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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

The Call to Commission

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By Lindsey Goodman
 · August 29, 2011
Flutist Lindsey Goodman
Lindsey Goodman

Lindsey Goodman is principal flutist of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, solo flutist of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and adjunct lecturer of flute at Marietta College. A charismatic soloist, chamber collaborator, teacher, and clinician, Lindsey is a strong advocate for contemporary music, living composers, and electroacoustic and multidisciplinary works.

I’m a big fan of new music: brand-spanking fresh music which smacks of the world we see out our windows and on our computer screens. For me, performing this vibrant, diverse repertoire is a calling, and one of the most visceral ways for me to get that fresh ink buzz is by asking composers to write me new pieces. That process is a called commissioning, and anyone, from an individual performer, to a musical ensemble, an arts patron, or a music lover, can commission a new work.

Why commission?

Today, in your state, your county ... perhaps even down the road from you, exist the people of legends: composers. Composers write music, and they, contrary to your history-book memories of powdered wigs worn over stern looks, are living, breathing people who express their experience in our shared world by pressing pencils into paper (or keys on a computer keyboard), stating their world views through notes, rhythms, and sonic colors.

 To me, this skill is completely and utterly magical. Where only silence existed before, living composers create powerful emotional experiences through sound. Commissioning is my way, as a purely re-creative (re-creative in this sense meaning one who reinterprets another’s original outputs instead of crafting her own) artist, to tap into the musical birthing process.  

 Personal zeal aside, commissioning is vitally important to keeping classical art music alive and thriving. “All music was once new”, quips the catchy tagline for Composer’s Datebook on radio broadcasts through American Public Media. To take that one logical step farther, if there is no music of today, there can be no music of tomorrow.

What’s the commissioning process like?

Hopefully, my unabashed soapboxing has you running down the street in search of your friendly neighborhood composer, but before you knock down her door, consider the very individual nature of the commissioning process. I’ve commissioned twenty pieces and premiered over fifty, and each experience has been as unique as the people involved.  

At the outset, it’s all about choosing the right person for the job at hand. When I needed a set of encores, I trolled through my mental list of incredibly-talented composer colleagues to select someone who exhibited both lyricism and virtuosity in his flute writing. Alternatively (and flatteringly!), sometimes a composer has chosen me as his inspiration. Either way, thorough knowledge of each other’s styles and aesthetics helps a commissioner discern who will be a good match personally and professionally for his own artistic voice.

After the initial icebreaking email, cup of coffee, or bowl of Pho during which the commissioner pitches a collaboration to her composer du jour, it’s time to communicate about the project expectations. Will the commission be specific in scope (a ten-minute piece for singing flutist and singing pianist) or provide more general inspiration (something for flute with or without piano or electronics)? Is there a premiere date already on the books, or will the piece be written as opportunity and the muse rear their ephemeral heads? 

Once composition is actually underway, put on your hard hat and enter the construction zone, if asked! While some composers understandably are most comfortable to deliver only the glossy final product (with all the messy birthing occurring safely behind closed doors), others want to have fertile conversations beginning with questions like “does the flute have to use vibrato?” If your newly-christened composer best friend wants feedback, collaborate fully, offering both practical pointers from your instrumental expertise and honest, uplifting musical reactions. 

When the piece, be it first draft or performance-ready, finally makes its way into your expectant palms, ink still wet on the page, maintain an open line of communication to both provide and accept constructive criticism as you make yourself available for consultations and readings. Crafting the best end result for all involved should be job one!

The commission is done. Now what?

A commissioner not only provides the genesis for a new project, but should help that burgeoning masterpiece succeed at every juncture, understanding that her job doesn’t end with the premiere. If the fates have smiled on your collaboration, you’ll have a thrilling new masterwork of immense personal significance which you’re bursting to share with the world. Alternatively, even Beethoven wrote some clunkers, and I am personally guilty of having commissioned some hard-to-program pieces with orchestration too specific to remount. The unknown is part of this package deal!

Assuming the first option (!), you and your composer are responsible for ensuring that your musical baby has a long and happy life. You should be the work’s best advocate to fellow performers and audiences, utilizing your resources to give the piece multiple performances, keeping the composer informed of concerts, giving her a rightful bow, sending along programs and recordings, and continuing to accept feedback as your interpretation evolves. 

Final thoughts

Of all the aspects of my musical life, my commissioning projects are among the most cherished. Through these processes, I’ve forged deep friendships, gained immense personal insight, and been the recipient of some staggeringly-beautiful music. Every time I perform one of these collaborations, I walk on stage to a friend smiling back at me from the waiting music stand. Sharing these works with fresh audiences is an unmitigated joy, and that sense of wonder and discovery, that fresh ink buzz, is available to anyone intrepid enough to answer the call to commission.

