Lisa Bielawa Philip Glass Eleanor Sandresky

  Lisa Bielawa, Philip Glass, and Eleanor Sandresky, producers of the MATA Festival.

 [[ April 7 - 12, 2002, New York City ]]

 Alicia Zuckerman

Composers Lisa Bielawa and Eleanor Sandresky have had it with ideology. So when they choose pieces for MATA (Music at the Anthology), the weeklong New York City electronic and acoustic new music festival they founded with Philip Glass five years ago, there are no boundaries. At least that's the ideal. "We're a festival of smaller forces, in terms of instrumentation," concedes Sandresky over Salade Nicoise at a midtown eatery, "so if there's someone out there writing great operas, we can't help them."

"Yet, yet!" interrupts Bielawa, munching on her quiche du jour. "We can't program the piece yet for 80 trombones and four sopranos, but we want to, and we will ... It's a very political issue for us because it's dangerous to start making it more possible for composers to have good careers, if they ..."

"If they anything," asserts Sandresky, finishing Bielawa's thought. (The two have been close friends for years, and this happens often.) In their perfect world, there would be no conditions, no confines, only opportunity, and that's what they aim to provide.

Bielawa, daughter of composer Herb Bielawa, and Sandresky, a fifth-generation composer, are both members of the Philip Glass Ensemble (voice and piano, respectively). One morning over breakfast, while on tour in Weimar, Sandresky and Glass were lamenting the plight of young composers -- especially those not associated with universities or other institutions. They came up with the idea for a concert series dedicated to the music of emerging, but not yet established, composers. "We are not looking for people who are so far along that this is going to be one of five or six commissions for them this year," notes Bielawa.

Of the couple of hundred submissions they get (they say organizing the festival takes 13 months a year), they program around 30 pieces, including four commissions. And because the vision was to allow composers as much freedom as possible, at first they joked about calling it the "Inconvenient, Unwieldy and Expensive Concert Series."

"You go to a concert and you hear a piece that's nice, for harp and flute. Then you hear two more pieces for harp and flute that are not that interesting. You think the audience doesn't know that they're hearing those pieces just because it was cheaper just not to hire some other instruments?" Bielawa asks. "We're like way against that."

One year, a piece called for 12 foot switches for lamps, and this year there's video projection on a piano lid, there's a giant chime, and a program called 'Urban Epics' includes longer form works, something they haven't done in previous years. "Not every composer can contain themselves in 10 minutes," Sandresky says. "Some people need 45 minutes to say what they have to say, and if they are compelling, they deserve to be heard." They're also bringing in Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM) from Canada, another first.

There's also the annual "what is that?" category, as Bielawa puts it. This year it's a solo piece for khaen. (Answer: It's an Indonesian mouth organ.)

"Nothing scares -- " begins Bielawa, then re-thinks the sentiment. "Well, plenty of things scare us, but that doesn't stop us. In fact if it scares us we get more excited about it, and try to figure out how we can do it."


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