With 10 commissions, 9 world premieres, and works by five composers first identified through the ACO New Music Readings Program.
American Composers Orchestra's 2008-09 concert season is its 32nd year as the nation's most adventurous champion of inventive new American orchestral music. The new season, devoted to works for ACO's pioneering Orchestra Underground, continues ACO's explorations of how today's orchestral composers are taking in the world around them -- the sounds, sights, colors, technologies, world influences, and issues -- and bringing it all together in a new, flexible orchestral ensemble geared to experimentation, innovation, and collaboration.
Fresh from winning ASCAP's prestigious 2008 Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming, the new ACO season includes three concerts, presented by Carnegie Hall in Zankel Hall, with three performances at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia; ACO expands its career-launching programs for emerging composers with the 18th annual Underwood New Music Readings in New York City and a Philadelphia set of Readings co-sponsored with Penn Presents at the Annenberg Center for the Arts. ACO will continue its Composers OutFront! series, featuring composer-performers in venues around the city. ACO's concerts include ten commissions, nine world premieres, and several U.S., New York, and Philadelphia premieres, including new works by Kati Agócs, Robert Beaser, Derek Bermel, Margaret Brouwer, Fang Man, Fred Ho, Lukas Ligeti, Keeril Makan, Clint Needham, and Rand Steiger. Soloists include Derek Bermel (clarinet), Eliot Fisk (guitar), Fred Ho (baritone saxophone), Seth Josel (electric guitar), Lukas Ligeti (Marimba Lumina), Thomas Larcher (piano), and video and sound artist Kasumi. The season's intrepid conductors include George Manahan, Jeffrey Milarsky, and ACO's conductor laureate Dennis Russell Davies.
The season is notable for its focus on emerging composers, with no fewer than five composers who have "come up through the ranks" of ACO's highly regarded emerging composers programs -- Kati Agócs, Derek Bermel, Fang Man, Clint Needham, and Greg Spears. Bermel, ACO's Music Alive Composer-in-Residence, is completing his three-year residency and is featured as composer, performer, and educator. ACO's artistic director, Robert Beaser, is also represented in an ACO-commissioned guitar concerto, Beaser's first ACO performance in New York since 1999.
November 14, 2008 at 7:30pm, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, NYC
Clint Needham participated in ACO's 2007 Underwood New Music Readings, winning that program's Emerging Composer Commission. Originally from Texas, Needham is currently a Jacobs School of Music doctoral fellow in composition at Indiana University. At the time of the Underwood Award, ACO artistic director Robert Beaser said Needham "knows how to both orchestrate and create a compelling music narrative. His music demonstrates remarkable range and color." Since winning the Underwood Commission Needham has been writing his Chamber Symphony for its world premiere at ACO's season-opening concert. The Chamber Symphony is laid out in three five-minute movements that explore various colors. The work comprises a wide variety of moods and textures, ranging from very intimate chamber music sections to larger orchestral colors.
Keeril Makan, Assistant Professor of Music at M.I.T., was awarded the 2008 Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. His new work for electric guitar and orchestra will showcase soloist Seth Josel, a leading new-music interpreter with an international career. Using live electronic processing, the work is not so much a traditional concerto for a popular instrument as it is a sophisticated exploration of shifting timbral layers and possibilities.
Gregory Spears is an alumnus of both ACO's Underwood New Music Readings and the first ACO/Penn Presents New Music Readings in 2007. For the opening concert, ACO reprises Finishing, the work Spears created for the Penn Presents Readings. The title refers to the decorative practice of adding a seductive veneer to the cover of books. The orchestra is augmented with the sound of mark trees, dog whistles (yes, humans can hear them), and small tape recorders. These instruments work together to produce a soft ambient finish that overlays a series of looping trumpet calls.
Domes by Kamran Ince, in its New York premiere, is an extended orchestral movement, drawing on Ince's Turkish-American heritage. The piece offers a succession of contrasting moods and tempos that unfold within a larger, time-space continuum. "The work features a recurring ticking, tinkling motif that makes me feel as if I'm trapped inside some kind of cosmic clockwork from which there is no escape," the composer says.
Fred Ho, following his two-year battle with cancer, celebrates with his first orchestral commission. Ho describes When the Real Dragons Fly! for saxophone and orchestra as a liberation song bidding "farewell to obstructionists and gatekeepers who prevent the real creative forces in humanity" from soaring. The title, based on a traditional Chinese folk song used to say farewell, suggests the sweeping vision of his music. The composer will join the orchestra on baritone saxophone to combine asynchronous tunes and melodies of various musical traditions, creating what many have described as brilliant and chaotic sounds.
Jeffrey Milarsky, a leading conductor of contemporary music in New York City, is a frequent collaborator with ACO and a former member of the orchestra. In the United States and abroad, he has premiered and recorded works by contemporary composers, including Charles Wuorinen, Fred Lerdahl, Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, Lasse Thoresen, Gerard Grisey, Jonathan Dawe, Tristan Murail, Ralph Shapey, Luigi Nono, Mario Davidovsky, and Wolfgang Rihm. Milarsky is professor of music at Columbia University, where he is the music director/conductor of the Columbia University Orchestra and the newly formed Manhattan Sinfonietta, which concentrates on 20th- and 21st-century scores. He is also on the faculty of The Manhattan School of Music as artistic director and conductor of the percussion ensemble and directs AXIOM, Juilliard's newest contemporary music ensemble. Milarsky's most recent foray with ACO was last season's Playing it UNsafe, a weeklong laboratory for the development of experimental new orchestra music that included five world premieres.
Feb. 20, 2009, at 7:30PM, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, NYC
ACO and Orchestra Underground bring together Margaret Brouwer and video artist Kasumi, who will integrate experimental film and music for The Earth Breathing (working title). Brouwer's music has earned singular praise for its lyricism, musical imagery, and emotional power, and this piece represents her first opportunity to collaborate with an artist working in electronic and visual media. Kasumi is internationally celebrated as one of the leading innovators of a new art form synthesizing film, sound, and video in live performance. In this new work, sampled audio/visual/film materials and live orchestral music are mixed, woven, and integrated to create a multi-layered narrative flow that reveals intriguing structural formations and compelling meanings. Each sample is a portion or fragment of audio and visual material extracted from its original found footage source, like movies or early television. Some of these samples are used to derive motivic musical material for the orchestral score. At other times the inspiration flows in reverse, as orchestral rhythms and intervals suggest the content and manner of the visual rhythms and melodies. Sometimes an audio sample is used as an instrument, thus expanding the orchestral sound and texture.
Rand Steiger writes that Cryosphere, for live electronics and orchestra, "draws inspiration from the Earth's frozen surfaces, particularly the way glaciers and icebergs are formed and destroyed. It will embrace the beauty and mystery of these structures, while also lamenting their precipitous and unnatural loss. The winds, brass, harps, principal strings, and percussion instruments play into microphones, and their signals are transformed by a computer that runs software developed at University of California at San Diego by Miller Puckette. These transformed instrumental sounds then emerge from small speakers located within the orchestra to enable them to blend naturally with their original sources."
Fang Man was selected to participate in the New Music Readings in 2006. She won that year's Underwood Emerging Composer Commission and then departed for IRCAM in Paris for a year-long intensive residency in new digital music technologies. Orchestra Underground will premiere Resurrection, a clarinet concerto written specifically for Derek Bermel in his role as clarinetist. The title of the work is taken from the subtitle of Composition V-Resurrection of the Dead, a painting by Wassily Kandinsky. The painting became the inspiration for musical structure, and computer analysis applications help create a unique relationship between the structure of the painting and the pitch and time structure of the music. Musical influences for the clarinet and for the orchestra come from Peking Opera and jazz.
Awarded a prestigious Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Society of Composers Leonard Bernstein Composer Fellowship, Kati Agócs came to ACO's attention during the New Music Readings in 2001. Her works bridge the gap between lapidary rigor and sensuous lyricism; her music has been hailed as original, daring, and from the heart.
Stomp, a signature work from David Schiff, opens the concert. The brief and pungent work has appeared on orchestra programs of all different types and in all different venues. ACO is very pleased to bring a re-scored version of the work to New York and Philadelphia. Schiff says Stomp is a good demonstration that "classical music can be really loud."
The adventurous George Manahan conducts. Manahan is well-known to New York audiences as the music director of the New York City Opera, where he has earned a reputation for maintaining the highest musical standards. He is especially well-known for his leadership of productions as diverse as The Mother of Us All, Intermezzo, Xerxes, Macbeth, Lizzie Borden, and Tosca. Manahan has been a regular guest conductor with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Australia, Seattle Opera, Santa Fe Opera companies, and Opéra National de Paris-Bastille, where he has led world premieres of works by Philippe Fénelon, Judith Weir, Krzysztof Penderecki, Hans Werner Henze, David Lang, Tobias Picker, and Wolfgang Rihm. His last outing with ACO was as guest conductor in the 2006 Underwood New Music Readings.
May 1, 2009, at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, NYC
ACO's co-founder and current conductor laureate, Dennis Russell Davies, returns after a two-season hiatus. The concert is a gathering of friends old and new, with commissions and premieres by ACO's artistic director, Robert Beaser, Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Derek Bermel, and Lukas Ligeti. Music by Austrian Thomas Larcher completes the program. Soloists include guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk, Larcher as pianist, and Ligeti as electronic percussionist.
Robert Beaser has been associated with ACO since 1988, when he was the Meet The Composer/Composer-in-Residence. He has served as ACO's artistic director since 2000 and is responsible for helping ACO bring more than 100 world and New York premieres to audiences in Carnegie Hall. His Guitar Concerto is his first work ACO has performed since 1999. It is co-commissioned by an appropriately broad consortium: ACO, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, and Bruckner Orchester Linz. Beaser and Fisk have been close friends since attending Yale together, and the idea of writing a concerto for Fisk has been on Beaser's "to-do" list for nearly two decades.
