How American Are American Orchestras?

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has much to recommend it on the whole. With its home in the Meyerson Symphony Center, a hall which opened in 1989 and which is considered to have world-class acoustics, a vibrant music director in Andrew Litton and excellent staff musicians. But in the realm of commissions, the DSO has underachieved significantly. Since 1970, the orchestra has commissioned only 19 works by only 12 different composers.

Orchestra spokesperson Libby Tilley explained that the dearth of commissions, especially in the ’70s when the DSO funded only three new works, was primarily due to the high cost of commissions. “During the early ’70s the DSO closed its doors due to financial duress,” she said, adding that, “The ’80s and ’90s were a period of recovery.”

Key to the commissioning legacy of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is an X factor: Roberto X. Rodriguez. Five of the 19 commissions have been penned by Rodriguez, who served as composer-in-residence with the DSO from 1982 to 1985 as part of the Meet The Composer/ Orchestra Residency program. Rodriguez’s “The Salutation Rag” and “Favola Boccaccesca” were composed before the residency. “Trunks” and “Oktoechos” were composed during his tenure with the DSO.

So the orchestra realized the full potential of a composer-in-residence, but it has generally a poor record in commissioning works, American or otherwise. Since that subject’s been breached: For the record, 9 out of the 12 commissioned are U.S. composers (Adler, Rodriguez, Lees, Laderman, Brant, Hamlisch, Caltabiano, Schwantner and Liebermann).

From How American Are American Orchestras?
by Andrew J. Druckenbrod
© 1999 NewMusicBox

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