Jin Hi Kim John Luther Adams Wadada Leo Smith

 Jin Hi Kim
 John Luther Adams
 Wadada Leo Smith

 [[ June 8 - 10, Minneapolis ]]
The Works

 Alicia Zuckerman

"I just look at programming and people that are programming music -- they don't know what's out there, and there's no easy way for them to find out really," laments Heather Hitchens, president of Meet the Composer (MTC), the organization responsible for commissioning 700 new works over the last two decades. "I mean, even for me, there are people I'm still finding out about, and that's what I do! I eat, live, and breathe this." Part of the solution, she hopes, will begin this weekend at the Southern Theater, an intimate performance space in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 'The Works,' a 12-hour music marathon, is a kind of snapshot showcasing music from the late 20th and early 21st century -- 31 classical, jazz, opera and world music pieces spanning 15 years of MTC commissions.

Meet the Composer's impact on the world of contemporary music is evident in the list of composers represented at the festival -- among them, Milton Babbitt, John Corigliano, John Harbison, Terry Riley, Julia Wolfe, Ricky Ian Gordon, Martin Bresnick, John Luther Adams, and Eve Beglarian (festival organizers say most will attend).

But even works by these composers -- some of the well known names in the field -- "isn't exactly standard repertoire," says Hitchens. " One of the ideas about the marathon format was that we could attract producers and presenters in a single day."

Presenters (those responsible for programming concerts), she says, are so eager to commission new pieces, to have world premieres on their programs, that a lot of existing music tends to get lost in the mix. "They always want to start with a commission, which is interesting to me since there's so much existing work that doesn't cost them anything to do." (Paying a composer to write a new work is a lot more expensive than programming an existing one.) And while she feels strongly that premieres are a vital part of the repertoire, she jokingly asks, "Why don't you date the composer before you get married?!"

This shortage of repeat performances has long been the Achilles' heel of the contemporary music community. MTC addresses the issue by imposing a minimum-performance requirement of six on any work it commissions and hopes that through this festival, these works will show up more often on concert programs around the world.

As another way of fostering multiple performances, MTC requires submissions to come from composer-performer teams. So 'The Works' also features a line-up of distinguished new music performers including the Rova Saxophone Quartet (they alone have performed about 20 commissions), cellist Maya Beiser, pianist Kathleen Supové, soprano Maria Jette, and percussionist Steven Shick.

Eve Beglarian will perform two of her own vocal pieces: 'Samurai Song' from her music theater work 'Forgiveness', exploring the universality of warrior culture, inspired by a poem by former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky; and 'All Ways,' an "anti-predictive" Millenium piece with a single line of text, taken from Stephen King's novel 'It'.

Other highlights include excerpts from Sephen Paulus' new opera 'Heloise and Abelard' about the 12th century French scholar and his student / lover; John Luther Adams' 2001 tam-tam piece 'roar', performed by Shick; improvisation by saxophonist Oliver Lake; and four short choreographed pieces by Mary Ellen Childs, performed by her "guerilla" art percussion quartet CRASH.

While the festival focuses on spotlighting the music, Beglarian sees it as an opportunity to recognize the organization, too. "There are all these pieces that simply wouldn't exist if it weren't for this organization," she says. "Meet the Composer as the engine of all of that has not really been celebrated."

Knowing that new music has struggled with issues of accessibility to the general public, Hitchens says the festival also aims to debunk the idea that it is by and for the academic elite. "There's still this perception among a lot of audience members: it's very hard, it's very difficult, and if you don't get it, it must be you. And we're trying to break down some of those barriers."

If all goes as planned, 'The Works' will become a regular event, happening every other year in a different city. "Thirty-one composers seems so inadequate," says Hitchens, laughing, as she mulls over the hundreds of works the festival committee had to choose from, "but it is a microcosm of what we've commissioned, and we feel we will do justice to the composer field over time."

Saturday's 12-hour music marathon will be followed on Sunday by a day of discussion hosted by MTC and American Composers Forum -- composers, performers, and presenters will gather to talk about issues of new music.

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