Saturday, February 15, 2014

Do We Have an Artistic Leg Up on the Brits?

Ivan Hewitt's latest piece on the Web site for the London Telegraph is entitled, "Why don't composers win cash prizes when they need them most?" He is far from the first to ask this question, and I am sure he will not be the last. However, he seems to have blanked out on efforts to change this situation. Perhaps the problem is that one of the more interesting of those efforts is taking place here in the United States and may thus be beyond the range of Hewitt's vision.

Ironically, one of the major forces behind this effort is the British publisher Boosey & Hawkes. This is doubly ironic since B&H published the music of Steve Reich, whose recent acknowledgements triggered Hewitt's article. However, the motivating force seems to have come from Michael Tilson Thomas; and he has involved the two orchestras he leads, the San Francisco Symphony and the New World Symphony, in the process. The result of this partnership is a program called New Voices. The primary objective is to provide professional development for emerging composers; but the actual practice of that development is given a "kickstart" in the form of financing for two commissions. one for full orchestra and the other for more reduced resources. The only problem is that only one composer gets to benefit from this program each year, turning this into yet another process at the mercy of competition judges (the same process that, as Hewitt observed, thwarted an attempt by Igor Stravinsky and Dylan Thomas to collaborate on a project).

I am not saying that we do things better on our side of the pond, but it may be that we are better at pointing in the right direction.

I also just noticed that Hewitt's article was preceded by another piece entitled "Why are there so few women in contemporary music?" The first composer to receive support from New Voices was Zosha Di Casti. As might be guessed, her name never appears in this earlier article!

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