New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program, which fosters collaboration toward racial and gender equity in new orchestral music, has over thirty orchestras from across the United States signed up to premiere new works co-commissioned from nine of today’s leading composers: Valerie Coleman, Juan Pablo Contreras, Vijay Iyer, Tania León, Jessie Montgomery, Brian Raphael Nabors, Nina Shekhar, Tyshawn Sorey, and Shelley Washington. Each of the composer’s pieces will be performed by a minimum of four orchestras.
The first premieres of these new works begin this spring. On April 9 and 10, 2022, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Akiko Fujimoto will premiere Tania León’s new work Pasajes (“Passages”) in Little Rock, Arkansas. On May 7, 2022, Juan Pablo Contreras’ piece MeChicano will be premiered by the Las Vegas Philharmonic, conducted by Music Director Donato Cabrera. On July 10, 2022, Shelley Washington’s new work Both will be premiered by the Aspen Music Festival and School, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. Tyshawn Sorey’s new piece, a saxophone concerto for Timothy McAllister, will be premiered on August 20, 2022 by the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra led by Elena Schwarz, in Lucerne, Switzerland.
The new orchestral works reflect the composers’ life experiences:
Tania León’s Pasajes recalls scenes from her life growing up, including a song reminiscent of the melodies of Latin American cultures, rhythms indicating the pulse of Caribbean culture, and the dances of carnaval.
Of his new piece, Juan Pablo Contreras says, “MeChicano (a combination of Mexican and Chicano) – is the first piece that I composed as a Mexican-American composer, having finally become a U.S. citizen after living here for the past 15 years. The work is a celebration of Mexican-American communities that have flourished in the U.S., particularly honoring those in Las Vegas, Fresno, Tucson, Louisiana, Richmond, and Walnut Creek, cities whose orchestras co-commissioned MeChicano.”
Amplifying Voices fosters collaboration and collective action toward equitable representation of composers in classical music. This long-term program aims to increase the support and promotion of composers who have been historically marginalized, create space for their contributions to artistic-planning at major national orchestras, and make major strides toward transforming the classical canon for future generations. In addition to facilitating co-commissions, Amplifying Voices also asks orchestras for a commitment to sharing existing repertoire by BIPOC composers.
Alongside the co-commissioning program, participating orchestras, composers and industry guests are coming together through the Amplifying Voices Learning Lab. Anticipated focal points of these regular conversations include best approaches to co-commissioning, centering existent repertoire by BIPOC composers, and enabling audiences around the country to discover the most exciting music of our time. Amplifying Voices is made possible by funding from the Sorel Organization and The Sphinx Organization, which kickstarted this initiative with a generous contribution from the Sphinx Venture Fund in 2019. Additional funding is provided by ASCAP, Wise Music and The Wise Family Charitable Foundation, and the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation; Toulmin is providing support for an additional two Amplifying Voices consortia that will be established by the end of April 2022.
The orchestras participating across the country include:
- Arkansas Symphony Orchestra commissioning Tania León, with co-commissioners the Auburn Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Orlando Philharmonic, and National Symphony Orchestra
- Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival commissioning Tyshawn Sorey, with additional co-commissioners to join
- Berkeley Symphony commissioning Brian Raphael Nabors, with co-commissioners Boston Landmarks Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, ROCO, and Seattle Symphony
- Dallas Symphony Orchestra commissioning Jessie Montgomery (Sorel Fellow) with co-commissioners the Baltimore Symphony, Buffalo Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, and Seattle Symphony
- Las Vegas Philharmonic commissioning Juan Pablo Contreras, with co-commissioners California Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Tucson Symphony, and Richmond Symphony
- Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra commissioning Shelley Washington, with co-commissioners Aspen Music Festival and School, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Kansas City Symphony
- Oregon Symphony commissioning Vijay Iyer, with co-commissioners Boise Philharmonic, Fresno Philharmonic, Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic, and London Philharmonic
- The Philadelphia Orchestra commissioning Valerie Coleman, with co-commissioners the New World Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and San Diego Symphony Orchestra
- YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) commissioning Nina Shekhar (Sorel Fellow), with additional co-commissioners to join
Amplifying Voices aims to make major strides in diversifying orchestral repertoire. According to the Institute for Composer Diversity’s analysis of 120 American orchestras’ 2019-2020 plans, 94% of music programmed for that season’s mainstage orchestral concerts was written by white composers. For the 2021-2022 season, which includes the first set of Amplifying Voices premieres, that number is 83%.
Vanessa Reed, President and CEO of New Music USA, says, “The orchestras participating in Amplifying Voices are programming new music by some of the most talented composers in the US while recognizing that our musical canon will only evolve if these pieces are played more than once. I’m so pleased that this program gives more audiences across the country a chance to discover the power of these composers’ work as we all strive towards a more open and equitable future for classical music.”
The Amplifying Voices program continues New Music USA’s legacy of connecting living composers and orchestras in the US to create new works. From 2011-2019, New Music USA ran the Music Alive Composer in Residence program with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This built on the work of one of New Music USA’s founding organizations, Meet The Composer (MTC), which launched its breakthrough Composer In Residence program in 1982. In its 20-year span, Music Alive, which was run in partnership with the League of American Orchestras, supported 116 composers, 79 orchestras, and 121 distinct residencies.
For more information, visit the Amplifying Voices program page.