Tag: Philadelphia

A Talent for Organization

About 35 years ago, a psychic told me that I had a “talent for organization.”  I looked at her like she was crazy.  Did she not know that I was first and foremost a musician, finishing my coursework for a DMA in piano, with a minor in composition?  I was insulted and appalled, associating “organizational talent” with the corporate world of gray business suits, balance sheets, and indoor 9 to 5 jobs – everything I had rebelled against my entire life.  I could certainly imagine a future job teaching piano at a university, but the idea of any kind of “organizational” occupation gave me hives.

I associated “organizational talent” with the corporate world … everything I had rebelled against my entire life.

But here I am, retiring after 34 years as co-founder and artistic director of the new music group Network for New Music; and, looking back, I have to admit that the experience of putting together (yes, “organizing”) that first proto-Network concert of new music with my musician friends in 1983 was intoxicating and, ultimately, addicting.

Back in 1984, when NNM was incorporated, the venerable Relâche Ensemble was the only non-academic new music group in Philadelphia. In the opinion of Joseph Waters (Network’s co-founder) and myself, there was room for a new game in town.  Joe and I originally ran Network as a membership organization, in order to generate funding through dues (thus the name “Network”).  When Joe left for the West Coast after two years, I dropped the membership format, as it required the programming of many works that were embarrassingly bad in exchange for composers’ membership dues.  As I began programming music by more recognized composers, I realized that the quality of my own, incipient compositional efforts could not compare with other music on Network programs.  At that point I concentrated on becoming the best pianist I could be, while running the organization, finishing my DMA, rehabbing a house in a sketchy section of Philly, and enjoying the early years of motherhood.

Like many startups, Network relied on the generosity and enthusiasm of participating musicians and composers, all of whom were paid peanuts for their work.  Excitement was high, and so were performance standards. What money there was always went first to the musicians.  As Network achieved middle age in the early 2000s, the board and staff realized that support for a strong organizational infrastructure, including union-scale wages for performers, was necessary for NNM to sustain itself over time.  This was a crucial period for Network, and a point at which many young organizations falter and die.  But I am happy to report that NNM continued to grow and prosper.

As NNM matured, artistic and institutional collaborations became more important, both as an opportunity for composers to deepen and expand their work and as a means of attracting wider audiences. Always somewhat of a purist, I originally came to the collaboration table with doubts.  I resisted anything that would interfere with my own, very personal experience of the music.  However, I was soon persuaded that deep, intentional cross-disciplinary collaborations could produce legitimate and meaningful new art.

Deep, intentional cross-disciplinary collaborations could produce legitimate and meaningful new art.

I personally felt a natural affinity for music/dance projects, as both took place in time and dealt with movement, rhythm, and phrasing.  I am proud of Network’s early collaborations with dance groups, including: a partnership with (the then-named) Phrenic Ballet which led to the creation of new choreography for Vincent Persichetti’s King Lear (the original Martha Graham choreography was lost); a full-length concert work, with music by Robert Maggio, choreographed by the Leah Stein Dance Company; Lung-ta, the Windhorse, composed by Andrea Clearfield with dance by Group Motion and art by Maureen Drdak; and various new dances responding to commissions by Lee Hyla, David Ludwig, James Primosch, Chen Yi, and others.

I am equally proud of the many other collaborations Network has fostered across disciplines, including with: the visual arts and artists (Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Print Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art); poets in NNM’s ongoing Poetry Projects (Sonia Sanchez, Stephen Berg, Trapeta Mayson, Frank Sherlock, Beth Brandt, Stephen Dunn and many others); and with composer/video artists Maurice Wright and Gene Coleman.  Many “Aha!” moments experienced by artists and audiences during these projects outweighed the messy challenges inherent in the process of putting them all together.

Also meaningful to Network were in-depth explorations of the works of renowned composers (Bernard Rands, John Harbison, Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter), as well as a three-day festival of electro-acoustic music and whole programs devoted to the music of other countries: Great Britain, Korea, Japan, and Italy.

Linda Reichert, Joan Tower, and Jennifer Higdon seated together on a couch in 1995 (Photo by Don Springer)

Linda Reichert (left), Joan Tower (center), and Jennifer Higdon (right) in 1995 (Photo by Don Springer, courtesy Network for New Music)

Through it all, I have always been something of a connector for myriad ideas about programming, guest artists, venues and collaborations.  I think I was able to consider the (often exceedingly strong) artistic opinions of others—including the views of Network’s excellent advisory board—while also trusting my instincts about curating programs that encompassed a wide variety of styles.  I got a lot of feedback from audience members, through conversations and online surveys, and I did not think I was doing a good job unless listeners exited a concert loving some works and really disliking others.

I did not think I was doing a good job unless listeners exited a concert loving some works and really disliking others.

