by Michael Klinger
The Newest Music: Highlights from SYMPHONY's online Premieres list for the 2003-04 season.
Each summer, SYMPHONY compiles a list of world, U.S., and Canadian premieres
scheduled for the upcoming season. The particular orchestras and composers
change a little from year to year, but the number of premieres tends to hover
around the mid-200s mark. It's not a qualitative measurement by any means, and
it's always possible that there are more premieres that we don't hear of. As an
anecdotal gauge, however, the premieres list shows clearly enough that the
orchestral field is unwavering in presenting new works alongside more
traditional fare. This year, some 100 orchestras reported with (the usual)
200-plus national and world premieres. Some celebrate occasions; others
represent the culmination of innovative projects. The complete list is available
Composing for full orchestra is not necessarily more difficult than for small
ensemble, but getting those works performed can be more of a challenge. It takes
organization, ambition, and vision to see a new orchestral work safely to its
premiere (not to mention the well-documented problem of a second performance,
and then a third). It also takes money, and in the current economic climate,
finding money for a project that already needs all that ambition and vision
isn't exactly the simplest of tasks.
Not for this reason alone, a five-year planned partnership
between Meet The Composer, three Bay Area orchestras, and one visionary
benefactor merits attention, praise, and--Meet The Composer hopes--imitation.
Funder Kathryn Gould's involvement in this extensive "Magnum Opus" commissioning
project brings her joint enthusiasms for performance (she's an amateur
violinist) and new music together with her business sense as a venture
capitalist. ("I like to make things happen," she says.)
Gould's interests dovetailed perfectly with New Music, New Donors, a Meet The
Composer initiative designed to seek "direct, proactive, and personal ways" for
individuals to commission new works. An enthusiastic attendee at concerts
featuring new music, Gould was as involved as Meet The Composer President
Heather Hitchens and each of the orchestras' music directors in choosing
composers from among the more than 100 applicants. Over the course of five
seasons, nine works will be given their world premieres, three of them this
season. All three orchestras--Oakland East Bay Symphony, Santa Rosa Symphony,
and Marin Symphony--will perform each of the pieces, making for a total of 27
performances of the commissioned works; participating composers are assured of
that too-often-denied second or third performance. For the 2003-04 season, Bay
Area listeners will get to hear new works by Ingram Marshall, Kenji Bunch and
Kevin Puts, and eventually, they'll get to compare three different orchestras'
performances of the commissioned pieces.
"Magnum Opus" is not the only recent example of a patron's significant
commitment to new music. Many orchestras have equally notable relationships with
patrons of new music. The National Symphony Orchestra, for example, continues
its long-running commitment through the John and June Hechinger Commissioning
Fund for New Orchestral Works. The objective of the fund is both to create new
works for orchestra and to nurture American composers. NSO Music Director
Leonard Slatkin notes that the Hechinger Fund has, over its 20 years, "made more
than 50 orchestral works possible." This year five short works have been
commissioned, and like last year, will be programmed as "surprise" encores. The
works--by Daron Hagen, John Sichel, Steven Stucky, David Teie, and Leonard
Slatkin--will complement five programs, and the NSO will continue to perfect its
practice of the "stealth" premiere.
This season sees the first two Philadelphia Orchestra premieres to come
through a grant from the Philadelphia Music Project. Funded by The Pew
Charitable Trusts and administered by Settlement Music School, the project has
awarded a two-year grant of more than $160,000 to fund a total of four
commissions. This year, a new work by Gerald Levinson will begin the first
subscription program of the season, simultaneously marking the beginning of
Christoph Eschenbach's tenure as music director. Later in the season, Ned
Rorem's Flute Concerto will be brought to life with the help of Philadelphia
Orchestra Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner.
As always, arrivals, farewells, birthdays,
anniversaries--and, in one case, the bicentennial of a pretty significant
mapping expedition--will also be marked with orchestral premieres. Six
Centennial Commissions, from six prominent American composers, will herald the
beginning of the Seattle Symphony's second century this season. Samuel Jones,
Daniel Brewbaker, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, David Stock, and John Harbison have
each been tapped to provide a celebratory score for Seattle.
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 75th anniversary this season
and, through its Diamond Jubilee Commissioning Project, will present nine world
premieres. The orchestra has commissioned Enrique Arturo Diemecke, William
McGlaughlin, Daniel Asia, Dan Coleman, Stephen Paulus, Michael Abels, Sarah
Maggie Polk, Roberto Sierra, and Kenneth LaFave to commemorate the major
Commissioned fanfares this season will herald the arrival in Portland of
Carlos Kalmar as music director of the Oregon Symphony, while also marking the
200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For its season-long
celebration the orchestra turned to three Oregon composers: Robert Kyr, David
Schiff, and Kevin Walczyk. The three-minute pieces will be performed on three
separate programs over the course of the season.
The Minnesota Orchestra celebrates the 80th birthday of Stanislaw
Skrowaczewski, who served as music director from 1960 to 1979 and is now
conductor laureate. Skrowaczewski will conduct the orchestra in his own Fifth
Symphony on October 2. Another Minnesota Orchestra resource, Principal Trumpet
Manuel Laureano, is on call to perform the world premiere of Stephen Paulus's
Concerto for Two Trumpets and Orchestra along with trumpeter (and Principal Pops
Conductor) Doc Severinsen on November 13. Across the river, the Saint Paul
Chamber Orchestra says farewell to Principal Cellist Peter Howard this year,
after 29 seasons with the ensemble; in March, Howard will give composer Paul
Schoenfield's Cello Concerto its premiere.
Orchestras frequently draw from their own ranks in looking for highly skilled
soloists; this season The Nashville Symphony called on one of its most
distinguished alumni. It commissioned former Nashville Symphony bass player
Edgar Meyer, and his frequent collaborator, virtuoso banjo player Béla Fleck, to
compose the Concerto for Double Bass and Banjo. The work, scheduled for a
November 7 premiere, could be a happy nod from the orchestra's European
tradition to its home in Music City.
Movie fans in Baltimore will get a chance to hear their hometown orchestra
perform the world premiere of John Corigliano's Concerto for Violin and
Orchestra, "The Red Violin." The Baltimore Symphony joined the Atlanta Symphony
Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Ballet Association in
commissioning the work, and will offer the premiere on its season-opening
program September 19. Joshua Bell, whose offstage virtuosity can be heard in the
film, is the featured soloist.
SYMPHONY's annual premieres list is a valuable resource for any new-music
lover looking for a good concert, and a useful tool in countering the anecdotal
notion that new music isn't being performed anywhere, by anyone. To get a quick
handle on the state of new orchestral music in the U.S. and Canada, visit
www.symphony.org and take a look at some of what's on offer in halls from coast
to coast this season.
Michael Klinger is associate editor of SYMPHONY and webmaster for the
American Symphony Orchestra League.