CMA Conference Highlights American Music

CMA Conference Highlights American Music

Monk and Mackey addressed CMA conference delegates

“Whim and Rigor: Spontaneity in Life and Music” was the theme of Chamber Music America‘s 24th National Conference in New York City, January 18-20, 2002. The chamber music community gathered for a weekend of high-energy discussion, skill-building, and networking with colleagues. Conference Chair Steven Mackey welcomed the delegates to New York. With an American composer at the helm, it’s of little surprise that contemporary American music permeated this year’s conference activities.

Many of the conference sessions and workshops featured performances of improvised and compositional new works. Singer Rinke Eckert and flutist Robert Dick introduced participants to their brand of improvisational storytelling disguised as an interview. Their partially-composed experiment, which they have named The Psychological Sonata, recounts their musical and social experiences from childhood and adolescence through conversations, monologues, and music. Other sessions focused on the importance of improvisation to the compositional process in jazz, classical, and world styles, including a participatory workshop presented by the Don Braden Quartet during which chamber musicians honed their improvising skills.

Composer, choreographer, and performer Meredith Monk‘s plenary session “Keeping the Play in Playing” was a highlight of conference activities. Monk spoke about her philosophies with regard to composition, singing, and dance and how they relate to one another. Describing the human voice as “the original instrument,” she demonstrated the expressivity of voice without words by performing two of her pieces with Katie Geissinger, a member of Monk’s ensemble. At the close of her session, a line of admirers wrapped around the main ballroom waiting to talk to her about her work.

The other conference plenary session talks were given by chef Anne Rosenzweig and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Though less directly related to the field than Monk’s remarks, conference delegates responded warmly to Rosenweig’s personal tales of studying ethnomusicology at Columbia, making field recordings in Africa, and then coming up through the ranks in male-dominated New York City kitchens to become a noted chef–an experience she summarizes as an “improvised life” fueled by an “inspired curiosity and a mistrust of rules.” Without hitting the audience over the head with the analogy, Rosenzweig drew strong parallels between food and music by discussing the training of a chef, the difficulties of the industry, and balancing personal tastes with those of the audience in a way that keeps the creator and consumer satisfied and well nourished.

Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chik-sent-mee-hi, as he explained at the opening of his talk), one of the world’s leading authorities on the psychology of creativity, has devoted his career largely to the study of what makes people happy. His interviews with artists, including composers and musicians, show that the “fulfillment was in the process itself.” He outlined his concept of “flow,” defined as a state of high challenge during which skills are used to their utmost potential resulting in feelings of optimal fulfillment. To illustrate, he cited artists who had almost out-of-body experiences while working or performing, losing track of time and experiencing feelings of ecstasy.

Given current headlines, a three-part panel discussion on the current state of the recording industry seemed especially timely in light of advancing technology and the market downturn. Tim Page, music critic for the Washington Post, moderated and the panelists included representatives from New World Records, Innova, Napster,, WQXR-FM, and Billboard. At each session, the rooms were filled to capacity. Steve Smith, a Billboard columnist who has also put in his time filling various roles in the classical and jazz world, pointed out that classical music now makes up a smaller part of larger companies. And while even at the majors the departments are run by people who are passionate about the music, “what’s changed is the people they answer to . . . They aren’t like us and they don’t like us.” But Steven Gates, whose career has also run the gamut of involvement in the industry, suggested that the current state of recording has created the “opportunity for the smaller to mid-sized labels to sign the major artists” dropped by the big players. Gates maintained an optimistic tone. “There are all these problems in the industry, but I’ve never seen a time where there were so many opportunities as well.” One of those opportunities, according to representatives of Napster and Andante, is to be found on the Web. The panel addressed audience members’ concerns regarding marketing, technology, and the future protection of copyright.

A session titled Transforming Sources, hosted by Musicians Accord, explored the creation of cross-cultural compositions. During this session, works by Americans Laura Kaminsky and Amy Rubin and a transcription of Brazilian guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti‘s music were used to demonstrate the process of transforming music to transcend cultural borders.

The processes of commissioning a new work and bringing audiences to contemporary music concerts were demystified through two panels: a how-to on commissioning new work and a session titled “The Audience Does Like Contemporary Music”. Topics for the former ranged from creative fundraising to contracts and the latter session focused on audience development and featured excerpts of the first ever NEA-CMA Commission, Judith Sainte Croix‘s woodwind quintet Vision III, a work for the Quintet of the Americas, which also featured their performance on over 30 different instruments from South America.

Sainte Croix’s work was performed in its entirety at the Conference’s annual Sunday afternoon Commissioning Showcase, a concert featuring works performed by the commissioning ensembles written under the auspices of CMA’s Commissioning Program and New Works: Creation and Presentation Program, which is always a conference highlight for contemporary American music aficionados. The program also consisted of two pieces by David Berkman performed by the David Berkman Band, a new work by Bun-Ching Lam written for Music From China, and Bob Mintzer‘s remarkable Sax Quartet No. 3, performed by the New Century Saxophone Quartet. But this year, live concert performances of American repertoire were not limited to the Commissioning Showcase. At the Conference’s opening night concert, pianist Gilbert Kalish and Timothy Eddy performed Elliott Carter‘s 1948 Sonata for Cello and Piano, which this season is feeling more and more like standard repertoire.

In addition to live performances, the American Music Center hosted a Listening Room that allowed ensembles to view scores and hear recordings of over 300 pieces by living American composers. Also available to attendees were one-on-one consultations with information and grants managers from the American Music Center, the Association for Performing Arts Presenters, the National Endowment for the Arts, and representatives from many of the country’s leading music schools and conservatories.

A number of awards were given throughout the three-day conference including the ASCAP/CMA Awards for Adventurous Programming (for chamber music), the CMA/WQXR Record Awards, two education awards, and CMA’s top honor, the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award. Recipients were:

CMA Awards

Heidi Castlemann Award for Excellence in Chamber Music Teaching
  • Brian R. Cole

    Kay Logan Award for Excellence in Chamber Music Teaching

  • Karen Iglitzin

    Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award:

  • Gilbert Kalish

  • ASCAP/CMA Awards for Adventurous Programming
    Self-Producing Ensembles
    First Prize Network for New Music, Philadelphia, PA
    Second Prize San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, San Francisco, CA

    Touring Ensembles
    First Prize Talujon, Merrick, NY
    Second Prize Bang On A Can All-Stars, New York, NY

    Presenters of 10 or more concerts
    First Prize Los Angeles County Museum of Art
    Second Prize Merkin Concert Hall, New York

    Presenters of 9 or fewer concerts
    First Prize CrossSound, Juneau, Alaska
    Second Prize Suffolk County Community College, Selden, NY

    First Prize Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Merkin Concert Hall for Great Day In New York special series of concerts
    Second Prize Chamber Music Conference and Composers’ Forum of the East Bennington, Vermont and Hamilton, New York

    CMA/WQXR Record Awards

    Passionate Pavans & Galliards (Dowland)
    The Queen’s Chamber Band Soloists
    Lyrichord LEMS 8046

    Dawn to Dusk
    Avalon String Quartet
    Channel Classics CCS 14898

    50th Anniversary Album
    Marlboro Music Festival
    Bridge 9108A/B

    Walter Piston Chamber Music
    1999 Australian Festival of Chamber Music
    Naxos Classical 8.559071

    Shostakovich String Quartets Nos. 5, 7, and 9
    St. Petersburg String Quartet
    Hyperion CDA67155

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