Composers, painters, writers, the whole motley lot–have always depended upon the kindness of strangers. Timely financial interventions of the Lorenzo de’ Medici here, the Nadezda von Meck there, the Paul Sacher over there have greased the skids for the makers of many of the world’s great masterpieces.  Alas, those sort of patrons aren’t that plentiful nowadays and so a new “community” model of patronage has sprung up in which arts organizations pool their resources to commission new works.  I call it the “Biegel” method after S21 blogger and pianist Jeffrey Biegel.  I suspect he wasn’t the first to do it but he has turned joint financing of commissions into an art and a bustling career.

Joan Tower’s Made in America, which will be released by Naxos next Tuesday, is the latest example of the art of the deal, new music-style, and it adds an intriquing new wrinkle–a corporate sponsor. The project began as an attempt by 65 small orchestras from around the United States to pool their resources to commission a new work by a major American composer. With the help of the American Symphony Orchestra League, Meet The Composer, and Ford Motor Company Fund, (the latter patronage leading to the fortuitous branding, Ford Made in America), the project has brought Tower’s piece to towns nationwide.

Made in America, premiered in Glens Falls, New York in October 2005, and has received over 80 performances—making it perhaps the most-performed piece of new music in recent history—and is still making the rounds on the concert circuit.        

The new Naxos recording marks the first appearance of new Music Advisor Leonard Slatkin on record with the Nashville Symphony.

As for the music itself:  it’s not Ligeti but you knew that.  Made in America is more like a Copland chocolate plucked from a Whitman Americana Sampler.  Gooey and slightly pre-chewed, but you kind of like it.  

4 Responses to “Born in the U.S.A.”
  1. […] According to Sequenza 21, a mini-movement of art funding is happening beneath the surface of the debates over government versus corporate sponsorship. Small orchestras are pooling their resources to collectively commission pieces by contemporary composers, in the way that big groups in New York or Boston or San Francisco do fairly routinely. […]

  2. To decrease the degrees of separation further, I was in Glens Falls performing the premiere of the Tower and a year later performing with Jeffrey in Liebermann’s 3rd Piano Concerto. A huge part of our success with the projects was absolutely the presence and availability of both composers during performance and rehearsal times (Remember, we’re also selling New Music to the members of these orchestras, not just the audiences.). Both took part in standard pre- or post-concert discussions with audiences as well. Tower even came to dinner with a few players and told some hilarious stories. The idea of commissioning a new piece was seen as important, but just as important, at least in Glens Falls, was the interaction with a living, breathing, bawdy joke telling composer. That isn’t something that hits the North Country every day.

  3. Lawton Hall says:

    I was lucky enough to get to perform Made in America a couple years ago with the Saint Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra (in Mr. Slatkin’s old concert hall!). From what I understood, one of Joan Tower’s goals was to write a piece of “new music” that could be performed by lesser-known orchestras or youth orchestras in small towns throughout the country that would probably have a little trouble with Atmosphères or Lontano. The piece is not Ligeti, this is true, but many of the students and their parents in the audience (many of whom travelled several hours from their small-town Missouri/Southern Illinois homes to get to Powell Hall) sensed that they were playing/hearing something “newer” than your standard Three-B youth/community orchestra repertoire. If nothing else, Made in America is helping some people realize that orchestral music can be written by composers who aren’t German and/or dead, which can’t be a bad thing, right?

  4. Hey Jerry–thanks for the plug!! Yes, I was indeed first to start this multi-orchestral commissioning concept. For the Millennium, I began what I hoped would be a 50-state project. It turned out to be 25. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich composed the “Millennium Fantasy” for me, which premiered with the Cincinnati Symphony in September 2000. The concept began early in 1998. Coincidentally, Russell Peck was doing his own project at the same time, though we were both unaware of each other’s doing so. After the success of the Zwilich, I organized the first global project with Lowell Liebermann’s Third Concerto. 17 US and 1 European orchestra co-commissioned the work, which still has 12 more orchestral cities to visit next season and into 2008-09. My next ‘baby’ is the William Bolcom ‘Choral Fantasy’ project. There are three orchestras on board so far, and interest in New Zealand and other countries. It is what I hope to be an expansion of my global efforts to get American music co-commissioned by orchestras in the US and abroad.