Bernard Rands Honored with Lancaster Symphony Composer Award

Bernard Rands Honored with Lancaster Symphony Composer Award

Bernard Rands
Photo by Jack Mitchell

Though it’s been awarded since 1959, you may not have heard of a composer honor that’s been given annually by a small orchestra in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The winners’ list includes a number of major artists—and the 2004 award sees Bernard Rands‘ name added to the list.

There is no application or nomination process for the composer award. In fact, it’s less an award in the traditional “here’s your check” sense and more of an institutionalized way for the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra to feature one American composer every year. The recognized composer receives a performance of his or her work, travel expenses, and an engraved presentation watch historically contributed by the originally Lancaster-based Hamilton Watch Company. Though the watch company is no longer located in the area, the orchestra continues to make the watch presentation.

Previous Recipients

1959 – Howard Hanson
1960 – Peter Mennin
1963 – Henry Cowell
1964 – Vincent Persichetti
1965 – William Shuman
1966 – Walter Piston
1967 – Norman Dello Joio
1968 – Alan Hovhaness
1969 – Roger Sessions
1970 – Paul Creston
1971 – Virgil Thomson
1972 – Gunther Schuller
1973 – Gian Carlo Menotti
1974 – Leroy Anderson
1975 – Richard Yardumian
1976 – David Amran
1977 – David Diamond
1978 – Louis A. Mennini
1979 – Robert Ward
1980 – Morton Gould
1981 – Jacob Druckman
1982 – Ned Rorem
1983 – David Del Tredici
1984 – Elie Siegmeister
1985 – Benjamin Lees
1986 – George Rochberg
1987 – Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
1988 – John Corigliano
1989 – Ulysses Kay
1990 – John Harbison
1991 – Stephen Albert
1992 – Joseph Schwantner
1993 – Russell Peck
1994 – Stephen Paulus
1995 – David Ott
1996 – William Bolcom
1998 – George T. Walker
1999 – James “Kimo” Williams
2000 – Christopher Rouse
2001 – Aaron Jay Kernis
2002 – Lukas Foss
2003 – Joan Tower

Here’s how it works: The music director traditionally suggests up to ten composers work that he feels would fit well within the confines of the planned season program. A music committee made up of board and non-board members then listens to CDs, reads bios, and there’s “lots of hashing over of opinions and ideas,” says Patricia Otto, the orchestra’s development director. When they get down to three, the committee votes. The winning composer must be available to attend the performance (his or her piece will be included on a regular season concert) and to speak about his or her work to accept the award.

In this way, the small-budget orchestra (they reached the $1 million mark just this year) which gives five season concerts plus three more of the pops variety, hopes to not only generate interest in a specific composer, but “also a more appreciative hearing of all modern music.”

Otto says the weekend the composer is in town has the air of a presidential visit, with people vying for the chance to take the composer to lunch. Since the composer’s music has generally not been heard before it is performed, it does happen that people love the composer and then end up not liking the music but that, she says, is all par for the course. As an orchestra employee, former board member, and concert attendee, Otto says she’d call it the highlight of the season.

Howard Hansen was the first to receive the award in 1959. Kenneth Bates, then president of the orchestra’s board, housed the visiting composers in the early years of the award at his home and hosted the post-concert reception. According to an article in the county’s historical record, Bates described the program’s mission as a “way the composer would be identified as a person to the audience, and his music would become a living example of the current work in the musical field.”

Though at a pace of one a year, the LSO’s audience could not possibly keep abreast of all that is happening in the music field, learning about the work of one new composer every year is likely more than most of the nation’s symphony subscribers.

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