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The 60 Minute Challenge

Image by wwarby on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Image by wwarby on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Composer Nolan Stoltz and New Music Hartford are running an interesting project in early August, which they are calling 60/60:  At 3:00 PM (EDT) on August 2nd, instrumentation for a call for scores will be announced at  The deadline for submission is one hour later–interested composers have 60 minutes to compose a piece for the presented instrumentation, which will then be considered for inclusion on a concert on August 30, 2009 at 3PM at Art Space, (555 Asylum Avenue in Hartford, CT).  Each selected piece will be rehearsed for 60 minutes.

There are of course some interesting strategic considerations.  Do you come up with a plan ahead of time, with structure and some ideas already sketched out and then work the details out when you have the instrumentation, or do you start from scratch at 3:01 PM?  How do you deal with the rehearsal limit?  Will you need to write easier music than usual?  Will composers who usually write really hard music be at a disadvantage?  Or do you usually not get much more than 60 minutes anyway, so it’s not an issue?  How long will your piece be?  If you’re running out of composing time will you have to end it prematurely?  And what about notation–do you budget time for cleaning up your notation or just compose up to the last minute and hope it’s legible?  Will composers who work directly in Finale and Sibelius have an advantage?  Might you compose directly into a notation package even though you usually don’t?

But what I’m especially interested in is the idea that with such a short timeframe, many composers will be leaning heavily on instinct and basic technique rather than more time-consuming intellectualized approaches.  Many of these pieces are basically going to be first-draft brain-dumps, which will give the audience a relatively unmediated glimpse into the purely musical mind of the composer.  At the same time, adversity often leads to innovation, so some composers may find themselves in new territory.  Those are exciting possibilities.


Comment from jodru
Time: June 4, 2009, 6:05 pm

This is a great format for new music, in my opinion, but I’m kinda biased since ANALOG arts created Iron Composer a few years ago. We based it on Lucky Mosko’s composition seminars at CalArts.

Comment from Charles Turner
Time: June 4, 2009, 10:46 pm

Love the idea – can’t wait to give it a shot.

Comment from Craig Biondi
Time: June 6, 2009, 9:59 pm

This really is a great concept, and a fun one to implement. Composer Alphonse Izzo and I produced this type of concert in Hartford in 2007 and had a terrific response. Best wishes to these guys with their version!