Speak For Yourself! A Hyper-History of American Composer-Led New Music Ensembles

When composer Laura Kaminsky was an undergraduate at Oberlin — the college, not the conservatory — it was hard for non-conservatory composers to hear their music. Not to be stifled, she created a concert series in dormitory lounges to get her music heard. By the time she arrived at graduate school at City College of New York, where they didn’t even have an ensemble in residence, Kaminsky was an old hand at presenting music herself.

“We were all very young at the time, just finishing school and wanting to keep alive a spirit of community,” she says. “Students and sympathetic professors volunteered their time to allow us to hear our works, so a group of us decided to formally commit to performing our new works, as well as other 20th century works which we felt were interesting or needed to be presented to the public.”

As a result, Musicians Accord, which Kaminsky founded in 1980, has presented through its concerts, recordings, workshops and recordings a composer roster as diverse as Samuel Barber and Luciano Berio, John Cage and Aaron Copland, Mario Davidovsky and David Del Tredici, Mario Lavista and Tania León, Harry Partch and Astor Piazzolla, Steve Reich and Frederic Rzewski, Anton Webern and Stefan Wolpe. They have commissioned and/or premiered nearly 100 works to date.

By 1984, CUNY invited Musicians Accord to become ensemble-in-residence, where they have given composition students a formally structured way of hearing their work ever since. Kaminsky did not have any specific models for her ensemble although she admits that she became Director of Music and Theater programs at the New School from 1993-97 to consciously follow in the footsteps of Copland and Henry Cowell, who both taught and presented concerts there. (The Copland-Sessions Concerts still echo in the halls.) “I think we made it up as we went along,” she says. “Although Joel Lester and Andre Emelianoff were both CUNY faculty members and members of the Da Capo Chamber Players, so they provided a model of sorts.”

Since its inception, the ensemble has been broadcast annually on New York radio stations such as WNYC, WQXR, and WBAI, as well as others across the nation. Outside New York, Musicians Accord has brought its broad spectrum of styles to audiences at SUNY at Stony Brook and Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison NJ, where Accord member Amy Rubin is artist-in-residence. In spring 1998, Musicians Accord traveled to Macedonia and Slovakia performing in the Synthesis International Festival of 20th Century Music in Skopje and at the Music Academy of Bratislava. That summer, the group made its Seattle debut which resulted in a two-part Seattle residency scheduled for the 1999-2000 season where they will work with local composers.

Over the years, Musicians Accord has developed a commitment to composers reaching well beyond world premieres, Kaminsky says, commissioning a composer more than once and making the process “an ongoing sense of community.” Recent recordings include Transience: Music by Joel Feigin (North/South Recordings), An Eye-Sky Symphony: The Music of Robert Savage (CRI), and Mosaic: Chamber Music of Henry Cowell (Mode). Hallelujah Games: Music by Amy Rubin is scheduled for release in fall 1999.


Excerpt from Robert Savage: Sudden Sunsets RealPlayer  [91 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip


From Speak For Yourself! A Hyper-History of American Composer-Led New Music Ensembles
by Ken Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox