Release (2007/03/25)

ACO’s Orchestra Underground
puts “Composers OutFront!”
Zankel Hall, March 26

Dennis Russell Davies marks
ACO’s 30th Anniversary
with focus on composer-performers.
Improvisation & electronics
figure in premieres
by Vijay Iyer & Steven Mackey.

American Composers Orchestra celebrates its 30th anniversary on Monday, March 26, 2007 at 7:30pm in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, when the orchestra’s conductor laureate, Dennis Russell Davies,returns to the podium (after a five-year hiatus) for “Orchestra Underground: Composers OutFront!” This installment of ACO’s cutting-edge series extends a season-long focus on composer-performers, with influences ranging from rock to improvisation to world music to the Baroque. Newly-commissioned works by composer-pianist-improviser Vijay Iyer and composer-violist Kurt Rohde will be premiered, along with the New York premiere of composer-electric guitarist Steven Mackey’s Deal, in its chamber orchestra version. Also on the program is music by Harold Meltzer and Tania León, and spotlight solo performances by composer- pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen, and composer-guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee.

Since ACO launched Orchestra Underground in 2004, the series has played to sold-out houses, attracting new listeners as it stretches the definition of the symphony orchestra, with daring experiments in non-traditional instrumentation, spatial orientation, technological innovation, and multidisciplinary collaboration. Music AliveComposer in Residence Derek Bermel, who advises the orchestra on programming explains, “There is something very entrepreneurial and very American about the way many composers today pursue their careers, combining disparate elements… composing, playing, singing, conducting, gigging around in different milieus. We wanted this concert to reflect the excitement of that eclectic mosaic. This performance also extends ACO’s interest in exploring the intersection of improvisation and orchestral composition.”

The program will be previewed at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia on Sunday, March 25 at 7:30pm.

Steven Mackey: Deal
for Electric Guitar, Percussion & Chamber Orchestra (NY Premiere)

Steve MackeySteven Mackey is a 21st Century composer with garage band roots. In Deal, Mackey makes use of his electric guitar to guide the orchestra and audience alike on a journey through the “serious but changeable tone” of his largely improvised guitar soloing, juxtaposing the guitar’s “attitude” with the notated certainty of the ensemble. Pervading the “hallucinatory, dreamlike quality” of the music is Jason Treuting’s drum kit and a tape playback of everyday sounds, such as dogs barking and telephones ringing. A meditation on the blurry distinctions between reality and reverie, Deal takes shape as the soloists “deal with a world that they are, paradoxically, prepared for and surprised by.”

Mackey has received numerous composition awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, two awards from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Stoeger Prize for Chamber Music by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Mackey has been composer-in-residence at Tanglewood, Aspen, Yellow Barn, and Bennington among others. Among his commissions are works for the Chicago and San Francisco Symphonies, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Fromm Foundation, the Brentano String Quartet, the Borromeo String Quartet, Fred Sherry, Dawn Upshaw, and many others. ACO performed the world premiere of Mr. Mackey’s Tilt in 1992, and the New York premiere of the large orchestra version of Deal with Joey Baron and Bill Frisell in 1997. Recently, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall presented a portrait concert of Mackey’s work on their “Making Music” series. Mackey is currently Professor of Music at Princeton University.

Jason Treuting, percussion, has performed and recorded in venues as diverse as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Walker Art Center, the Knitting Factory, the Andy Warhol Museum, Zankel Hall, Lincoln Center, DOM (Moscow) and Le National (Montreal). As a member of So Percussion, he has collaborated with artists and composers including Steve Reich, David Lang, John Zorn, Dan Trueman, tabla master Zakir Hussain, the electronic music duo Matmos and choreographer Eliot Feld. His latest project “Amid the Noise,” (Cantaloupe Music) was described as “rich and engrossing” by Time Out NY.

Vijay Iyer: Interventions (World Premiere, ACO Commission)

Vijay IyerVijay Iyer has been named the #1 rising star jazz artist, #1 rising star composer, and #2 rising star pianist in the Down Beat magazine 2006 international critics poll. The son of Indian immigrants, he was entirely self-taught as a pianist and composer. Iyer earned a Masters in physics at age 22, and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in music and cognitive science at U.C. Berkeley in 1998. Iyer has traveled worldwide with his various projects, including the Vijay Iyer Quartet; the multimedia performance works “In What Language?” and “Still Life with Commentator” with poet/librettist Mike Ladd; the trio Fieldwork; and Raw Materials, his duo collaboration with Rudresh Mahanthappa. He has appeared at include international festivals and venues all across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia including Next Wave at BAM, TBA Festival at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art; Salzburg’s Kontracom festival; the Smithsonian Institution; the Asia Society, Merkin Hall, Joe’s Pub, Symphony Space, and The Kitchen in New York; the Wexner Center at Ohio State University; The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia; and the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in Los Angeles. Iyer has received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, Arts International, Creative Capital, Chamber Music America, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, and Meet the Composer.

Interventions is Iyer’s first piece for orchestra. The music alternates between fully-notated sections and ensemble improvisation. In these improvised sections, the performers make real-time decisions, taking action in counterpoint with one another, and bringing their individual interpretations to a defined range of material. Meanwhile, the composer as piano soloist is largely a “free agent” throughout the piece. Iyer says, “In creating this piece, I did not aim for a concerto-style, soloistic endeavor with the piano in the foreground. A closer point of reference for my role in the ensemble is the Ellington model, in which the pianist-composer provides occasional commentary from the music’s margins. The pianist becomes an interlocutor, a stand-in for the listener onstage.”

The commission and premiere of Interventions has been made possible with support by the Francis Goelet Lead Charitable Trusts, with additional support from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the American Music Center.

Kurt Rohde: White Boy/Man Invisible(New York Premiere, ACO Commission)

Kurt RohdeKurt Rohde‘s White Boy/Man Invisible, for solo viola and chamber orchestra, was composed for the American Composers Orchestra, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin. It is dedicated to violists Madeline Prager and Igor Budenstein, and conductors Dennis Russell Davies, Kent Nagano, and Benjamin Simon. The commission and premiere are made possible with support of the Francis Goelet Lead Charitable Trusts.

According to the composer, “When I was asked to compose this work, it was clear to me that I did not want to follow the typical concerto format. I wanted to approach the work as a music that articulated the duality I perceived in the form and in the viola as a solo instrument.” Consequently, Rohde has written music that represents two types of energy in two distinct sections, “guiding the listeners to imagine the skeletal frame upon which the drama of the music unfolds and rests.” The first movement, White Boy is extroverted and virtuosic, and “suggests the vague sense I have of myself: my generic outward appearance as someone whose distinction is blurred as one of countless many,” says Rohde. The second movement, Man Invisible, is interior, more private, and “suggests the part of me that no one sees or hears, but that I feel and live with all the time,” says the composer.

Rohde has received the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Hinrichsen Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as commissioning awards from the Hanson Institute for American Music, the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, the Koussevitzky Foundation of the Library of Congress, and the Fromm Foundation of Harvard University. He was the winner of the Lydian String Quartet Composition Contest and received First Prize in the 2004 International Society of Bassists Composition Contest. Rohde graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music and SUNY Stony Brook, studying composition with Donald Erb, Ned Rorem and Andrew Imbrie, and viola with Karen Tuttle, John Graham, and Caroline Levine. He has attended Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and has participated as a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center and the Wellesley Composer Conference. He has taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is visiting composition faculty at the University of California, Davis. He currently resides in San Francisco, where he is the Artistic Director of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, as well as an active violist, performing a wide variety of new music.

Harold Meltzer: Virginal

Harold MeltzerHarold Meltzer‘s Virginal features the composer as harpsichord soloist. In composing the piece, Meltzer was inspired by Elizabethan composers such as John Bull and William Byrd. Such composers often wrote keyboard works that were sets of variations based loosely on a theme or a progression of harmonies. What Meltzer liked most about these pieces was how they were organized: “You could hear that you had moved from one section to another not so much because the theme came back, but because the figuration, the nature of the virtuosity changed.”Virginal was commissioned by Brandon Fradd.

After working for a few years as a lawyer, Meltzer returned to music and completed his DMA at Yale in 2000. He has since been awarded a Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Rockefeller Foundation residency in Bellagio, Italy. Recent commissions have come from the American Composers Forum, the Barlow Endowment, Concert Artists Guild, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Meet The Composer, the National Flute Association, pianist Ursula Oppens, tenor Paul Sperry, and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour. His music is recorded on Albany Records and CRI, and published by Urban Scrawl Music Company and G. Schirmer, Inc. He is a founder and artistic director of the new music ensemble Sequitur. Meltzer’s work often focuses on mixed media, and he has collaborated on theater projects with Shakespeare and Company and Syracuse Stage, and dance projects with Molissa Fenley and Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Meltzer graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College, and from Columbia Law School and King’s College, Cambridge. He teaches composition at Vassar College.

Tania León: Indígena

Tania León‘s work is well-known to ACO listeners: she served as ACO’s Latin-American Music Advisor for six annual festivals focusing on music of Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and, of course, Cuba, where León was born and raised. León’s heritage is at the fore in Indígena, with woodwind and brass flourishes, bursts of percussion, and driving motoric, interlocking polyrhythms evoking the revelry of a comparsa, or Carnival parade. The New York Times calls Indígena a “hip homage to the Neo-Classical works of Schoenberg, though bit by bit the work starts to sound like a strangely atonal Latino dance band, capped by a take-it-away solo cadenza for trumpet.”

León is one of the most vital personalities on today’s music scene. She has been the subject of profiles on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, and several independent films. Recent performances include a Composer Portrait concert at Miller Theatre, and a new commission for the new Gatehouse at Aaron Davis Hall. Her music was also featured in the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow series. León’s opera Scourge of Hyacinths was commissioned by the Munich Biennale, and has been performed some 20 times. León’s last commissioned work for ACO was Desde, which the orchestra premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2001.

