Juilliard Commencement Speech

The wonderful, astonishing truth is that the arts are utterly useless. You can’t eat music or poetry or dance. You can’t drive your car on a sonnet or wear it on your back to shield you from the elements. This “uselessness” is why politicians and other painfully literal-minded people during times of budget crises (which is pretty much all the time now) can’t wait to single the arts out for elimination. They consider that what we do can’t honestly be compared to the real business of life.

Tangoing with an Orchestra

In 1999, I wrote a piano piece and over the next year converted it to a longer four-movement full symphonic score. I proceeded to exhaust my contacts at no less than 12 major orchestras around the U.S. I received one response, from the Austin Symphony, which commented that the string parts were pretty tricky. That was it. The piece lay dormant until the summer of 2007 when, while I was camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and trying to start a fire with the Detroit News, I read that Leonard Slatkin was attempting some interesting approaches to programming, so I sent it in.

Putting Away Childish Things

Only works that a composer explicitly wanted published should be published. Obviously, the reality is rarely that simple. In some cases, though, it should be. Samuel Barber had over 50 years during which to consider whether he wanted his early pieces published. He did not choose to do so, and I believe strongly that those wishes need to be respected.

Setting Cold Spring in Motion

At its core, Sean Griffin’s intermedia opera Cold Spring is an attempt to bring museums and archives together with performing institutions and local artists for mutual self-reflection and appreciation of each other as cultural thinkers. The work initiates and empowers an active interpretation of our lives as they relate to science and our notion of what constitutes meaningful progress.

Nuclear Introspection: A Cantata for Contemplation

In a year or two, the world’s attention will have moved away from the urgent questions raised by Fukushima. Therefore I feel that far from showing disrespect, the nature of this cantata and the spirit in which it was created make it a powerful means to show and magnify precisely the deep respect and attention we need at this moment.

The Art World That Isn’t (And the Music World That Is)

If today’s art world truly resembled today’s musical world, “popular art” would be a thriving multi-billion dollar industry, but there’d also be “classical art” exhibited in small, subsidized museums catering to the rarefied tastes of a small minority of connoisseurs who believed strongly in the intrinsic superiority of long-dead artists, and “contemporary high-art” populated by un-popular living artists.

Making 2011 the Year of the Composer

On February 17, 2011, Governor Peter Shumlin declared this the Year of the Composer in Vermont; what had happened in 30-plus years to bring Vermont from artistic backwater to being the first state to declare its commitment to new music?

Raising Young Voices


To mark the tenth anniversary of Transient Glory, the Young People’s Chorus of New York’s ongoing commissioning, performance, and recording program, YPC Founder and Artistic Director Francisco Núñez writes about how this important initiative first got started and how it has continued to flourish as it enters its second decade.