William J. Lackey, ACF’s VP of Programs, Reflects on the 2019 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute

The Minnesota Orchestra in partnership with the American Composers Forum held the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, January 14 – 18, 2019. The Institute is a unique week-long intensive immersion into the world of a major American symphony orchestra. Under the guidance of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and Institute Director Kevin Puts, seven composers were selected. The 2019 Composer Institute participants were TJ Cole of Lawrenceville, Georgia; Viet Cuong of Marietta, Georgia; Jonathan Cziner of New York City; Will Healy of Pelham, New York; Matthew Ricketts of New York City; Connor Elias Way of Lilburn, Georgia; and Alyssa Weinberg of Dix Hills, New York.

Left to right: Frank Oteri, Mele Willis, Matthew Ricketts, Haley Olson, Jonathan Cziner, Viet Cuong, Alyssa Weinberg, TJ Cole, Connor Elias Way, Will Healy, and Kevin Puts.

During the week, the selected composers and members of the Minnesota community participated in a series of seminars on musical, career, and professional development topics curated by ACF and the Minnesota Orchestra. ACF VP of Development Bonnie Marshall and Minnesota Orchestra’s Directors of Institutional Giving Sarah Chaplin and Rob Nygaard discussed the importance of building personal relationships and a network of supporters. Innova Recordings’ Director Philip Blackburn and Publicist Tim Igel provided insights into the recording industry, licensing, and distribution. Kevin Puts led a lively conversation with composers John Mackey and Bill Holab regarding publishing and promotion. Frank J. Oteri, composer advocate and co-editor of NewMusicBox, discussed techniques that composers can use to make connections, build new audiences, and initiate new relationships. 

The week culminated in the performance of the participants’ works on Friday, January 18, 2019 at the Future Classics-Emerging Composers Spotlight concert, conducted by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, and live broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio. This year’s concert differed from previous Future Classics events. When the Minnesota Orchestra and ACF launched the call for participants for the 2019 Institute, they announced two new guidelines. First, works for instrumental soloist or vocal soloist(s) with orchestra were eligible. Second, works of any length were considered. The addition of these two guidelines exemplified the Minnesota Orchestra’s dedication to broadening the types of works being reviewed for consideration. Due to these changes, violinist Rui Du from the Minnesota Orchestra performed Alyssa Weinberg’s in sominis for violin and orchestra, and pianist Tengku Irfan was invited to perform Matthew Ricketts’ Melodia for piano and orchestra. 

As the ACF staff liaison to the Composer Institute program, it’s inspiring to see and hear the dedication and energy the Minnesota Orchestra musicians bring to this program. Throughout my three years with ACF, I have witnessed the dedication of the audience to supporting the Future Classics-Emerging Composers Spotlight concert. The energy from stage was extraordinary, and the addition of the concerti, for me, added another incredible layer to the programming. Many conversations are taking place behind the scenes to help composers writing orchestral music. Each year, I look forward to the application process. I have the honor of hearing a spectrum of inspiring music that is being created across the country. I invite you to apply to the program, attend the next concert or listen online at Minnesota Public Radio Friday, January 10, 2020!

The Minnesota Orchestra and American Composers Forum are now accepting applications for the 2020 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute taking place January 6-10, 2020. To apply, visit the ACF website.