New effort aims to bring more contemporary music to orchestras
Many orchestras, anxious to demonstrate their attachment to contemporary music, have made it a point of honor to program works by living composers in recent years. But when the glamor of the premiere fades, many of these works virtually disappear from standard repertoire, rarely to be played again.
Today, a group of nonprofit leaders is working to make new music a more permanent part of the arts landscape. The League of American Orchestras announced an initiative on Thursday that will recruit 30 ensembles over the next few years to perform new pieces by six composers, all of whom are women.
“There is too much good music that gets lost and never heard after it premieres,” said league president and general manager Simon Woods in an interview. “We thought, ‘We need to fix this. “”
While many orchestras crave the prestige of commissioning new work, Woods said they don’t focus as much on performing pieces that have been premiered elsewhere.
“Orchestras should be the patrons of new works,” he said. “But still, the second performance and the third performance are really important. Because it’s only when you hear a work a few times that it snowballs and has a chance to gain a foothold in the repertoire. Building that momentum is really important.
The League, in partnership with the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and the American Composers Orchestra, has been working since 2014 to bring more diversity to orchestral programming, including awarding commissions to female and non-binary composers.
The initiative announced Thursday will build on these efforts, pairing each of the six composers with five ensembles. The program, which will cost at least $360,000, will be funded by the Toulmin Foundation.
The six composers are Anna Clyne, of British origin, who works in the United States; Sarah Gibson, who is also a pianist; Angel Lam, born in Hong Kong; Gity Razaz, an Iranian-American; Arlene Sierra, an American based in London; and Wang Lu, a Chinese-born composer and pianist, who lives in Providence, RI
Wang said in an interview that it is often difficult for contemporary composers to find orchestras interested in playing new works after they have been premiered.
“As a composer, I can’t just knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, this is my music, why don’t you play it?'” she said.
Wang, who is working on a new piece for the New York Philharmonic to premiere in January, said the league’s initiative will give artists more opportunities to develop. “You can only get better working with orchestras,” she said in an interview. “Only by listening can you improve.”
The first group of participating orchestras are the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Kansas City Symphony and Sarasota Orchestra. These ensembles will begin creating and performing the composers’ works next season.
Over the next few months, the league will choose the remaining 24 sets to participate in the program.