Thomas Larcher is a rapidly rising Austrian composer whose piano concerto, Böse Zellen (Malignant Cells), when paired with Beaser's new concerto, initiates an informal composer exchange between ACO and Bruckner Orchester Linz, where Davies serves as music director. The work is a tour-de-force inspired by a film of the same name by Barbara Albert. The composer used images from the film to develop tightly constructed motivic and structural material that is then spun-out in aggressive and wild ways.
Lukas Ligeti is writing what he calls "a concerto of sorts for electronic percussion and orchestra." The composer will be the soloist, performing on the Marimba Lumina. The instrument, an electronic MIDI controller designed by California-based engineer Don Buchla that includes a traditionally arrayed set of electronic bars, brings an extended vocabulary and range of expression to the mallet instrument family. Ligeti is a composer-performer comfortable in a variety of settings. His music brings together disparate sources from European-American modernism, jazz improvisation, and African rhythmic influences.
Derek Bermel, ACO's Music Alive Composer-in-Residence and the winner of the 2008 Alpert Award in the Arts, is completing his three-year residency with the orchestra at the end of the 2008-09 season. His influence in programming ACO's Orchestra Underground and Composers OutFront! events have extended ACO's range and programmatic diversity, and enhanced its focus on the composer-performer and on the integration of improvisation into an orchestral setting. Called "eclectic with wide open ears," by the Toronto Star, Bermel has been hailed by colleagues, critics, and audiences across the globe for his creativity as a composer and his virtuosity and charisma as a clarinetist. Known for drawing freely from a rich variety of musical traditions, he filters the sounds of the world through his own musical palette, crafting a singular artistic vision. His new work, as yet untitled, is co-commissioned with the esteemed Koussevitsky Foundation and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, providing the finale to Bermel's influential and successful residency.
and Friday, May 7 & 8, 2009
ACO will hold its 18th Annual Underwood New Music Readings for emerging composers in New York City May 7-8, 2009, at Miller Theater. In what has become a rite of passage for aspiring orchestral composers, up to ten composers from throughout the United States will be selected to receive a reading of a new work, and one composer will be selected to receive a $15,000 commission for a work to be performed by ACO during an upcoming season. Each participating composer receives a rehearsal, reading, and a digital recording of his or her work. Review and feedback sessions with ACO principal players, mentor-composers, guest conductors, and industry representatives provide crucial artistic, technical, and conceptual assistance. To date, more than 100 composers have participated in the New Music Readings, including such award-winning composers as Melinda Wagner, Derek Bermel, Randall Woolf, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and Jennifer Higdon.
The proceedings are open to the public free of charge. ACO's artistic director, Robert Beaser, directs the readings. The deadline for composers interested in applying to the Underwood New Music Readings is Friday, November 21, 2008. Application guidelines and other information are available at www.americancomposers.org/nmr/.
ACO enters into the fourth year of its residency at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, bringing its Orchestra Underground concerts to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The residency includes concerts, master classes, outreach activities, and new music readings for regional emerging composers.
The residency culminates in the second ACO/Penn Presents New Music Readings and Lab on Thursday, April 16, at 1:30PM (Readings), and Friday, April 17, at 7:30PM (Concert-Lab). This event will bring back to Philadelphia ACO's expertise in new music and its proven track record in identifying promising composers. The Readings/Lab will be a two-day public discovery of the top emerging composers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The first day will be modeled after ACO's annual Underwood New Music Readings. Composers will be selected on the basis of a competitive review of scores. They will have the opportunity to hear a reading of their new work and receive critical feedback from a panel of mentor-composers and ACO principals. The second day, ACO's Orchestra Underground will present the new works in a Laboratory Performance that includes discussion with the composers.
Subscriptions for three concerts in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall are currently available for $108 or $138 and can be purchased at CarnegieCharge 212-247-7800, www.carnegiehall.org, or at the Carnegie Hall Box Office. Single tickets are priced at $38 or $48, and go on sale to the public September 2.
For ACO's series at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, subscriptions and tickets are available by calling 215-898-3900 or online at www.pennpresents.org.
Major support of American Composers Orchestra is provided by Amphion Foundation, Argosy Contemporary Music Fund, Arlington Associates, ASCAP, ASCAP Foundation, Bay and Paul Foundations, BMI, BMI Foundation, NY City Council Member Gale A. Brewer, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Edward T.Cone Foundation, Consolidated Edison, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, The Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, EMCArts, Fromm Music Foundation, GAP Foundation, Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Greenwall Foundation, The Irving Harris Foundation, Victor Herbert Foundation, Jephson Educational Trust, Jerome Foundation, The J.M. Kaplan Fund, John and Evelyn Kossak Foundation, Joseph F. McCrindle Foundation, Meet the Composer, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, The Susan and Ford Schumann Foundation, Virgil Thomson Foundation, Paul Underwood Charitable Trust, The Sonata and Watchdog Charitable Trusts, The Isak and Rose Weinman Foundation, and The Helen F. Whitaker Fund.
ACO programs are also made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
ACO's residency at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is made possible by The Philadelphia Music Project, an Artistic Initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, administered by the University of the Arts.
Derek Bermel is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with American Composers Orchestra. Music Alive is a national program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer.