck in my mind and has managed to infiltrate my thoughts on just about everything else I experienced after that. After just arriving in Chicago and checking into the Palmer House hotel, I was waiting in the lobby to meet up with Molly who had already arrived there from Baltimore earlier in the day. The Palmer House is a legendary Chicago hotel which has seen better days, but I have an endless fascination with faded glory and it is also now one of the more affordable hotels in downtown Chicago. But once upon a time it was an aristocratic destination that hosted everyone from Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde to American presidents. Its famed ballroom presented performances by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and myriad other icons of popular culture. Photos of famous celebrities who did their time at the Palmer grace the walls of every floor. But perhaps the greatest display of its former significance is the ceiling of the lobby, which boasts a collection of 21 paintings by French muralist Louis Pierre Rigal (1889-1955). In an era when everything is taken for granted, the ceiling still amazes with its unapologetic opulence. It screams grandeur. And if perchance you are not awed sufficiently, a plaque extolling the importance of the ceiling tells you why attention must be paid.

The line that has stuck with me all week is: “Its sheer size alone qualifies it as a masterpiece.” If you give it much thought such a statement seems utterly ridiculous, and yet there’s a strange logic to it, which—ultimately untrue though it may be—permeates the way so many people think about art and success. After all, sheer size is often the only distinguishing difference between the end product from folks who write “great music” as opposed to all that supposedly trivial, inconsequential other stuff. All too often when we attempt to justify what is important about what we do, we play the size game. And I’m well aware that I’m guilty of it, too.

Yet some of the smallest things are what have left the most indelible impressions on me: Bach’s fugues, Satie’s Gymnopédies, the early solos of Eric Dolphy, the stunning miniature paintings of the Mughal Empire (c. 1526 – c. 1857), the two-page chapters of novels by Richard Brautigan, or the haiku of Kobayashi Issa, one of which I quoted at the onset of this essay. In all of these cases, the smallness of the statement is what keeps it focused and makes it unforgettable. Sometimes when something is too big, it leaves a negative impact—too pretentious, too ostentatious, emotionally suffocating. It is why I have never aspired to write music for the orchestra, an ensemble which despite having inspired some truly remarkable music over the centuries has always seemed too overwhelming for my own personal aesthetics.

That said, I was so impressed by all six pieces I heard performed by the Minnesota Orchestra, the culminating event of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute on Friday night. So impressed, in fact, that it is making me reconsider my own personal aversion to the prospect of ever writing for orchestra. And there are few greater joys than coming in out of the freezing cold and sitting in the lobby of the Palmer House, staring up at the ceiling.