Kickstarter & Classical Patronage

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 26, 2011

Waldstein. Nadezhda von Meck. Louis XIV. [insert your favorite musical patron here].

Oh yeah, and you. Really. 

People have been finding financial backers (and convincing their friends and relatives to lend them money for stuff) long before the Internet existed, but web funding platform Kickstarter has made it a lot easier.

It’s sort of a roll-your-own-mini-public radio fund drive (something with which I’m all too familiar): you set a financial goal for your project, set different donation levels (with different rewards to go with them), and make your pitch. You receive the donations only if you reach your goal within your set time. Some of the support comes from friends and family, some from those who know you through your artwork, and some support might come from people who discover your work through Kickstarter.

That’s how it worked for my friend and high school music theory-classmate Kevin Clark. As we've kept in touch over the years, I've been interested in his theatrical compositions and his work with Meet the Composer/MTC Studio. I happened to see his pitch for the project  - Cucumbers and Gin: Inside a Studio Recording - online. I contributed and got my very own custom drink recipe. I also shared the project with all my friends. He and his collaborators reached their goal and set to work using our money.

Yesterday, I saw the finished project. Check it out:

Cucumbers and Gin: Inside a New Music Recording


Supercool.

When I meet performers and composers who have an idea, and they’re not sure how to find the financial support for their worthwhile projects, I keep telling them about Kickstarter. It’s not a given that it will work for everyone, but I think it’s a useful tool that, combined with some smart planning, can be a great resource.

So stop saying "if only ..." Get your project planned, and let me (and the world) know about it.

Or if you'd like to help someone else do something cool, don't hesitate to throw some change in the hat for any classical music projects on Kickstarter that catch your fancy.

Mahler & his World

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 8, 2011
Gustav Mahler
Mahler - playing it cool, but secretly happy that we're all making such a big deal out of his birthday

One more belated bit of Mahler birthday celebrations, with a discovery from the very cluttered shelves of the West Virginia Public Radio library.

In 2008, musicologist Timothy Freeze gave a talk on the subject of "Mahler and his World" with West Virginia Symphony Orchestra artistic director Grant Cooper at the Clay Center in Charleston. I wasn't able to make the talk, so the symphony kindly shared a recording with me. Now that I've recently rediscovered the CD, the WVSO said that I can also share it with you! You can stream or download the discussion below:

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Mahler & His World (Grant Cooper and Timothy Freeze, Clay Center Art Gallery, November 2008)


All the other Mahler fun is collected in yesterday's post Mahler at 151.


p.s. belated 100th birthday wishes also go out to Bernard Hermann and Gian Carlo Menotti!

Mahler at 151

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 7, 2011

Mahler, Mahler, Mahler ... his name was everywhere for a while, and then after his 150th birthday last year and anniversary of his death this year, he'd wandered away from my attention. When it's this hot, it seems to be more of a season for Gershwin, Copland, Mozart, Vivaldi, or I don't know, most things that aren't Mahler.

A couple weeks ago, a few acquaintances who have only a casual interest in classical music started talking about Gustav Mahler, which surprised me. It turns out, they'd been seeing Mahler TV; the Keeping Score series on PBS featured Mahler in an episode. Mahler: Origins is available to watch online now through PBS Video (along with a bonus video of Mahler's Symphony No. 1, which I'm really enjoying listening to as I write this post).

Then there was a Mahler request to play on the radio today:

Das klagende lied: Der Spielmann


And then, I was startled to hear on the Writer's Almanac that today is Mahler's birthday (along with Robert Heinlein's birthday and the anniversary of the invention of sliced bread).

How shameful of me to have almost missed his birthday, especially during his centennial year! (it's the centennial of his death, not his birth, but it's still a bit special).

In case you're catching up, like me, here's some of the Mahler content that has previously been featured on Classically Speaking:

* Anna Larsson sings Mahler (interview)

 * Mahler and Homecoming (Chad Winkler of the PSO)

 * Who's Afraid of  Gustav Mahler?

 * Giant Hammers and Opera Corpses

 * Life & Death & Mahler in Wheeling




And if all of this Mahler has you in the mood to hear some in concert, fear not. The Mahler year is not over in West Virginia -- the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra will be performing Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in September.

Added bonus: Mahler just made it onto a very distinguished list; he was voted one of the "Top Ten Badass Composers" on a list compiled by NPR's Deceptive Cadence blog. Not a bad way to be at 151.

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