George Manahan to Lead American Composers Orchestra

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George Manahan
Photo by Richard Bowditch, courtesy Christina Jensen PR, LLC

George Manahan has been named Music Director of the American Composers Orchestra, the third since the orchestra’s inception 1977, following founding conductor Dennis Russell Davis and Steven Sloane. Manahan has already begun working closely ACO’s composer leadership—artistic director Robert Beaser and creative advisor Derek Bermel—in shaping ACO’s 2010-11 season during which he will lead all three of ACO’s concerts presented by Carnegie Hall in Zankel Hall. These concerts will continue the orchestra’s focus on emerging and mid-career American composers, combined with works by seminal composers such as Charles Ives, Jacob Druckman, and John Luther Adams. The season will also see the continuation of ACO’s Playing it UNSafe program, a professional laboratory for the creation of cutting-edge new orchestral music; as well as the world premiere of the second work commissioned as part of ACO’s innovative partnership with luxury goods company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The new orchestral work will reflect on the theme of “A Greener New York City,” emphasizing the connection between new music and the issues of today. At the end of the current season, Manahan will also conduct ACO’s Underwood New Music Readings on May 21 and 22, 2010.

“I am extremely happy to be the next music director of the American Composers Orchestra and to make music with an orchestra that has such a long tradition as advocates and trailblazers for 20th and 21st century composers,” says Manahan. “To give voice to rarely heard music and emerging composers is a privilege, and I look forward to finding ways to explore America’s vast repertoire and engaging our audiences in that excitement of discovery.”

The Atlanta-born conductor, who has served as the music director of New York City Opera for the past twelve seasons and will also continue in that role, has had a wide variety of musical experiences from his early days playing keyboard and singing backing vocals in a rock band to traversing opera as well as orchestral repertoire spanning centuries. The music of contemporary composers has held a central role in his activities. In February 2009 Manahan led the ACO in a concert of world premieres featuring works by Margaret Brouwer, Fang Man, and Rand Steiger. At City Opera, he led performances of numerous contemporary American works, most recently Hugo Weisgall’s Esther, as well as The Mother of Us All (the second of Virgil Thomson’s collaborations with Gertrude Stein), Mark Adamo’s Little Women, Charles Wuorinen’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Jack Beeson’s Lizzie Borden, in a production that was broadcast on national television. In addition, he has frequently led performances of new works presented during NYCO’s annual VOX showcases, which he spearheaded during his tenure there. Elsewhere he led world premieres of operas by David Lang, Tobias Picker, Hans Werner Henze, Judith Weir, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Wolfgang Rihm, as well as the sold-out world premiere performance of Laura Karpman’s Ask Your Mama! featuring Jessye Norman and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall, and the American premiere of Schoenberg’s one-act opera Von heute auf morgen with the Santa Fe Opera. On CD, he has conducted Edward Thomas’s opera Desire Under the Elms for Naxos American Classics as well as the world premiere recording of Steve Reich’s Tehillim on ECM, works by Somei Satoh for New Albion, and an album of orchestral compositions by British new wave singer/songwriter Joe Jackson. (—Condensed from various press releases)