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 online.

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.

Musical Landmarks
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 milestone.

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 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.