Americana Arcana: What is the Most-Performed American Classical Music?

Strangely enough, Chamber Music America doesn’t provide surveys comparable to those of the American Symphony Orchestra League or OPERA America, but performing-rights societies ASCAP and BMI will offer some indication of their composers who have gained significant activity in the recital and chamber field. BMI lists Steve Reich, Walter Piston, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, John Harbison, Joseph Schwantner, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and Bruce Adolphe. ASCAP lists George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, John Corigliano, Ned Rorem, Peter Schickele, John Cage, André Previn, Philip Glass, Eric Ewazen, and in art song repertoire — Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Stephen Sondheim, and Irving Berlin.

From the vantage point of a very busy chamber musician, New York-based cellist Fred Sherry offers a list of the most-performed American composers from his 70 or so chamber gigs per year. Among those he plays most often are Charles Wuorinen, Milton Babbitt ("his chamber music gets played far more than anyone gives him credit for"), and Elliott Carter; as a from-the-hip addendum of other popular Americans on the chamber circuit, he lists George Crumb, Ned Rorem, and William Bolcom, with Joan Tower, Stephen Hartke, and Steve Mackey as up-and-comers.

As part of the regular 2000/2001 season of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the following American composers have works being performed: Chamber Music Society members Bruce Adolphe and Edgar Meyer, with multiple pieces; Aaron Copland, with an all-Copland concert; as well as David Diamond, Charles Wuorinen, Steve Mackey, Michael Daugherty, Matthew Lima, David Ludwig, Bruce Taub, Arthur Levering, John Halle, Randall Woolf, Jennifer Higdon, and Lisa Bielawa. As part of the all-American "Great Day in New York" festival (curated by Fred Sherry), these native — or at least New York-area-residing — composers will be featured: Peter Schickele, Oliver Lake, Philip Glass, Tan Dun, Tania Léon, Lukas Foss, Richard Rodney Bennett, Sebastian Currier, David Del Tredici, Derek Bermel, Ned Rorem, Fred Ho, Milton Babbitt, Meredith Monk, Anthony Davis, Aaron Jay Kernis, Paquito D’Rivera, Steve Reich, Michael Hersch, David Lang, Charles Wuorinen, Jerome Kitzke, Joan Tower, John Zorn, David Schiff, Wynton Marsalis, John Corigliano, Barbara Kolb, John Duffy, Nathan Currier, Scott Johnson, Ezra Laderman, Ellen Taafe Zwilich, Elliott Carter, Fred Lerdahl, George Perle, Martin Bresnick, Michael Torke, Chen Yi, Tobias Picker, Paul Lansky, Bruce Adolphe, Stephen Sondheim, Mario Davidovsky, Zhou Long, Gunther Schuller, Richard Danielpour, Melinda Wagner, Louis Karchin, Ezequiel Viñao, and Carman Moore.

On both coasts, the majority of new chamber works get their performances thanks to ensembles devoted exclusively to such compositions, with many of the groups led by composers themselves. Ensembles ranging from Bang On A Can in New York and Dinosaur Annex in Boston to the California EAR Unit in Los Angeles regularly keep audiences apprised of new music–including much domestic product–in America’s major cities.

As an indication of what’s going on in America’s hinterlands, the Friends of Chamber Music in Kansas City only has a few native pieces featured in its 18-concert season, but they include a special commission for the group’s 25th anniversary this year — Richard Danielpour’s String Quartet, performed by the American String Quartet. The other American works on offer are Danielpour’s A Child’s Reliquary played by the Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio and Copland’s brief Lento from the Emerson String Quartet.

Americana Arcana: What is the Most-Performed American Classical Music?
By Bradley Bambarger
© 2000 NewMusicBox

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