Unlike many premieres, the first performance of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Millennium Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra will certainly not be the last. This is thanks to the Millennium Consortium Project, the brainchild of pianist Jeffrey Biegel, for whom the Fantasy was written, and arts consultant Jeffrey James.
Mr. Biegel will perform the World Premiere of the Millennium Fantasy on September 22 with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jesus Lopez-Cobos. He will then perform with twenty-six different orchestras during the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons. The participating orchestras range from the Bangor Symphony in Maine to the California Music in the Mountains Festival. Biegel hopes that by "blanketing the country" with performances, the work will be well-known by the time it is recorded.
Biegel, a Juilliard-trained pianist, is known to American music aficionados for his performances of works by Gershwin, Leroy Anderson, and Dana Suesse. He was interested in commissioning Zwilich because he found her music to be “audience-friendly, melodically interesting, and harmonically piquant.” He was also attracted to her “exotic” uses of modal mixture and polytonality. He describes the eighteen-minute work as “classical-romantic in feeling” coupled with a “jazzy side.”
Zwilich wrote the piano part with Biegel’s virtuosic capabilities in mind, having heard his recordings of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev piano concerti, as well as the recently-issued CD of Lalo Schifrin‘s Concerto of the Americas. Biegel calls the piano part "challenging," noting that it includes a "triumphant" cadenza at the end of the second movement. He is very optimistic, however, that audiences will enjoy the new piece, and hopes that it will be recognized as an "instant staple of the piano repertoire."
To commit to the consortium, orchestras agreed to perform the work, and contributed towards the commissioning fee. The process of identifying and contacting orchestras to become members of the consortium began in the spring of 1999. The vast majority of these contacts came about due to Jeffrey Biegel’s having performed previously with either the orchestra or its current Music Director, or having worked with the administrator at some point in his career. In the summer of 1999, Monica Robinson became Mr. Biegel’s booking representative and immediately brought a number of her contacts to the project as well.
Jeffrey James is currently working on additional consortium projects for the 2002-2003 season. The Louisville Orchestra and the Salt Lake Symphony have already committed to a consortium for Dan Locklair‘s Symphony no.1. In addition, James has contacted ensembles about participating in consortiums for a new symphony from Judith Sainte Croix, and a new piano concerto from Judith Lang Zaimont. He also hopes to organize a consortium in the near future for Benjamin Lees‘ Sixth Symphony. These composers are all clients of Mr. James at Jeffrey James Arts Consulting.
Additional project support has been provided by the Adele Marcus Foundation, the Abraham J. and Phyllis Katz Foundation, Marvin and Isa Leibowitz, the South Florida Council, and the Chopin Foundation of the United States. The American Music Center is aiding in the administering and disbursal of the commissioning consortium moneys.