This is a big year for the Austin Chamber Music Center. It marks the 30th anniversary of the center itself, the 5th year with Michelle Schumann as director, and arguably the biggest year for its annual festival. Now in its 14th year and spanning more than two weeks, the festival features a wide range of performing groups, from the alt-jazz of Kneebody to the Tokyo String Quartet. This year’s festival also has a featured composer in Michael Torke, a first for the festival.
The annual Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, which started last Wednesday, has long been dominated by what used to be called the new-music mainstream, before new music sprouted so many streams that the title became dilute. Charles Wuorinen, the director of this year’s festival, certainly made his reputation in that mainstream: East Coast, atonal, academic. But, so far, this festival has been comparatively—well, funky might be too strong a word for it, but certainly more loose, more varied, than past festivals.
Bang on a Can composer-founders Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe don’t just create music. They’ve also created a utopian environment where independent-minded young composers and performers gather every summer for three weeks to immerse themselves in contemporary and experimental music. The institute celebrated its 10th season this summer, and I traveled to North Adams, Massachusetts, to hear the culminating marathon concert at MASS MoCA. As was evidenced by the six hours of excellent performances of exciting new pieces (and a couple of oldies) by the Institute Fellows alongside the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the festival is going full-steam ahead into decade number two.
New music is not new to Austin, but its supporters have largely been of the grassroot variety and its funding has typically come in the form of modest ticket prices, tip jars, and any number of thankless day jobs. Now one of the big players in town, Texas Performing Arts, is using a significant new grant to throw its weight behind not only the creation of new music, but also its presentation to a new audience.
What a week. The Mizzou New Music Summer Festival proved to be an intense, non-stop learning experience. Right from the beginning, I felt like I had been dropped down into the midst of a Hollywood party with all these great composers and musicians. The formal and informal meetings, rehearsals, and activities were never-ending and one activity seemed to flow seamlessly into the next.
One of the things about the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival that has absolutely captivated me this week is the personal role that one of the primary donors, Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield takes in the festival. I have never experienced this type of relationship before, and it has made me think a lot about the importance of patronage from private sources.
There is not much about Columbia, Missouri, that screams NEW MUSIC, and it may seem an unlikely place to host a vibrant festival with headlining names such as Roger Reynolds or Alarm Will Sound. However, Columbia, Missouri, is now home to a burgeoning new music scene in which the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival plays an important part.
This year in Seattle, Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony are celebrating the music director’s final season at the helm of the orchestra by presenting 22 world premieres, including 18 new works commissioned under the banner of the Gund/Simonyi Farewell Commissions. We caught up with the maestro in advance of his final concerts of the season to chat about new music, new ideas, and not taking no for an answer.