Festival of Philadelphia: Celebrating Hometown Composers



The Colorado Quartet

Think Philadelphia. You probably see the Liberty Bell or Benjamin Franklin, but you should also be hearing great music. Alright, now you’re hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra. But what about the music of Crumb, Wolpe, Shapey, and Barber? Though you might not know it, these and many other great 20th-century composers have connections to this historic city as well.

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society is making sure area concertgoers have the chance hear some of this music in its hometown during their six-concert Festival of Philadelphia Composers. From November 5-22, 2002, PCMS (in collaboration with Network for New Music, Orchestra 2001, Settlement Contemporary Players, Musical Fund Society, and Independence Seaport Museum) will present works by Samuel Barber, Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, George Crumb, Ralph Shapey, Stefan Wolpe, Melinda Wagner, Jacob Druckman, Bernard Rands, George Rochberg, Richard Wernick, Stephen Albert, Lukas Foss, Leo Ornstein, Aaron Kernis, and others.


Festival of Philadelphia Composers

Four hundred people showed up at the Independence Seaport Museum’s hall to hear Peter Serkin, Marcantonio Barone, Hyunah Yu, and the Brentano String Quartet last Tuesday. The entire project has PCMS Executive Director Philip Maneval pretty excited. “This is something that [Artistic Director] Anthony Checchia and I have been wanting to do for a few years now,” Maneval explains. Together they developed a list of more than 80 composers with Philly ties and then solicited the opinions of 35 other people working in all areas of the music community to narrow the list down further. Each selected five chamber or recital works of major impact by any of the composers. “We got a fascinating list back,” Maneval says, “and that became a template for what we were going to put on the six concert festival.”

Though the Philly arts scene can sometimes be overshadowed on the national stage by its neighbor New York City, it is its own thriving autonomous community. There certainly has never been a shortage of composers calling Philadelphia home. Maneval points to its very diverse community of artists and schools of composition—Wolpe teaching Druckman and Shapey, Barber and Rorem at Curtis, then the trio of Crumb, Rochberg, and Wernick at the University of Pennsylvania and their many students, including Wagner and Kernis. “So it’s been a pretty thriving new music community down here, perhaps surprisingly so, for many years.”


juilliard quartet
The Juilliard Quartet

Maneval says they also took care to find guest artists equally passionate about this repertoire. That list ended up including the Juilliard, Chicago, Colorado, Miami, and Brentano String Quartets; pianists Marcantonio Barone, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Peter Serkin, and Ignat Solzhenitsyn; singers Martha Elliot, Laura Heimes, Barbara Ann Martin, and Tamara Matthews; and the Phrenic New Ballet. The Presser Foundation and others provided financial support.

Marketing Director Susan Grody says there was funding designated specially for getting the word out on this festival and that her approach was much different from how she handles the normal PCMS season. ” We did a lot of mailing, a lot. We did a lot of advertising, talking with the press, and I’ve been emailing like crazy ever since.”

If the first concert is any indication, the festival is on the right track, but Grody says she won’t be totally calm again until it’s over. “Opening night was very exciting and we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have to hold my breath five more times because we’re just not sure.”

Economics aside, the PCMS also hopes the impact of this festival will echo into the future, possibly with another festival or even an ongoing series presented under the auspices of the society. But even beyond that, Maneval suggests, “part of our mission here in addition to presenting some very exciting and important repertoire to audiences was also hope there will be a broader audience base not only for the new music concerts we present but also for the three collaborating new music organizations and just in general to build the audience for new music—to throw the spotlight on what’s been going on down here.”