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California Symphony's support for American composers runs deep

The East Bay based California Symphony just announced its 2014-2017 Young American Composer in Residence program, open to all American composers under 40. YACR is a pretty remarkable initiative that remains somewhat under the radar, especially given the the press that similar programs receive. Some of the notable features include multiple commissions, paid travel and copyist expenses, and recorded rehearsals of in-progress works.

The California Symphony, founded in 1986, has a well-established history of promoting young composers, something newly minted Music Director Donato Cabrera plans on continuing. "I certainly want to continue the tradition of performing works by living American composers," Cabrera said in a recent interview with San Francisco Classical Voice. "Aside from the California Symphony’s tradition of promoting composers who have become well-known — Chris Theofanidis, Mason Bates — there are many composers I went to school with who have gone on to major careers — Nico Muhly, for example. The California Symphony has a great openness to living composers, and I want to celebrate that."

One of the things that sets this residency apart is that because of its extened length, composers and players have the opportunity to really get to know one another as they work together from season to season. At a recent rehearsal several orchestra members greeted and chatted with current composer in residence D. J. Sparr prior to reading through the first section of his new work Dreams of the Old Believers. Sparr is in the third and final year of his residency but his first encounter with YACR was back in 1997 when his college roommate Kevin Puts was in the program. “I saw what a great opportunity it was to be able to work with the orchestra in the reading sessions, where you really get a chance to fine-tune your craft and ideas so that in the future your works can go into intense rehearsals and come off with as much polish as possible.

 

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Blow it up, start again

I stole the title of this post from composer  Jonathan Newman. It's the name of a swaggering barn-burner of a piece with a great, one-sentence program note.

If the system isn't working anymore, then do what Guy Fawkes tried and go anarchist: Blow it all up, and start again.

That title was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this opinion piece in the Star-Tribune. In it arts consultant Lawrence Perelman lays out a drastic and brilliant course of action for the Minnesota Orchestra musicians.

Follow Maestro Vänskä’s lead and resign from the Minnesota Orchestra Association. Immediately announce the creation of the Minnesota Symphony, a self-governing orchestra modeled on the Vienna Philharmonic. Find a charitable organization to give temporary use of its tax status (while you establish a new nonprofit) so you can receive donations from foundations and corporations and from your audience. Govern yourselves, and assign responsibilities to yourselves. Make history by setting an example for other orchestras to follow, and end the labor-management paradigm that leads to these kinds of disputes.

Now there's a thought. Maybe some of the orchestra's younger members took one of those entrepreneurship classes in conservatory that everyone's talking about now!