Art Songs for the 21st Century
On March 10, 2012, the final round of a national competition called Art Songs for the 21st Century brought composers from seven states to the Ethical Society of Philadelphia for recital performances of new art songs intended to demonstrate their skill in writing for the human voice. Each of the 15 composer-finalists presented two contrasting songs, and all but three were in attendance for the grand finals concert. Each the composers had the opportunity to coach the singers chosen for the performances of their songs, either in person or via Skype.
The competition was offered by the Center City Opera Theater (CCOT) of Philadelphia, an organization devoted to developing new opera works. The goal of the competition was to discover composers with a natural ability to write for human voice in a dramatic fashion – potential opera composers, in other words. Vocalists in the Theater’s program performed the finalists’ works for a live audience, and judges chose four composers for further CCOT collaborations. The audience was invited to select their favorite as well.
All five of the composers selected that evening were ACF members.
Earning the audience’s vote was Ray Leslee (New York, N.Y.), for his two Shakespeare settings “When in Disgrace” and “O Mistress Mine.”
Three other composers’ songs were selected by the CCOT judges: Eliza Brown (Geneva, Il.), for “Shadows” and “L’ Adieu” (from her song-cycle “Three Fragments.”); Daniel Schlosberg (Merion, Pa.) for his “Sleeping on the Ceiling” and “Identity”; and Dale Trumbore (Los Angeles, Calif.) for her “Bluebeard’s Wife” and “Hazel Tells Laverne” (both from his “Snow White Turns Sixty”). These three composers were offered a contract to work with the company as a part of their Creative Development Projects, a CCOT program that helps develop new opera works.
A fifth composer, Philadelphia-based composer Andrea Clearfield was also selected by the judges for her two selections (“Amok” from “The Golem Psalms,” and ““Ruth” from the cantata “Women of Valor”). Clearfield had been awarded an earlier Creative Development Project grant to develop a new opera called “The Golem” with librettist Ellen Frankel, so her competition submissions were honored, but she was not awarded another CCOT project opportunity.
The other composer-finalists whose works were performed on March 10th were: Victoria Bond (New York, N.Y.), Rich Campbell (New York, N.Y.), Michael Djupstrom (Philadelphia, Pa.), Daniel Gilliam (Cottage Grove, Minn.), Chappell Kingsland (Denver, Colo.), Damon Thomas Lee (Lincoln, Neb.), Norman Matthews (New York, N.Y.), Ruben Naeff (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Daniel Temkin (Philadelphia, Pa.), and Thomas Whitman (Philadelphia, Pa.).
To see photos and bios of all 15 Art Songs Competition composer-finalists, visit: www.operatheater.org/wp4/art-song-composers
Comments from three competition composers
Composer Eliza Brown
“I found out about the competition the day before the application deadline,” said Eliza Brown, “so I didn't have much time to think about it! Composing opera has been a goal of mine since childhood, so the fact that winning the competition could lead to an opera composition opportunity made it very appealing. I think it's very difficult for a composer to write a successful operatic work in a vacuum, so I'm looking forward to the process of collaboration with CCOT. Collaboration with a company, a specific group of artists and production staff, allows the music to be tailored to real voices and can give the work a better chance of succeeding as both music and theater. “
Composer Dale Trumbore
“I apply for just about every opportunity I can get my hands on, and I was particularly excited about this one,” said finalist Dale Trumbore. “I released a CD of my art-songs, Snow White Turns Sixty, in September 2011, so I'd hoped when I entered this contest that songs from this CD would be a strong representation of my work. I was also thrilled that so many composers would have the chance to be represented at this concert, especially since many contests award just one winner.”
Trumbore was also impressed by CCOT. “I love that they are committed to nurturing new works, and -- just as importantly -- to nurturing as many new works as possible. They're full of ambitious and innovative ideas about presenting opera, and that's a valuable trait to have in a collaborating organization.”
Composer Daniel Gilliam
Even though he wasn’t awarded a contract to work with CCOT, composer Daniel Gilliam says it was worth the effort to enter. “I am honored to have been featured on the concert. Not every competition is about winning -- in fact most aren’t (in my experience!). Calls or competitions can be a networking tool, and should be treated the same as a cocktail party or post-concert reception where you could potentially meet a future employer or commissioner. The handshake, eye-contact and conversation have parallels in the resume, score and recording you put in the mail. Be deliberate about what you write and how you present your music. Will you win lots of competitions this way? No, but you will make a solid first impression that could lead to something else, if you don’t (or even if you do) win.”
Future competitions, performances at CCOT
CCOT General and Artistic Director Andrew Kurtz hopes to make this competition a regular part of the company’s development process for years to come. “This competition represented a very broad range of musical styles,” said Kurtz. “The repertoire our young artists had to sing that evening was very eclectic in terms of tonality and technical difficulty.”
Center City Opera Theater is the only opera company in the country whose primary mission is to develop new opera works from initial conception all the way to world premiere. ArtSongs for the 21st Century is part of its CCOT’s Creative Development Program, a series of operas-in-development that undergo a series of workshops until their world premiere.
Creative Development Program projects include “Love/Hate” (music by Jack Perla; libretto by Rob Bailis), “The Golem” (music by Andrea Clearfield; libretto by Ellen Frankel ), “Maren of Vardo” (music by Jeff Myers; libretto by Royce Vavrek), “The Great Blondin” (music by Ronald Vigue; libretto by Albert Innaurato), and “Slaying the Dragon” music by Michael Ching, libretto by Ellen Frankel based on the book “Not by the Sword” by Kathryn Watterson).
“Slaying the Dragon” is set for its world premiere in June of 2012 at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia (visit http://princemusictheater.org for additional information).
For more on the Center City Opera Theater, their Art Songs for the 21st Century competition, and their Creative Development Program, visit: www.operatheater.org
--This feature was contributed by Eric Brower, Marteting Associate of the Center City Opera Theater