How American Are American Orchestras?

The Manhattan School of Music and the Etowah Youth Orchestras are two non-professional orchestras that have outstanding records for supporting composers through commissions.

The Etowah Youth Orchestra was founded in 1991. It is based in Etowah County in Alabama and currently is directed by Michael Gagliardo. Since its recent inception, the organization has won four consecutive ASCAP awards for programming new music, including first place this year. The competition is 183 youth orchestra programs nationwide, though not all of them include commissioning as part of their mission. Nonetheless, it is a commendable record, based on the commissioning of ten new works in only four years (the orchestra did not beginning commissioning until the 1995-6 season.

The orchestra is also participating in the American Composers Forum’s “Continental Harmony” project, representing the state of Alabama. The program, with funding by the National Endowment for the Arts, involves the commissioning of a single work for the millennium (50 total will be commissioned across the nation).

The Manhattan School of Music (MSM), with three student orchestras, has snatched many honors, as well. Seven of the last eight years the MSM has landed an ASCAP award for adventurous programming of contemporary music in the category of collegiate orchestras, including this year’s first-place finish.

For the school’s 75th anniversary (1994), it commissioned each of its composition faculty members to compose a fanfare five minutes in length. On the faculty are eminent composers such as Richard Danielpour, Aaron Jay Kernis and others. MSM also commissioned “Manhattan Concerto” by Siegfried Matthus, which was conducted by New York Philharmonic Music Director Kurt Masur. Finally, MSM commissioned Kenneth Fuchs’ “Where Have You Been? (String Quartet No. 2 after Five Collages by Robert Motherwell),” premiered by the American String Quartet, artists-in-residence at the school.

In fall of 1999, a new group for contemporary music will be founded at the school: the Claremont Ensemble. Its music directors will be Danielpour and Glen Barton Cortese. For the Claremont Ensemble’s first season, MSM will commission a new work for the group known as the Claremont Prize. All composition students at MSM are eligible to compete for the prize, which includes the performance of the winning piece by the ensemble at its final concert of the season.

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