Composer Laura KaminskyComposer, arts administrator, educator, and now, festival curator, Laura Kaminsky is exactly the type of advocate contemporary music needs to ensure its survival. Until recently a dean at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College/SUNY (she remains on the faculty), she’s currently Associate Artistic Director at Symphony Space. Since her arrival, Kaminsky has done a great deal to enhance the music programming at the venue.

“Symphony Space has long been known for its literary events. But in recent years we’ve been hard at work to create an increased role for music in our programming: both in terms of performances and in our educational activities. We’re trying to create a home at Symphony Space for all different kinds of music. I’m particularly pleased with our incorporation of Latin American music into various projects. We are lucky to have both classical composer Tania León and jazz musician Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra involved in our programs.”

Despite the currently gloomy economic times, she’s helped to organize an ambitious weeklong undertaking spotlighting contemporary music: Composers Now. It all started with a conversation she had with León.

“Tania pointed out that poets and playwrights generally have a much greater public presence than composers. Oftentimes performers become the focus of an event and, apart from their music, we don’t get to know the composers too well. So, we decided to help to organize a festival that gives composers in New York a public face.”

The Composers Now festival has involved dozens of presenters, ensembles, and organizations. And Kaminsky is quick to eschew any notions of single-minded leadership, remarking instead that, “This was very much a team effort. I lived for a time in West Africa and I learned there that it really does take a village. The idea of Composers Now took shape gradually and somewhat informally, beginning as a series of conversations over lunch or a cup of coffee with various area presenters and arts professionals.”

“It seemed as if it was just as we were getting started that the economy took a drastic turn for the worse. For a little while, our informal group of organizers was reluctant to broach the issue, but eventually we started to talk openly about the funding challenges we were all experiencing; about being nervous about the future of our organizations and of this project.”

“I learned something very valuable from those conversations: when people trust each other enough to speak the truth, great things can happen. Once we had had voiced our concerns, we were able to set about finding ways to make Composers Now a reality. By getting creative, we found a solution. The organizers were able to find a week in the ’09-’10 season when we could all commit to programming contemporary music or involving composers in some way.”

Kaminsky and company didn’t look at this as an event exclusively open to composers of concert music. In likeminded spirit to her work at Symphony Space, Composers Now has welcomed a wide range of styles and genres, including Latin American music and jazz. Within the confines of its contemporary classical programming, the composers highlighted have been from a similarly catholic array of styles, ranging from a concert by ‘downtowners’ Bang on a Can to a Composers Portrait of Benet Casablancas at Miller Theatre.

“If all goes well, we want Composers Now to stretch beyond the boundaries of New York City in coming years. I don’t see why this shouldn’t be a nationwide program that raises awareness of composers with events throughout the United States.”

If a village’s worth of arts presenters can achieve what Composers Now 2010 has done in NYC, imagine what arts organizations across the whole country could do?

11 Responses to “Composers Now: An interview with Laura Kaminsky”
  1. Tania Leon says:

    Dear Chris:

    I am glad to hear of your thoughts once you understood what Laura and myself, along with Symphony Space Directors and staff worked so hard to accomplish last week.

    I think that we’ve got a very good start and hope our community of Composers as well as Organizations that support the
    artistic world we inhabit will continue to support the aims behind the Composers Now initiative.

    We are looking forward to have a bigger community of participants next year and hope to expand the Festival to include other events, as mentioned in Laura’s interview .

    Chris, I am aware of your body of works and was happy to learn of your collaboration with Brazilian musicians. As you may know, I have also been involved in the creation of original scores for Dance. Las year I had the possibility to collaborate with Brazilian in Salvador do Bahia and in Nes Yok.. You may be aware of Dance Brazil. That is the company that premiered the ballet last March at Skirball in NYC

    Anyway, I have a warm friendship with Ned Sublette and have also enjoyed not only his musicianship but his books
    regarding the music of my primary roots and regions of the Caribbean and America Latina.

    Good to know of your sounds (via the web) and good to exchange thoughts this way.

    Looking forward to meeting you soon,

    Warm regards,

    Tania

  2. Chris Becker says:

    “I hope Cris Becker realizes that it is not only our contemporary art music what makes our society tics. Composers service our many communities, they create sounds for the many communities that comprise our global village.”

    Tania, I completely understand that composers service “our many communities” in this our global village. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you wrote directed at me (Chris), but if you read my interviews with Ned Sublette, Ned Sublette, or Michael Veal…or sample my work with the Earthdriver.org collective…or listen to my Saints & Devils CD…or check out my work for dance, you’d understand that I completely understand that our society doesn’t “tick” thanks to a Eurocentric hierarchy of notes and rhythms.

    I “get” the concept of Composers Now. Earlier, I just asked some hard questions as to what Composers Now – as an entity – actually DID to realize and brand a week of performances here in New York City as Composers Week. And Christian sort of cleared that up for me. My questions were completely valid. On the ground, I am also interested in the nuts and bolts of how we manage to produce and promote our work.

    Hope it is clear that I’m genuinely interested in Composers Now and support its mission.

    Respectfully,

    Chris Becker
    Composer

  3. Tania Leon says:

    Dear Christian:

    I hope some day we could talk to each other about Composers Now and the intention of the Festival that materialized thanks to the long collaboration I have had with my steem colleague Laura Kaminsky, a collaboration that dates more than 25 years in the making.

    The idea that was entitled “Composers Now” is an idea I have been speaking to all kind of Directors of Organizations in New York for about five years. Laura and Symphony Space embraced the idea and that is the reason why now the Festival exits, ideed.

    One of the reasons for the idea I spoke with so much passion to so many Directors of Organizacions ( ACO, American Music Center, Harlem Stage, Jazzmobile, Miller Theatre ( at the time George Steel was its Director) was based not only on visibility to the composers, besideas that point, the fact that members of the diverse communities that comprise the fabric of our city or State, was not aware of the importance of the role of the composer in society.

    Once the visibility of this important community of artists would be recognized by the people that comprise their
    own communities (ex: hispanics, people of color or communities of diverse cultures), the artists that have dedicated
    their lives to create music (ex: jazz, hip hop, classical, latin – american, etc) would be known to the people, not only
    because the genre they chose to express their individual sounds but as artists that would be recognized and supported
    by the collective of communities that comprise our society.

    That is what is behind what we call Composers Now at this time.

    You may check this information with Laura, and feel free to speak with persons such as Pat Cruz ( Harlem Stage),
    Nina Olsen (Boys Harbor), Linda Waton (Jazzmobile), Michael Geller (ACO), Nancy Rhodes ( Encompass ), and
    the many more Directors of Organizations that participated in the Composers Now consortion of organizations…

    They will tell you about the many conversations I had with them, year after year, looking for the right venue to
    begin this sor of grass roots effort to celebrate our composers, regardless of the genre they chose to express their
    sounds.

    That is where this effort comes from.

    I hope Cris Becker realizes that it is not only our contemporary art music what makes our society tics. Composers
    service our many communities, they create sounds for the many communities that comprise our global village.

    It is important that our communities realize how important this type of artist is to their everyday live… regardless of the musics this artists create, they are serving a sector of our population and it would be wonderful if our composers
    would receive the recognition they hope for… once we are able to recognize them as individual voices, regardless of the genre of music they create, it would be fantastic, since with that kind of recognition – interaction – support, we could
    mentor our yuong and make our communities feel proud to know that they have composers of every kind, regardless
    of the make up of that particular community. (ex: communities of color, hispanics, culturally based, communities in general)

    I thought it would be good for you to know a bit more about the pulsing heart of the project.

    Thank you so much for your ongoing support,

    Luv,

    Tania

  4. Christian says:

    No worries Chris. Your support of new music certainly isn’t in doubt when it comes to yours truly.

    Something that is exciting about Composers Now, that we only touched on in the interview, is the idea of making it a multi-city event in the future. Having a week selected where dozens of concerts in, say, NY, Philly, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis, LA, etc. have some kind of connection to living composers, would be very exciting and community-building.

    Also, Laura mentioned that in future festivals the organizers are hoping to involve composers more and more in activities at the various venues, helping to foster residencies and other educational programming. So, I think its worth keeping an open mind for the next phase of the project.

  5. Chris Becker says:

    Shouldn’t every week be Composers week?

    Yes, if the Mayor’s office recognized the week in some form, that’s an accomplishment. Although I have many friends in NYC who would prefer to give Bloomberg and co. a piece of their minds in a public forum rather than receive a blessing from his office!

    And the organizations participated for some reason, maybe just as a united stand for 21st century composition in general?

    There just seems to be a lot of self-congrats happening on the Composers Now site and a vague sort of “Isn’t this GREAT” line being towed by some folks in the New Music community. You’ll forgive me for some skepticism? It comes from a good place (I’ve had some people in NYC accuse me of not being “supportive” of the music scene which is total BS…)

  6. Christian says:

    Well, they got the Mayor’s Office to recognize Composers Now Week. Most weeks, composers aren’t acknowledged by the City of New York.

    And, if you look over the diversity of the offerings and the number of organizations that participated, it was certainly a standout week for new music on this season’s calendar. I’d imagine that involved a lot more coordination and support than you’re envisioning.

    Sure, there’s more to be done to make Composers Now a vital part of NYC’s new music infrastructure. My sense is that we will not be seeing a lot of big, centrally funded city-wide festivals ’til the economic tide changes. Maybe it’s better to think of Composers Now as a different model of collaboration suited to tough economic times. One in which a bunch of living composers are getting played and there’s a sincere effort to get the word out.

  7. Chris Becker says:

    So they took on the role of a booking agent or tour manager and then branded the week with their name? Like Lollapalooza? I’m not trying to be snarky. But if they didn’t play any role in conceptualizing the concerts, contracting the musicians, and/or providing any additional funding for production costs, I’m not sure what Composers Now did that produced a week of music events unlike any other you’ll experience in this town any other week of the year.

    Boy, this sounds like sour grapes and I don’t mean it to! Maybe BOC or someone from the Miller Theatre could offer some illumination.

    And if I’m just not “getting it” I can accept that :)

  8. Christian says:

    Chris,

    They weren’t all already scheduled. The organizers helped to coordinate scheduling so that a lot of events would take place during this week – allowing for a focus on living composers at a variety of venues.

  9. Chris Becker says:

    I don’t understand what exactly Composers Now did to coordinate / program a week of concerts that would have happened anyway without the Composers Now brand (a brand I was oblivious to until I read about the kick off event at Symphony Space on NewMusicBox.com).

    I don’t doubt the good intentions of Composers Now – not at all. But their website and this interview leave me confused as to what their role was – in practical terms – in realizing a week long festival of shows by ensembles and presenting organizations who were already established and funded and scheduled to perform n the first place.

    I’m not angry. Just unclear. And I’m someone who has applied and received grants, worked closely with and within non-profits, and produced shows around the country.

  10. Christian says:

    Frank talks about Composers Now over at New Music Box: http://newmusicbox.org/chatter/chatter.nmbx?id=6278

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