Sometimes when awards are announced, it’s easy to be numbed by the list of names and numbers and overlook what they mean for the composer and society–that a new piece of music will be written and heard that otherwise might never have seen daylight.
Jim Mobberley, one of the nine composers commissioned to write new works under the auspices of the
The Koussevitzky commissions, granted jointly by the foundations and the performing organizations that will present the newly composed works, are intended to perpetuate Koussevitzky’s lifelong efforts to encourage contemporary composers. Award winners and the groups co-sponsoring this round of commissions are:
- Mason Bates and Young Concert Artists
- Jonathan Dawe and the Brentano String Quartet
- Robert Dick and the New York New Music Ensemble
- Tamar Diesendruck and the Pro Arte Quartet
- Alexander Goehr and the London Sinfonietta
- Jonathan Kramer and Moebius Ensemble
- Kui Dong and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
- James Mobberley and the “newEar” Ensemble
- Laura Elise Schwendinger and Spectrum Concerts Berlin
- Melinda Wagner and Orchestra 2001
Laura Elise Schwendinger, Assistant Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Illinois at Chicago and another of the grant recipients, notes that a commission from the foundation “not only helps by supporting the work but helps a composer forge a relationship with an outstanding group like the one I will be working with.”
Working with such high-caliber musicians will likely have a positive effect on the composers’ development overall. “I’m sure what I compose and whatever techniques I finally decide to employ, I will hear played well,” Schwendinger adds. “I’m sure having that sort of performance always enhances a composer’s understanding of his or her work and, of course, the feedback from the artists is invaluable in this process.”
Writing for the Moebius Ensemble, Jonathan Kramer anticipates a similar personal growth process. “Since I have worked a lot with this group, I expect a continuation of the process of learning their individual and collective musical sensibilities, to which I can respond in the music.” Given that he knows each player well, “I can anticipate ways to stretch each of them and the group as a whole. Since the group is adept at performing in many styles, I hope to extend my recent work in polystylistic postmodernism into the performance domain–exploring the juxtaposition and contrast not only among different compositional styles but also among different performing styles.”
Tamar Diesendruck, who plans to work with extracted texts from Macbeth, is equally inspired by working with the Pro Arte Quartet. This commission marks their third collaboration. “Just knowing that I am writing for this group of brilliant players has already had an effect because I feel free to go wherever my imagination takes me. I have already discovered new things for myself in the work I’ve already done on the piece. I anticipate a lot of collaboration on the realization of the score, and look forward to that part of the process.”
She has also been very much inspired by the texts themselves. “The Shakespearean text, removed from the specific references of the play, provides a deep poetic world for each player to respond to,” she notes. “These words are the basis for the players’ parts, as words are a basis for chant – the players are expected to learn the words and enact them in their own committed speech rhythm.”
The idea is based on spoken prayers she heard during an orthodox Jewish service. “The freedom of people to intone prayers in their own rhythm, yet simultaneously as a community, was very vivid and moving – a complex texture created by the layering of intense individual expressions of prayer. I am creating a framework in which the group sound of the string quartet is based on passionate, individual expression, simultaneously performed – rather than the players focusing on group interpretation, the group sound is the sum of unique personal interpretations.”
Kramer’s plans are also inspired by the theater, specifically Caryl Churchill‘s play Blue Heart which the composer interprets as chronicling the creative process. “The play starts over many times, each with a new version,” Kramer explains. “I may do the same in the piece, as if the audience can hear the composer trying out different ways to begin, revising some, discarding others. The play also has whimsical irrelevancies, which seem to signal the author’s frustrations when things are not going right. So I may try to do something comparable in the piece.”
James Freeman is the Artistic Director and Conductor of Orchestra 2001, the organization which will commission Melinda Wagner thanks to the Koussevitzky award. Offering the perspective of the commissioning organization, he notes that though he has always wished to program more of this “rising star’s” music, Wagner’s catalog of compositions does not really include any works for an ensemble like Orchestra 2001 (a one-on-a-part core ensemble of about 15 players). The Koussevitsky Foundation commission will allow them to change that. “The new work will be perfectly suited to our needs, and to those of many other ensembles of a similar nature.”
It’s that opportunity that makes commissions like these essential to the continued vibrancy of the genre. Freeman, likely summarizing the feelings of many of the commissioning ensembles, states his motivations plainly. “All new music is important to us, but of course new commissioned works are especially important. We represent ‘the cutting edge,’ and to bring new music to life in what I hope and expect are world-class performances is for me, and I think all the musicians of Orchestra 2001, the most exciting thing I can possibly imagine as an artist. I often think what it must have been like to bring to life Beethoven‘s, Mozart‘s, Brahms‘s most recent music–an unbelievable experience. Fortunately, we have the Melinda Wagners, George Crumbs, Gerald Levinsons, Elliott Carters today, and they are most certainly the Beethovens of our own age.”
