Masterprize Semi-Finalist: Anthony Iannaccone


Anthony Iannaccone
Anthony Iannaccone
Photo by Dick Schwartz

Anthony Iannaccone’s Waiting for Sunrise on the Sound was commissioned by the NOVA fund. It was given its premiere in 1998 by the Plymouth Symphony, with the composer conducting, and was recorded in February 2000 by the Czech Radio Orchestra, conducted by Vladimír Válek. In addition to a planned commercial release of this recording, the work will be re-recorded by the Janacek Philharmonic for the Albany label in June 2001, as part of a CD devoted entirely to his orchestral music.

Waiting for Sunrise on the Sound is the second in a series of three orchestral works entitled Recollections, inspired by personal memories. These works recall people, places, and images from the composer’s youth. The first piece is “West End Express,” referring both to Kalamazoo and to the subway line to Coney Island, and the third piece will be “Bridges,” inspired by what the composer calls the “wondrous” bridges of New York.

In the program notes that accompanied the Plymouth Symphony premiere, Deborah Ash wrote: Waiting for Sunrise is based on a recurring childhood dream. During the summer months of the early 1950s, the composer spent many pleasant days on fishing or excursion boats owned and operated by relatives. On several occasions when his cousin had taken a boat far out from the southern or eastern shore of Long Island for deep sea fishing, sudden summer storms and rough seas turned a pleasant trip into a frightening encounter. Memories of these few bad storms recurred in the composer’s dreams for many years. In the dream, at the moment when the fate of boat and pilot seemed doomed to drowning in the murky depths of the Long Island Sound, the sun would begin to break through thick mist, and the roiling ocean would calm.”

Presently on the faculty of Eastern Michigan University, Anthony Iannaccone was born in New York in 1943 and studied at the Manhattan and the Eastman Schools of Music. Iannaccone’s works have been performed by major orchestras and professional chamber ensembles in the US and abroad. He has had fifteen works commercially recorded, and his pieces have been published by all the main American music publishers.

Lately, Iannaccone’s time has been occupied with multiple conducting engagements, but he plans to start work soon on four commissioned works that will receive their premieres before the end of 2003. One of these is a new piece for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and the Arianna String Quartet, commissioned by the Tucson Chamber Music Festival.

Iannaccone talks about his music in terms of “large audience” and “small audience” music. He describes his “small audience music” as “abstract, atonal works that don’t rely on melodic material for interest and cohesiveness.” His “large audience” music is more tonal, and has more “direct appeal,” according to the composer. “How many people go to hear Bernstein? How many go to hear Webern? To not recognize the difference is ostrich-like.”

In the mid 70s, Iannaccone explained, he began to make a conscious effort to blend both kinds of music in his writing. The composer describes Waiting for Sunrise on the Sound as a combination of small and large audience music. “It depends on the orientation of the listener. A twelve-tone composer from the ‘50s and ‘60s might see it as large audience music, whereas a minimalist composer might see it as small audience [music].”

Iannaccone holds up Copland, Del Tredici, and Corigliano as examples of composers who have tried to address the needs the general audience and the cognoscenti. “We are trying to create a bridge between composers who are writing music and audiences who aren’t listening to it,” he commented. The people at the Masterprize competition, he thinks, are also trying to build that bridge. The large-audience aspects of Waiting for Sunrise in the Sound he considers appropriate to what he sees as the positive aims of the competition. “Mixing in audience feedback [with that of the jury] is not a bad idea,” Iannaccone admits.