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

Back in 1980, when Patrick Hardish and Joseph Pehrson formed Composers Concordance, they saw it not as a way simply to promote their own music but to help composers in general. Pooling their rolodexes, the two amassed quite a circle of contacts, from Max Lifchitz at North/South Consonance to Harvey Sollberger at the Group for Contemporary Music. Soon, they tapped the American Composers Orchestra and Nicolas Roussakis became a mentor; Francis Thorne has assumed an advisory role of late.

Right from the beginning, their mission was to present a yearly concert series in intimate settings, working closely with both composers and performers. “We don’t really have a regular roster of musicians,” says Pehrson. “Rather than hire musicians who would come in and see the music for the first time, we like to work with the performers who’ve worked regularly with the composers.”

For its concerts, Composers Concordance solicits scores nationwide, and its advisory committee represents the full range of contemporary music, from Wendy Mae Chambers and Gloria Coates, who have championed women in the group’s programming, to the Pakistani composer Akmal Parwez, who advises the organization on non-Western pieces. Recently, Gene Pritsker has begun promoting jazz, world musics and the integration of contemporary music into diverse communities.

These days, Composers Concordance presents concerts at the Kosciuszko Foundation, Christ & St. Stephen’s Church, and at the NYU Loewe Auditorium. Music from various concerts has been broadcast on New York radio stations WKCR and WNYC along with interviews of the directors.

Virtually every concert involves composers meeting with audience members both in interviews and post-concert receptions. Recent efforts to spread the word even further have come through the publication New Music Connoisseur, edited and published by Barry Cohen, and involvement in Internet Radio, where members speak about their series and interview guest composers on an Internet Web Page in conjunction with the Arcana Composers’ Association.

Though working as a presenter is much different from composing, Pehrson says the two need not be mutually exclusive. “I think they feed into one another,” he says. “Being a presenter you’re able to keep touch with what’s out there and make contact with other composers. And this is as much for the esthetic aspect as the professional.”

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