Christopher Stark Receives 2010 Underwood Commission

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Christopher Stark

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) has announced that composer Christopher Stark has been named the winner of ACO’s 2010 Underwood Commission of $15,000 for a work to be premiered by ACO in a future season. Stark won the commission with his work Ignatian Exercises which was chosen from seven finalists during ACO’s 19th annual Underwood New Music Readings on May 21 and 22, 2010. In addition, this year, for the first time audience members at the New Music Readings had a chance to make their voices heard through a new Audience Choice Award. On both May 21 and 22, audience members voted for their favorite pieces. The winner of the Audience Choice Award was composer Ricardo Romaneiro, for his piece Sombras. As the winner, Romaneiro was commissioned to compose an original mobile phone ringtone, available to everyone who voted, free of charge.

Born in 1980, Christopher Stark spent his formative years in rural western Montana. His music is deeply rooted in the American West, always seeking to capture the expansive energy of Montana’s quintessential American landscape. In addition to ACO, he has worked with ensembles such as Brave New Works, the Momenta Quartet, the Israeli Chamber Project, Janus Trio, NeXT Ensemble, the Tipping Point Saxophone Quartet, and Juventas. The Underwood Commission is Stark’s first from a professional orchestra.

“We had seven incredible composers whose music was both challenging and entertaining at this year’s Readings,” said ACO Music Director George Manahan. “I’m so glad that Christopher Stark is the winner of the Underwood Commission. I found his music to have a strong individual sound, and his musical profile comes out in every measure.” Derek Bermel, ACO’s Creative Advisor, and a mentor composer during the Underwood Readings added that Stark’s music, “bubbles and seethes with kinetic energy.”

Stark is currently a doctoral student in composition at Cornell University, studying with Roberto Sierra and Steven Stucky. He previously studied at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Cincinnati Conservatory, and the University of Montana. At these institutions and abroad in Vienna, he studied with Samuel Adler, Michael Fiday, Joel Hoffman, David Maslanka, Charles Nichols, Wolfram Wagner, and Patrick Williams.

Upon winning the commission, Stark commented, “I am incredibly humbled and honored to receive this year’s Underwood commission. I am from a very small town in Montana, and I never thought I’d participate in the ACO readings let alone receive the commission. I almost fainted when I found out, and I still feel as if I am dreaming.”

The 19th annual Underwood New Music Readings were held at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre on May 21 and 22, 2010, under the direction of ACO’s Artistic Director, composer Robert Beaser. Mentor composers included ACO’s Creative Advisor Derek Bermel and George Tsontakis. The Readings were conducted by ACO’s Music Director Designate George Manahan and guest conductor José Serebrier. This year’s New Music Readings attracted 150 submissions from emerging composers around the country. In addition to Christopher Stark and Ricardo Romaneiro, the participants were: Matti Kovler, Hannah Lash, Eric Lindsay, Tamar Muskal, and Xi Wang.

(—condensed from the press release)