2020 McKnight Awardees

The American Composers Forum (ACF) today announced the recipients of this year’s McKnight Fellowships for Composers, funded by the McKnight Foundation. These awards, which include $25,000 in unrestricted funds for each recipient, are an investment in the artistic and professional development of the selected artists. The four fellows were chosen from a pool of 54 applicants. In another McKnight funded program, two artists from outside Minnesota have been selected as McKnight Visiting Composers. Each receives $10,000 to spend time in Minnesota pursuing a self-designed residency project. This year’s panelists were composers Carolina Heredia (Columbia, MO), Donovan Mixon (Evanston, IL), and Beth Wiemann (Maynard, MA).

The 2020 McKnight Composer Fellows are:

Kathy McTavish (Duluth, MN)

Ted Olsen (Minneapolis, MN)           

Davu Seru (Saint Paul, MN)

Anat Spiegel (Minneapolis, MN)

The 2020 McKnight Visiting Composers are:

Nathan Hall (Denver, CO)

Angélica Negrón (Brooklyn, NY) 

About the McKnight Composer Fellows

Kathy McTavish (Duluth, MN)

As a composer and installation artist, Kathy McTavish creates open, improvisatory systems that explore the porous, intimate boundaries between humans and machines. Kathy’s work blends sound, data, text, code and abstract, layered moving images. For her, code is a pattern language :: a choreography ::: a score.

Kathy has a background in cello performance, music theory, mathematics and ecology. The confluence of these disciplines informs her work as a composer and multimedia artist. As both a musician and a mathematician, she is interested in polyphonic, dynamical systems and chance-infused, emergent patterns. As a queer artist, she embraces the infinite, bendable between ::: the erotic dynamics of tapping glass ::: the carbon cycle ::: the cyborg body ::: the fragile electric body ::: the networked, digital hive mind ::: the swarm.

Kathy is the recipient of numerous commissions, grants, fellowships and residencies from the Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, American Composers Foundation, Walker Art Center, Northern Lights.mn, Tweed Museum of Art, Zeitgeist New Music Quartet, Hennepin Theatre Trust, Bell Museum, Arteles International Artist Residency (Finland), Creative Community Leadership Institute (Bush Foundation / Intermedia Arts), United States Artists / Cheswatyr Foundation, Puffin Foundation and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.

Ted Olsen (Minneapolis, MN)

Ted Olsen is a composer and bassist based in Minneapolis, MN. By combining a diverse musical background and numerous influences Olsen strives to create work that transcends idiom.

In 2017 his LP “Joyfire” (Shifting Paradigm Records) was was lauded for its “sprawling yet cohesive songcraft” (Star Tribun). Another release featuring exclusively original pieces is Olsen’s EP- “it’s easy to pretend.” (2020).

In addition to penning over 40 pieces for small jazz groups he has written for chamber ensemble and jazz orchestra. His work has been recognized by ASCAP (finalist-2015 Young Jazz Composer awards,) and as a winner of the 2012 Eric Stokes Song Contest (held by Zeitgeist Ensemble.)A stalwart of the Twin Cities music scene, he is regularly enlisted by jazz luminaries and also works with folk, rock, R&B, and classical artists. As a bassist he has featured on 12 recordings with various groups, and was named an alternate to the 2019 International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Bass Competition.

He can most frequently be seen leading his own group locally at the Black Dog Café and Icehouse, and also had notable performances at: Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Eau Claire Jazz Festival, Rochester (MN) Jazz Festival, Drake University (IA), U of Wisc. – River Falls, Uncommon Ground (Chi., IL), Nocturne (Denver, CO.) and Rockwood Music Hall (NY, NY). He holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Northern Colorado and studied with Erik Applegate, Kerry Marsh, and Dr. Brooke Joyce.

Davu Seru (Saint Paul, MN)

Photo Courtesy of Saint Paul Almanac

North Minneapolis native Davu Seru (b. 1978) is a drummer and composer who currently leads the ensemble Motherless Dollar. His many collaborators include Nicole Mitchell, Evan Parker, Milo Fine, David Boykin, George Cartwright, Mankwe Ndosi, Wayne Horvitz, Rafael Toral, Devon Gray, Tony Hymas, Didier Petit, Anthony Cox and Douglas Ewart. For the year 2017-2018 he served as the first-ever composer-in-residence at Studio Z in Saint Paul. He has also received awards from the Jerome Foundation (2017-18 Composer/Sound Artist Fellow), American Composers Forum (Minnesota Emerging Composer Award), the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (Next Step Fund) and has received commissions from the Zeitgeist Ensemble and Walker Art Center. In addition to his musical pursuits, Davu is a published author and a professor of English and African American literature and culture at Hamline University. 

Anat Spiegel (Minneapolis, MN)

Photo by Yaël Temminck

Anat Spiegel is a composer and vocalist specializing in cross-platform performance. Her work stems from a vocal perspective and focuses on the endless expressions of the human voice. In the juxtaposition of jazz, theater and contemporary classical music, Spiegel’s compositions consider the cultural gravity of songs and the connection between written language and it’s sounding expression.

Spiegel is a member of the composer’s collective Monotak and the spoken word duo Noon and Ain. Her recent works includes the opera Medulla (La Monnaie), the electronic opera Before Present (National Dutch Opera and ADE), the online opera The Transmigration of Morton F (Holland Festival) and the chamber quartet My Four Mothers (Cedar Commissions.)

