Taking Charge of American Music

Taking Charge of American Music

Frank J. Oteri
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard

In 1939, six American composers joined forces to create the American Music Center, the first-ever information center devoted to the promulgation of new music. For many years, the American Music Center served as the only repository of scores and recordings of a diverse array of repertoire. This effort proved to be a lightning rod and served as a model for music information centers in more than 40 countries around the world. Now, sixty years later, the American Music Center is embarking on a new journey with the launch of NewMusicBox, the first-ever web magazine devoted to new American music.

Each month, NewMusicBox will feature an interview with one or more prominent figures in American Music in which a variety of topics will be discussed and debated at In The First Person. You will be able to join in the debate as well at In The Second Person. Detailed background on a theme topical to whomever has been interviewed will appear at In The Third Person in what I like to call “hyper-history” form. Instead of a linear narrative, there will be a single quickread page filled with a hopscotch network of links allowing you to determine for yourself how much detail you want. And opinions from a variety of movers and shakers within the music industry will be gathered at Hymn & Fuguing Tune to which you can add as well if there’s something you want to say.

For this first issue, we decided to have a roundtable discussion with the three directors of Bang On A Can, one of the most innovative and successful new music ventures of our time. We were joined by the American Music Center’s Executive Director Richard Kessler, and we were also joined by Fran Richard, Vice President of the Symphonic and Concert Music Department at ASCAP. She even provided us with a comfortable room at ASCAP where everybody was able to talk leisurely about everything from the future of the orchestra to the New Jersey Nets. Now, we invite you to debate with us about attracting audiences for new music.

For our first “hyper-history,” Ken Smith has plunged into the complex network of composer-led new music ensembles throughout the United States, tracing the roots back to the pioneering days of the Copland-Sessions concerts of the 1920s. He has spoken with the directors of 22 of today’s leading ensembles. Sprinkled throughout his journey are some exclusive RealAudio sound snippets of recent concerts from several of these groups including a musical setting of the senate testimony of Monica Lewinsky!

We asked George Steel, Artistic Director of Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, Dean Stein, Executive Director of Chamber Music America, Eugene V. Carr, President of the website CultureFinder, and Jessica Lustig, President of 21st Century Music Management to tell us what makes them attend a new music event. We’d love to know your opinion as well.

There has been a great deal of new American music in the news recently. Melinda Wagner has been awarded the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and NewMusicBox has obtained an exclusive RealAudio sound sample. A special citation was given to 81-year-old composer icon Lou Harrison at the Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards. Nine American composers were awarded Guggenheim Fellowships and 76 American composers were featured at the 1999 SCI Conference. May is also the month of the American Music Center’s Annual Meeting and Award Ceremony which this year honors Elliott Carter, Philip Glass, Harvey Lichtenstein, Ellis Freedman, Mel Powell (in memoriam), and the California EAR Unit.

We have also assembled a national calendar of performances of American music and a list of 1999 recordings featuring music by American composers. There are over 250 performances listed for May and June and almost 60 new CDs, and I’m sure we missed something! If so, please let us know.

Putting together this debut issue of NewMusicBox has confirmed for me what an exciting time this is for American music. I hope you will share in this excitement and visit us frequently.

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NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.