On September 6, five composers arrived in Cleveland to compete for the title of Iron Composer 2013 at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music. The brainchild of Lucky Mosko’s composition workshop at CalArts, Iron Composer is an aural takeoff on the famed Japanese television cooking show Iron Chef. The competition took its current form in 2007 in Omaha, Nebraska, before relocating to Cleveland in 2009. Narrowed down from an international pool of applicants, the five finalists were each assigned a different form of audience participation as their “secret ingredient.” They were then given a studio, an ensemble (a brass trio of double bell trumpet, horn, and trombone), and only five hours to compose a new work that incorporated their ingredient.
The finalists and their assigned audience participation were:
Can Bilir (Ankara, Turkey) – humming
Jennifer Jolley (Cincinnati, OH) – stomping
Jakub Polaczyk (Krakow, Poland) – whistling
Christoffer Schunk (Santa Clarita, CA) – clapping
David Wolfson (New York, NY) – snapping
At the end of the five-hour period, each composer received an anxiety-ridden 30-minute rehearsal with the brass trio before the concert began. Composer David Wolfson commented that the five hours of writing time were the fastest hours of his life, while Jennifer Jolley took some time during the process to blog about the experience. Admittedly, it was fun to keep track of Jolley’s progress as she posted about her ABACA piece turning into an ABABA composition, and then finally just ABA due to lack of time.
During the concert, each composer spoke briefly about his or her work and explained how the audience would participate. Through a series of projected instructions, navigated by yours truly, the audience hummed, stomped, whistled, clapped, and snapped throughout the evening, which offered an exciting, if not unusual, element to each work. The brass trio, comprised of trumpeter Joe Drew (director of Iron Composer), horn player Alan DeMattia (Cleveland Orchestra), and trombonist James Albrecht (professor at the University of Akron), performed each work with conviction, ensuring that each composer had a fair shot at the title.
Here are the five compositions:
The judges included Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music director Susan Van Vorst, Oberlin College composition professor Josh Levine, and performer judge Alan DeMattia. While each composer received specific individual comments and critiques, the judges collectively praised all of the finalists for showing a high level of craftsmanship in such a short period of time. Conservatory director Van Vorst also commented on the unique creative energy and vastly different artistic voices the finalists brought to the stage.
Ultimately, Jakub Polaczyk emerged victorious with his work Finding You, edging out his closest competition by just four points. In fact, only 11 points separated first and fifth place. In addition to being named Iron Composer 2013, Polaczyk received a commission from Cleveland’s Blue Water Chamber Orchestra as part of his award. Adding a new element to this year’s competition, Iron Composer asked the audience to weigh in on their favorite composition via text. Jennifer Jolley took home this honor as well as a heavy brass clock, an appropriate reminder of those five hours.