About the McKnight Visiting Composers

Nathan Hall (Denver, CO)

Photo by Sten Melin

Hailed as “a try-anything aural dreamer with the skills and programming genius to mount ideas both intriguing and outrageous” (Westword), composer Nathan Hall uses music as an artistic medium to explore a variety of fields such as science, nature, fine art, history, and sexuality.

There is an emotional resonance present in all of Nathan’s works, from his traditional compositions to experimental multimedia projects. Nathan’s drive for making site-specific work is tied to his passions for travel and cultural exchange. Other works are inspired by the composer’s sexuality and experiences as a gay man, creating a special intimacy between performer, place, and audience.

Nathan Hall holds degrees from Vassar College (BA), Carnegie Mellon (MM), and CU Boulder (DMA), and is a former Fulbright Fellow to Iceland. His works have been performed and exhibited around the world by choruses, string orchestras, chamber ensembles, audiences, children, and even a convention of roller coaster enthusiasts. His grants and residencies include New Music USA, Mattress Factory, Denver Art Museum’s inaugural Creative in Residence, and Acadia National Park.

Nathan’s comments regarding his McKnight Visiting Composer Residency:

My project “Spirits on Lake” is slated to create a multi-movement choral work using interviews from residents of Spirit on Lake, one of the country’s only planned communities for LGBT elders. I want this choral work to empower through moments spanning joy, grief, humor, love, and loss. The content and format of the work will be shaped by listening and responding to the perspectives of Spirit on Lake residents.

LGBT citizens, particularly elders, still face marginalization. Our youth-obsessed culture often dismisses or diminishes perspectives on aging. Given our recent global crisis, these LGBT stories are very much at risk of disappearing. All the more reason to give a lasting voice to the stories of here and now.

This project is supported by Quatrefoil Library and One Voice mixed chorus. The chorus will premiere the final piece in 2022. This project allows me to expand my work to nationwide communities and cultivate a full-time artistic practice.

Many of these LGBT community members may not have worked with a composer before. I want to listen to their stories to open up avenues for expression. Music provides many LGBT people with outlets to connect and communicate ideas that seem shameful or inexpressible. With this residency, I will use my own aesthetic to showcase LGBT Minnesota past and present.

Angélica Negrón (Brooklyn, NY) 

Photo by Catalina Kulczar

Puerto Rican-born composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón writes music for accordions, robotic instruments, toys and electronics as well as for chamber ensembles, orchestras and choir. Her music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR/Q2) while The New York Times noted her “capacity to surprise.” Negrón has been commissioned by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, A Far Cry, MATA Festival, loadbang, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Sō Percussion and the American Composers Orchestra, among others. Her music has been performed at the Kennedy Center, the Ecstatic Music Festival, EMPAC, Bang on a Can Marathon and the 2016 New York Philharmonic Biennial and her film scores have been heard numerous times at the Tribeca Film Festival. As the first composer-in-residence at the New York Botanical Garden, she composed an immersive work for electronic soundscape and 100 voice chorus performed in the Thain Family Forest. A long time member of the Puerto Rican underground music scene, Angélica is a founding member of the electronic indie band Balún where she sings and plays the accordion. Upcoming premieres include works for Kronos Quartet, New York Philharmonic (Project 19), Dallas Symphony Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra (co-commissioned work for orchestra and organ), and San Francisco Girls Chorus.  Negrón continues to perform and compose for film.

Angélica’s comments regarding her McKnight Visiting Composer Residency: “Pedacito de tierra” (Small Piece of Land) will be a new piece written for {Trés} inspired by the serigraph poster of the same name by Puerto Rican artist Rafael Tufiño. Tufiño originally made this poster for an unpublished book of the history of “DIVEDCO” (División de Educación de la Comunidad), which was an iniciative that reflected important public service issues on the island with subjects including education, health and safety, and cultural programs. The DIVEDCO postersy were widely displayed throughout the island and reflect key trends in the social history of Puerto Rico for forty years. The piece takes on this inspiration and connects it to the work of contemporary Puerto Rican documentary photographer Erika P. Rodríguez which explores the topics of community and identity. By finding parallels between both artists’ work and focusing on images that capture the quotidian reality of present-day life in Puerto Rico, this piece seeks to honor our lost and forgotten history while celebrating our present stories, experiences, and struggles.

The performing ensemble {Trés},  José Antonio Zayas Cabán (saxophone), Colin Young (saxophone)and Casey Rafn (piano), recently finished a national tour titled A Tribute to Puerto Rico that was partly devoted to helping raise funds and awareness about Puerto Rico and the island’s efforts to recover from Hurricanes Irma and María.

Minneapolis and St. Paul, like other cities across the United States, received approximately 250 new families from Puerto Rico, many of them climate survivors. This project will be a multi-faceted cultural exchange that will engage Minnesota audiences, United States audiences and mainland-based Puerto Rican audiences with an emphasis on sharing untold stories and simultaneously raising awareness about the Puerto Rican communities in the Twin Cities, and the communities in Puerto Rico through an audiovisual concert experience that connects them all.

About the McKnight Artist Fellowships Program 

Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, the McKnight Foundation’s arts program is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Support for individual working Minnesota artists has been a cornerstone of the program since it began in 1981. The McKnight Artist Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists in 10 different creative disciplines. Program partner organizations administer the fellowships and structure them to respond to the unique challenges of different disciplines. Currently the foundation contributes about $1.7 million per year to its statewide fellowships. For more information, visit mcknight.org/artistfellowships.

About the McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research. The Foundation has approximately $2.3 billion in assets and grants about $90 million a year.