Network for New Music has played a big part in the integration of new music into the broader cultural community in the Philadelphia region.  NNM began championing new music and composers at a time when this music was segregated from the rest of the classical concert- music world, and associated almost entirely with the academy.   Network helped to coax this music out of the silos and into the mainstream.  Nowadays, new music can no longer be called “classical”, and it can be heard online and in every corner of the community – from libraries, subway stations, and firehouses to outdoor parks and public squares.  Composers are brilliantly promoting their own music (and they care if you listen) and often performing it as well.  Younger composers and musicians naturally breathe the air of collaboration and connection, and new ensembles are springing up everywhere, with impressive levels of performance.  My hope is that many of these fine groups can make it through the “middle age” period, and mature into sustainable organizational models that can provide their players with stable living wages.

My own tastes have evolved to be broader and broader over time. If a work has “a voice” and achieves, on a high level, what it sets out to do within the context it creates for itself, I am all for it, whether it moves me or not.  The only music I cannot bear is music that bores me, which is usually the result of some form of brain-numbing predictability.  I am so viscerally irritated by boring music that I sometimes start audibly muttering to myself in the concert hall.

I am so viscerally irritated by boring music that I sometimes start audibly muttering to myself in the concert hall.

So, what remains of an organization after a co-founder/artistic director leaves a group she directed for 33 years?  (Jan Krzywicki, the wonderful Network Ensemble conductor, tells me I might be the longest continually-serving new music A.D. in the country; it would be interesting to know if this is a fact.)  The organization either gracefully closes up shop, or a transition takes place.  After a deep and valuable discussion, which forced us to even more clearly define and articulate the relevance, purpose, and viability of our mission, Network board and staff decided the organization should continue forward under new artistic leadership.

Here are some of the reasons for our decision to carry on:

  1. The musicians in the Network Ensemble are the Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus, and can’t be matched for their virtuosity and commitment to excellence;
  2. The Network Board of Directors comprises some of the finest and most dedicated arts professionals in this city or anywhere;
  3. NNM’s small-but-mighty staff is smart, hard-working and highly effective;
  4. Network’s roots within the cultural community go deep and wide.

In sum, Network’s core values and reputation for organizational and artistic excellence guarantees it will survive and prosper well after the exit of its current artistic leader.

And so, we began a thorough, two-year succession process.

I look forward with great excitement and interest to the new directions and vision Thomas Schuttenhelm, NNM’s soon-to-be artistic director, will bring to the organization and to the Philadelphia community.   Thomas – a fine performer, composer, author and educator from Hartford, Connecticut—is thrilled to be joining the Network team; he and I will work together for several months to ensure a smooth transition.  After that, I look forward to having time to again explore and play dead composers’ music (Bach and Beethoven), volunteer for a yet-to-be-identified environmental organization, learn Italian, and continue my work toward achieving a handstand, independent of a wall.

At the end of my Network tenure, I am already feeling the loss of the inspirational relationships I have so enjoyed with Network musicians, composers, board, and staff.  But I am also filled with pure gratitude for the huge opportunities I have had to work with these fine human beings, especially those amazing composers, who somehow fashion beauty out of thin air, translate it into markings on a page, and trust that musicians like those in the Network Ensemble will bring this music to life, moving hearts and minds in the process.

An outdoor photo of the 30 composers that NNM commissioned for its 30th Anniversary in 2014 (photo by Annie Sarachan)

The 30 composers that Network for New Music commissioned for its 30th Anniversary in 2014 (photo by Annie Sarachan, courtesy Network for New Music).

[Ed. Note: Sunday, April 29, 2018 at 1:30pm, Network for New Music will honor Linda Reichert with a catered benefit concert at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia that will feature world premieres by Andrea Clearfield, John Harbison, Jennifer Higdon, James Primosch, Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas, Melinda Wagner, Richard Wernick, and Maurice Wright as well as a reprise performance of an earlier Network premiere by Michael Hersch, and a performance of a work by Gareth Haynes, the winner of the Network Student Composition Competition. Since capacity is reached, ticket sales will end on April 27 and there will be no tickets at the door.—FJO.]


2016 Pew Arts Grants Announced

Pew 2016 Grants

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage has announced their 2016 grants in support of the Philadelphia region’s cultural organizations and artists. Fifty three grants totaling more than $10 million will provide funding for twelve new Pew Fellowships for individual artists working in a variety of disciplines; thirty six Project grants for the presentation of exceptional cultural programs offered to a wide range of audiences; and five Advancement grants to support bold organizational initiatives led by exemplary arts and culture organizations.

Grants awarded to those working in the area of new American music include:

2016 Pew Fellows

Andrea Clearfield
Christopher Colucci
Matthew Levy
Jymie Merritt

2016 Pew Project Grants

That Which Is Fundamental

The Anchoress

Composing the Tinnitus Suites: 2016

Philadelphia Real Book Concerts – New Music in Jazz and Blues

Breath Beneath

Symphony for a Broken Orchestra

2016 Pew Advancement Grant


(–From the press release. Read the full announcement here.)

