I was pleased to see last month’s conversation with conductor Marin Alsop. As everyone knows, she has been a fierce champion of new American music for many years, and her position at Cabrillo has been a great service to many composers.
It’s intriguing to hear Alsop speak about the necessity of providing experiential education for young conductors. I wish she had an equally wide-ranging vision for the music she programs at Cabrillo. Young composers like Mason Bates and Kevin Puts, and idiosyncratic established composers like Philip Glass and Lou Harrison, have appeared on Cabrillo’s programs, but there is a remarkable lack of truly adventurous programming, especially in recent years. Alsop is in a position to change that, and she has the charisma to do so effectively.
Cabrillo and its audience would benefit immensely from a more expansive approach to programming orchestral music. There are two ways to achieve this. First, commissioning established composers who have little or no orchestral repertoire would create a buzz and provide these composers with an invaluable opportunity, should they choose to accept it. Pauline Oliveros, John Moran, Pamela Z, and Henry Gwiazda, among others, could be approached with this opportunity.
Second, younger composers who have demonstrated depth of talent and convincing—if not necessarily consistent—aesthetic voices, should be programmed more frequently at Cabrillo. If there is a concern that these younger composers don’t have enough experience writing for orchestra, then Cabrillo’s senior composers could mentor them. They could even help orchestrate the younger composers’ pieces, for a portion of their commissioning fees.
It is virtually impossible for American composers outside of academic institutions to gain access to professional orchestras. Just as talented young conductors need the experience of being in front of an actual orchestra, composers need the support of beneficent curators and conductors willing to take risks. The stunted development of today’s orchestral repertoire is a direct result of the extremely limited access that adventurous composers are granted when it comes to writing for orchestra. Give them a chance. They will be grateful, and they won’t let you down.