American Composers Orchestra Holds EarShot Readings Mentored by Marcos Balter, Curtis Stewart & Niloufar Nourbakhsh

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By: Apr. 18, 2024
American Composers Orchestra Holds EarShot Readings Mentored by Marcos Balter, Curtis Stewart & Niloufar Nourbakhsh
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The American Composers Orchestra has announced details of its June 2024 EarShot Readings in New York.

Following 2024 readings with Indiana University Orchestra, Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, and ROCO (Houston), ACO presents and performs its own EarShot Readings on June 13 and 14, 2024 at the Neidorff-Karpati Hall in Manhattan School of Music, featuring workshops of composers Malachi Brown (Statements: a journal entry), Samuel Torres (Frailejón), Sofía Scheps (demografía acústica: % / acoustic demography: %), Anuj Bhutani (After the Freeze), Madeline Merwin (Dirty Ice), and Eunsung Kim(Kaleidoscope for Orchestra). The selected composers, chosen from a competitive nationwide call for scores highlighting and celebrating the unique musical and cultural contributions of the Americas to global musical ecosystems, will receive mentorship from Marcos Balter, Curtis Stewart, and Niloufar Nourbakhsh as well as musicians of the ACO and conductor Delta David Gier.

On Thursday, June 13, 2024 at 10:30am, audiences are welcome to experience the workshopping via open rehearsals, and on Friday, June 14, 2024 at 7:30pm, the ACO will perform the works in concert.

Malachi Brown’s Statements: a journal entry is crafted as a chronology of the composer’s thoughts, experiences, and vision for the country over a period of time, using these reflections as jumping-off points for finding peace in the midst of chaos. In his program notes, he shares, “Statements is a series of pieces that serve as my own personal journal recapping a year or a moment in time I just lived. What I struggle to do with words, I do with my music. Statements: a journal entry is no exception to this, as it describes both a crucial moment in my life and the world, just as much as it illustrates a concept. This piece exists within the realm of the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States.”

‍Samuel Torres’ Frailejón takes its distinctive character from its use of the cowbell, in both its tones and underlying spirit. The instrument is woven throughout this orchestral tapestry of a work, sometimes as a subtle background, providing an energetic foundation. At other times, it bursts forth with the full power of the orchestra, driving the music forward with exhilarating force. The piece takes its name from the Frailejón genus of plant life in South America – comparing its vital yet often overlooked role in the Andean ecosystem to the role of the cowbell in Salsa music. Torres shares, “This orchestral piece is a tribute to both the Frailejón and the cowbell, a celebration of the vital yet under-recognized elements that contribute to the beauty and vibrancy of our world. May it inspire us to listen more closely, not just to music, but to the delicate balance of our planet. It's a reminder that true magic often lies in the seemingly simple, waiting to be rediscovered and appreciated in new ways.”

Sofía Scheps’s demografía acústica: % / acoustic demography: % proposes to audibly reveal the percentage and instrumental distribution of the women who are part of the orchestra that performs it. On several occasions, the piece calls for the literal repetition of a passage, with the condition that the repetition must be performed exclusively by the group of people who perceive themselves as women. In this way, that proportion becomes audible. In the case of the strings, the piece specifically resorts to differentiated parts for women: at times, all the strings read the same part; at other times they are divided, with the women performing different lines. Scheps shares, “The number of women present and their distribution in the string section will determine the balance and preponderance in that instrumental ensemble. In this way, the aim is to make the presence of women in the orchestral group audible. How many are there? What instruments do they play? What role do they have within the section? (soloist, second chair, etc). The music will seem to fall apart at times, shedding light upon the human composition of the orchestra: the presences and absences.”

Anuj Bhutani’s After the Freeze was inspired by the historic Winter Uri freeze that hit the southern U.S. in February of 2021. As the country entered yet another level of isolation amidst freezing temperatures and rolling blackouts during the pre-vaccine era of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bhutani aimed to create a backing track to the experience with synthesizers and electronic percussion. On his composition process, he shared, “I invited eight colleagues to freely improvise without hearing what any other musician was contributing. I curated their responses, added electronics and edited the videos of each ‘ensemble’ member performing into what was essentially an installation. The second version, for string orchestra, tabla, sitar, drum set, electric bass, and Carnatic singer, was commissioned by Ryan Ross and the Allen Philharmonic. In the second version, I was able to more directly bridge the orchestra with the worlds of funk, pop, and rock music (with a hint of jazz) that I grew up listening to. In this new version for orchestra, these connections between genres (and my musical identities) are fully crystallized.”

Madeline Merwin’s Dirty Ice is an exploration of the line between pop/funk and classical music. By integrating traditional funk band instruments such as the electric guitar, drum set, and saxophone into the classical orchestra, a new fusion of sounds becomes possible. While these genres exist in very separate socio-political spheres, this piece sets out to link them sonically and prove they aren’t as different as they may appear. Merwin explained, “The title Dirty Ice is derived from the process of baking cakes; to ‘dirty ice’ a cake is to slap on a coat of icing to get a foundation to work with before one goes in to clean it up. I applied this term to the piece during the early stages of my writing process, and it ended up echoing the playful and edgy pseudo-funk character of the music.” 

Within Eunsung Kim’s Kaleidoscope for Orchestra, gradually accumulating, initially disparate elements come together over time to create a unified sound – a melding of different ranges and instruments to generate a sound that’s entirely new. Using unique criteria to categorize and combine musical elements, Kim shapes this composiiton’s many pieces into a cohesive musical narrative. Kim’s participation in the EarShot Readings is made possible by the exchange of ACO’s EarShot and the Korean National Symphony Orchestra’s Composers’ Atelier program. 

EarShot is the first ongoing, systematic program for cultivating relationships between composers and orchestras on the national level, developed by the American Composers Orchestra to ensure a vibrant future for new American orchestral music. Over the last 25 years, these readings have provided more than 250 composers with vital artistic and technical resources, as well as career-accelerating public exposure. EarShot alumni have won every composition award, including the Pulitzer, GRAMMY, Grawemeyer, American Academy of Arts & Letters, and Rome Prizes, to name a few. Critically, composer-orchestra relationships extend beyond the EarShot Readings themselves. Since 2009, more than 25 works have been commissioned by partner orchestras from EarShot participants, and more than half of selected EarShot composers report receiving a commission directly resulting from their participation.



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