In the past few years, León has appeared as guest conductor throughout Europe, including subscription series concerts of the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Marseille, France, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Santa Cecilia Orchestra (Rome), Gewaundhausorchester, Germany, as well as the Orquesta de la Comunidad y Coro de Madrid, Spain.

León is the recipient of the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award and honorary degrees from Colgate University and Oberlin College. She has been Visiting Lecturer/Professor at Harvard, Yale, the University of Michigan and the Musikschule in Hamburg. León has received awards for her compositions from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, NYSCA, the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund, ASCAP, the Fromm Foundation, and the Koussevitzky Foundation, among others. She was the first Music Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and has served as new music advisor to the Brooklyn and New York Philharmonics. She is currently the Claire and Leonard Tow Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn College.

Spotlight Performances:
Andrew McKenna Lee &
Min Xiao-Fen

New additions to ACO’s Orchestra Underground programming this season are spotlight performances that feature composer-performers in solo works of their own creation. These performances showcase emerging artists of diverse influences, and create an aesthetic connection with other works on the program. Two such composer-performers are featured in this program: composer-guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee and composer-pipaist Min Xiao-Fen.

Andrew McKenna Lee: Arabescata

Andrew McKenna Lee, guitarist/composerAndrew McKenna Lee will performArabescata, a solo piece for nylon-string guitar. The Newark Star Ledgersays that Lee’s music is “hard edged&ldots; (his) command of his style must be respected.” Lee is currently pursuing his doctorate in composition as a student of Steve Mackey’s at Princeton. His previous studies have been at Carnegie Mellon University and the Manhattan School of Music, where his teachers have included Leonardo Balada and Richard Danielpour. Lee’s music has been performed by the Brentano String Quartet, the New Jersey Symphony, Kroumata, and eighth blackbird. His works have also been presented at the International Music Festival of Toroella de Montgrí, Spain, International Gaudeamus Week of the Netherlands, the Stockholm Arts and Sciences Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, and he has given solo recitals and concerts at venues such as Symphony Space, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm, and at the Aspen Music Festival.

Min Xiao-Fen: Blue Pipa

Min Xiao-Feng, composer and pipa virtuosoThe Village Voice says Min Xiao-Fen “take(s) her ancient Chinese string instrument into the future.” Internationally known for her virtuosity and fluid style, Min learned the pipa from her father, Min Ji-Qian, a professor and pipa master at Nanjing University, and was pipa soloist for the famed Nanjing National Music Orchestra from 1980 to 1992. She has received high acclaim for her classical, new music and jazz performances, and has been featured soloist with the New York City Opera, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the vocal ensemble Chanticleer, the San Diego Symphony and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. She has performed solo concerts at the Vienna Music Festival, the Utrecht International Lute Festival, the Geneva Music Festival, the Berlin Chinese Music Festival, the New York Guitar Festival and at various jazz festivals in Paris, Quebec and Jakarta. She has also taught master classes at the Juilliard School, Boston Conservatory, the New School, the Haystack Mountain School of Arts Crafts and the Amsterdam Conservatory. She is the founder of Blue Pipa ( On this performance she performs Blue Pipa, a piece inspired by jazz legend Miles Davis.

Tickets & Info

ACO performs at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall Monday, March 26, 2007 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $32 and $40, and may be purchased through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800, by visiting Carnegie Hall’s website at, or at the Carnegie Hall box office, 57th Street at 7th Ave.

The program will be previewed Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 7:30pm at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia performance is part of ACO’s a two-year residency, made possible by The Philadelphia Music Project, an Artistic Initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, administered by The University of the Arts. Tickets for the Philadelphia performance are $30 and are available by calling Penn Presents at 215-893-3900, or online at

ACO’s emerging composers program is supported by The Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, The Greenwall Foundation, The Henfield Foundation, Jerome Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and ACO’s Inner Circle.

Major support of American Composers Orchestra is provided by ACO Inner Circle, American Symphony Orchestra League, Amphion Foundation, Arlington Associates, ASCAP, ASCAP Foundation, Bay and Paul Foundations, BMI, BMI Foundation, NY City Council Member Gale A. Brewer, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Citigroup Foundation, Edward T. Cone Foundation, Consolidated Edison, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, The Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, Fidelity Foundation, Fromm Music 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, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Neil Family Fund, The New York Community Trust, The New York State Music Fund established by the New York State Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, The Rodgers Family Foundation, Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, The Susan and Ford Schumann Foundation, Emma A. Sheafer Charitable Trust, the 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.

The residency of Derek Bermel is made possible through Music Alive, a program of the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer. This national program is designed to provide orchestras with resources and tools to support their presentation of new music to the public and build support for new music within their institutions. Funding for Music Alive is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Aaron Copland Fund for Music.