Composers/Conductors Face the Orchestra in LA



Synergy Composers Carrillo-Cotto, Burke, Sekiya, and Bates

For composers looking to have their works performed by an orchestra, they might do well to turn to their peers in the conducting field rather than an older and established maestro. That, at least, is the premise behind the newly developed Synergy: Composer and Conductor program at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Four composers and four conductors have been selected to participate in the first five-day intensive workshop this September on the University of Southern California campus.

The program was first conceived of by composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL). The dually-talented Salonen acknowledges that he first turned to conducting in order to hear his own work performed. That formative experience demonstrated to him the need to foster relationships between young conductors and composers so that both could have the opportunity to develop artistically and professionally.

Synergy is produced in collaboration with the ASOL, American Music Center (AMC), and the University of Southern California Flora L. Thornton School of Music. The League and AMC organized independent panels of music professionals to screen the applications. The pool of 161 received composer applications was reviewed by Steven Stucky (chair), Samuel Adler, Chen Yi, David Lang, Tania León, and Chris Theofanidis. All final participant decisions, however, were made by Salonen personally. Successful candidates had at the very least completed their undergraduate work and were in the early stages of their professional careers with some orchestral experience.

Composers Mason Bates (Oakland, CA); Steven Burke (New York, NY); Carlos Carrillo-Cotto (Chestnut Ridge, NY); and Naomi Sekiya (Los Angeles, CA) were selected along with conductors James Gaffigan (Houston, TX), Sarah Ioannides (New York, NY), Scott O’Neil (Salt Lake City, UT), and Alastair Willis (Seattle, WA).

During the workshops, each of the four conductors will rehearse and perform an existing work by one of the four composers with an orchestra comprised of musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the USC Thornton Symphony. The faculty for the workshops includes Philharmonic Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen; Philharmonic Associate Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya; Philharmonic Consulting Composer for New Music Steven Stucky; and selected Philharmonic musicians and staff. In addition, staff from the partner groups will lead a professional development curriculum. The week culminates with a live concert performance showcasing the participants’ work.

Carrillo-Cotto concedes that having the chance to work with Salonen and a major American orchestra is an opportunity no young composer would want to miss. Likely echoing the sentiments of many up-and-coming composers, he explains, “Some concert experiences are not as positive as they should be due to the lack of interest in the music by young composers. This workshop was created with the intent of improving that connection between the conductor, the composers, and the orchestra which is in itself a lofty goal.

Sekiya says she too is looking forward to the unique interactive aspects of the program and what will for her be a first chance to work closely with a conductor in an orchestral performance situation free of traditional rehearsal time constraints. Collaboration with a peer conductor may also open up new ways of approaching the music. “It will be lots of fun. I believe in the strength of youth is its vitality,” she says. “We can come up with fresh ideas that more mature and established performers might never think of.”

Though a little nervous about the plane ride to LA, once Burke has his feet firmly on the tarmac he expects nothing but an enjoyable and inspiring experience. “There are very few opportunities for a young composer out of school to hear large works for orchestra. I believe all composers dream of such things, especially to work with a young conductor and hopefully form a working relationship that continues throughout our careers. I can’t think of a composer who doesn’t fantasize about a conductor who will champion his music. Everything about it is exciting!”

A former student of Stucky’s and a fan of Salonen’s work, Burke says he’s honored to have been selected and expects the experience will be a valuable precursor to upcoming professional interactions. “The timing of Synergy is perfect. I have a premiere by the National Symphony in October—they commissioned an “Encore” from me—and this will be a great preparation for that event.”

Despite Salonen’s example, neither Burke nor Sekiya expect to find themselves on the podium anytime soon. Sekiya candidly admits, “Unfortunately, I do not have any talent for conducting. I am happy just composing music although I would imagine it would be a satisfying accomplishment at some future date if I could conduct my own orchestral work.” Burke echoes those same sentiments. “I must admit that I have secret fantasies about conducting, but it is something I don’t think I can do. It is like someone who sings in the shower: some things are best left to private moments.”

(Composer biographies courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic)

Composer MASON BATES is a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, having received his B.A. and M.M. from Columbia College and The Juilliard School in New York. He has been a Fellow in Composition at the Tanglewood Music Center and Aspen Music Festival, where he was awarded the Jacob Druckman Prize for his Free Variations for Orchestra. Bates received both a scholarship and fellowship at the Academy of Arts and Letters and has received commissions for works by the Koussevitzky Foundation, Young Concert Artists, and the Phoenix Symphony.

STEVEN BURKE, of New York, NY, has received numerous honors for his compositions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Yale University, and Cornell, and was awarded the first White Flowers Residency from Yaddo. His music has been performed by the Seattle Symphony and Ensemble X. Upcoming performances include works with the Albany Symphony, St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, Rascher Saxophone Quartet, and the National Symphony Orchestra. Burke is on the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College.

Composer CARLOS CARRILLO-COTTO is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his training at the Eastman School of Music and Yale University and last year was awarded the American Composers Orchestra Composer Fellowship. Carrillo-Cotto has received commissions from the Concert Artists Guild, Music at the Anthology, the New York Youth Symphony, and the Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association, and has earned honors from ASCAP, BMI, and the Academy of Arts and Letters. He resides in Chestnut Ridge, NY.

Los Angeles native NAOMI SEKIYA is a doctorate student at USC, having received her MM there, and a BM and MA at UCLA. Sekiya has been awarded prizes at the Witold Lutoslawski, Dmitri Mitropoulos, and Michele Pittaluga International Competitions, and was honored at the Ojai Music Festival Award in 2000. Her works have been performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Women’s Philharmonic, and the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, among others.