Opera Philadelphia Names Rene Orth 6th Composer in Residence

Rene Orth

Opera Philadelphia, in collaboration with Music-Theatre Group in New York, has announced that composer Rene Orth has been selected as its sixth composer in residence. Funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the position combines an individualized plan of study with a living stipend and health benefits.

Orth’s appointment began on June 1, 2016. She joins composers in residence David T. Little, who was appointed in June 2014, and David Hertzberg, who was appointed in June 2015. Composers Missy Mazzoli, Lembit Beecher, and Andrew Norman have all completed their residencies with Opera Philadelphia.

Originally from Dallas, Orth recently completed her studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she held the Edward B. Garrigues Fellowship and studied with David Ludwig, Jennifer Higdon, and Richard Danielpour. Her chamber opera Empty the House, with a libretto by Mark Campbell, received its world premiere with Curtis Opera Theatre in a sold-out run in January 2016. The piece was also selected to be a part of Fort Worth Opera’s FRONTIERS showcase in May 2016.

Orth is a recipient of a 2016 OPERA America Discovery Grant for Female Composers, which will help provide funding for the development of Machine, a new chamber opera with librettist Jason Kim. In 2014, Washington National Opera commissioned Orth for a chamber opera, An American Man. With a libretto by Jason Kim, the work premiered at the Kennedy Center as part of WNO’s American Opera Initiative.

(–From the press release. Read the full announcement here.)

David T. Little Named 4th Composer in Residence at Opera Philadelphia

David T. Little

David T. Little (Photo by Merri Cyr, courtesy DotDotDotMusic)

Opera Philadelphia, in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group in New York, has announced that composer David T. Little has been selected as its fourth composer in residence. Funded by a $1.7 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program fosters new American opera through personalized creative development and intensive, hands-on composition opportunities. The composer in residence position combines its individualized plan of study with a living stipend and health benefits. Little was chosen from among more than 100 applicants for the position and now has the opportunity to follow a personalized development track focused on the advancement of his skills as an operatic composer. Little will begin his appointment on June 1, 2014. He joins composers in residence Missy Mazzoli (who was appointed in September 2012), Andrew Norman (appointed in September 2013), and Lembit Beecher (who was the first composer appointed to the program in September 2011).

“I stumbled backwards into opera,” said Little. “I have learned almost entirely by doing, writing pieces like Dog Days, Soldier Songs, and Vinkensport by following my instincts. These projects excited me to explore the vast potentials of opera in the 21st century.  I am looking forward to working with and within these three terrific companies to explore all that opera can be.
“David T. Little is a true 21st century composer with a unique voice. We were immediately taken with his musical insight, melodic textures, and unorthodox operatic structure,” said David B. Devan, general director and president of Opera Philadelphia.
Diane Wondisford, producing director of Music-Theatre Group, added,  “David T. Little’s writing for the music theatre already demands and ultimately commands our attention. I am very excited to accompany him on this three-year journey in the opera world.”

Little recently completed two songs from Artaud in the Black Lodge (a theatre work in progress for tenor and chamber ensemble, commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects) for the 21C Liederabend at BAM. A new production of Soldier Songs with film by Bill Morrison premieres this weekend in Washington, D.C., and will make its international debut on the Holland Festival next month. He is currently working on a new opera about the last day of John F. Kennedy’s life, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, commissioned by the Fort Worth Opera and American Lyric Theater to premiere in 2016. He was mostly recently awarded a commission from The Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater as part of their new works program.

More about the 4 Opera Philadelphia Composers in Residence on NewMusicBox:

  • Click here to watch a April 2011 NewMusicBox feature with David T. Little.
  • Click here to watch a September 2012 Spotlight feature with Lembit Beecher.
  • Click here to watch and read a February 2014 Cover feature with Andrew Norman.
  • Click here for links to all of Missy Mazzoli‘s writings for NewMusicBox.

The other three composers in residence will also continue their creative development this season with Opera Philadelphia, Gotham Chamber Opera, and Music-Theatre Group. Beecher, whose work I Have No Stories to Tell You received its world premiere in February with Gotham Chamber Opera, is working on a studio recording of the opera and returns to Philadelphia in May for a final workshop with Pig Iron Theatre for an opera he is writing about characters with Alzheimer’s disease.

Norman will be back in residency in Philadelphia from May 18-June 8, during which he is observing a workshop for Daniel Schnyder’s new opera Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD and rehearsals for the East Coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt with Opera Philadelphia and the U.S. Premiere of The Raven by Toshio Hosokawa with Gotham Chamber Opera. He is also taking voice lessons and meeting with composer Jennifer Higdon and librettist Mark Campbell.

Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek are currently writing a chamber opera based on the Lars von Trier’s Oscar-nominated 1996 film Breaking the Waves. They are working with director Stephanie Havey, soprano Ashley Milanese, baritone Sean Michael Plumb, and conductor Teddy Poll on two scenes scheduled to be performed in June during the New Works Sampler at the annual Opera America conference. Mazzoli and Vavrek will also be traveling to Scotland this summer to continue their research and writing of Breaking the Waves.

(—from the press release)