Joan Tower in conversation with Frank J. Oteri
At the New York office of G. Schirmer/Associated Music
September 15, 2005—1:00 p.m.
Rock bands tour all over the world basically playing the same set of songs. Jazz groups will also usually maintain a specific set list for most of their gigs when they are traveling. Yet orchestras, when they commission a new piece, will rarely if ever play it more than once. The result is a lot of stillborn music since we all know how hard it is to get a second performance and frequently the first is under-rehearsed and doesn’t reveal what the music was fully meant to sound like.
Sometimes an orchestra will tour with a new piece of music, but such opportunities for composers are few and far between. Orchestra tours are a logistical nightmare and, in today’s economic climate, they are happening less and less. Now, imagine if somehow a piece of orchestral music could tour without the orchestra. That is exactly what is happening with Joan Tower’s Made in America. Beginning this month, this roughly 15-minute work will embark on a tour of all 50 American states, featured on programs by some 65 orchestras over the next 18 months. So for anyone reading this in the United States, a live performance of this music is likely only a drive away.
This extraordinary and unprecedented exposure for a piece of new American music is the result of a partnership program between the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet The Composer with major financial support from the Ford Motor Company Fund. With this level of support, smaller orchestras around the country can take part in the kind of high profile commission usually reserved only for the top tier. Plus, a myriad of carefully prepared and ready-to-use resources made available for all the participating orchestras—including program notes, educational materials, and even press releases—takes care of much of the time consuming work that often makes administrators reluctant to program a new piece.
It seems so natural, so right. So why hasn’t it ever been done before? And what can we do to make it happen again and again with music by lots of other composers?
When we use prizes and gimmicks to attract attention we lose sight of the fact that a composer’s greatest calling card is his or her music. Joan Tower kept reminding me of this when we spoke only two weeks before the biggest premiere marathon in new music history.