Biographies courtesy of the Koussevitzky Foundations
Mason Bates is composer-in-residence at Young Concert Artists Inc., who co-commissions a new work for clarinet and piano with the Koussevitzky Foundations. Bates’ Free Variations for Orchestra, commissioned by the Evansville Philharmonic, received the inaugural Jacob Druckman Prize at the Aspen Music Festival. Other honors include the ASCAP Leo Kaplan Award, the Charles Ives Scholarship at the American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters, and a commission from the Phoenix Symphony. Bates was a Fellow in Composition at the Tanglewood Music Center. He holds degrees from Columbia University and the Juilliard School, where he worked with John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, and Samuel Adler. Bates is pursuing a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley.
Jonathan Dawe holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and the Juilliard School, where he studied composition with Richard Hoffman and Milton Babbitt. Dawe is commissioned jointly by the foundations to write a new work for the Brentano String Quartet. Among his awards and honors are commissions from the Fromm Foundation, the Presser Award, the Bearns Prize, two ASCAP awards, and two BMI prizes. Dawe has been on the faculty of the Juilliard School since 1995.
Noted as a virtuoso performer as well as a composer, flutist Robert Dick is commissioned by the New York New Music Ensemble and the Koussevitzky Foundations to create a new chamber work. As a composer, Dick has received awards from the Guggenheim, Jerome, and Fromm foundations, as well as from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), from which he also received the Solo Recitalist Grant. Through his performances and compositions, Dick spans music traditions from classical to jazz. While touring as a concert artist, Dick often presents master classes, such as those at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Vienna Conservatory, the Royal College of Music in London, Soai University in Kyoto, and the Juilliard School.
Born in Tel Aviv and raised in New England, Tamar Diesendruck studied fine arts, and later music, at Brandeis University, where Seymour Shifrin, Martin Boykan, and Edward Cohen were her teachers. As a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, she worked with Andrew Imbrie, Richard Felciano, Edwin Dugger, Olly Wilson, and Walter Winslow. The Koussevitzky Foundations commissioned Diesendruck’s “Such Stuff” for string quartet in 1987; Diesendruck’s commission for a new string quartet is offered jointly by the foundations and the Pro Arte Quartet. Diesendruck, who teaches at the New England Conservatory, received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the American Academy in Rome, the Pennsylvania Arts Council, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. Some of her commissions have come from Richard Lalli, the Fromm Foundation, the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.
This marks the third Koussevitzky commission for composer Alexander Goehr; his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned in 1969, and his Colossos or Panic for orchestra in 1990. He will write a chamber work for members of the London Sinfonietta, which jointly commissions Goehr with the Koussevitzky Foundations. While a student at the Royal Manchester College of Music, Goehr founded the New Music Manchester Group with Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, and John Ogdon, and with Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod in Paris. In the 1960s, while working for the BBC, he formed the Music Theatre Ensemble. He has taught at the New England Conservatory, Yale University, Leeds University, and, since 1975, the University of Cambridge. Goehr has served twice as composer- in-residence at Tanglewood. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
The Moebius Ensemble joins the foundations in commissioning Jonathan Kramer to write a work for chamber ensemble. Professor of Composition and Theory at Columbia University, Kramer has published widely on theoretical subjects. Kramer served as program annotator for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and has been annotator of the Cincinnati Symphony since 1980. Schirmer Books published a collection of his program notes, Listen to the Music, in 1988. He received degrees from Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Roger Sessions, Leon Kirchner, and Seymour Shifrin, among others. Honors include a Barlow Endowment commission, fellowships and grants from the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Kui Dong was born in China and received degrees in theory and composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In 1991, Kui moved to California, where she obtained her doctorate in composition from Stanford University. She is Assistant Professor of Music at Dartmouth College. The foundations and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players commission a new work for chamber ensemble from Kui. Among her honors are the 2001 International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) Composers’ Competition award, the Bellagio Artist Residency grant, and commissions from the Mary Cary Flagler Trust and the NEA and the Dale Warland Singers.
James Mobberley is commissioned to compose a chamber work incorporating pre- recorded sounds and interactive electronics for the newEar Ensemble, where he is composer- in-residence. Curators’ Professor of Music at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Mobberley served as the Kansas City Symphony’s first composer-in- residence. He has received numerous awards, fellowships and grants, including those from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rome Prize, and the 2001 Van Cliburn Invitational. Commissions have come from the Barlow Endowment, Meet the Composer, and the St. Louis Symphony Chamber Series, among others. Mobberley studied at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and received his doctorate from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with Donald Erb and Eugene O’Brien.
Spectrum Concerts Berlin, a German-based ensemble, co-commissions Laura Elise Schwendinger to write a new work for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Schwendinger received her doctorate in composition from the University of California at Berkeley, where she worked with Andrew Imbrie. She received commissions from the Fromm Foundation and the Harvard Musical Association and prizes from the American Academy in Berlin, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Barlow Endowment.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Melinda Wagner receives a commission from Orchestra 2001 and the Koussevitzky Foundations to write a work for chamber ensemble. Wagner received graduate degrees in composition from the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania; she studied with Richard Wernick, George Crumb, Shulamit Ran, and Jay Reise. A native of Philadelphia, Wagner has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, and Hunter College. Among her numerous honors are fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, ASCAP, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. Recent commissions have come from the Barlow Foundation, Fromm Foundation, and the Mary Flagler Carey Charitable Trust.