American Composers Orchestra (ACO) announces two commission awards for emerging composers Paul Novak and Dai Wei. They were chosen from six participants in ACO’s 29th Underwood New Music Readings, one of the most coveted opportunities for emerging composers in the United States. Paul Novak receives the 2020 Underwood Commission while the CANOA (Composing a New Orchestra Audience) Consortium for Emerging Composers Commission goes to Dai Wei.
Amidst concerns of the spread of COVID-19, and at the request of the City College of New York, the Readings on March 12 and 13, 2020 were closed to the public and open only to orchestra musicians, composers, and staff. ACO President Ed Yim reflects, “We were, of course, gratified that ACO was able to complete this year’s Underwood New Music Readings just before this period of self-isolation had to begin. And now, to be able to look towards the future with this announcement – to a time when we can gather again and make music for audiences – is uplifting.”
The 29th Annual Underwood New Music Readings were under the direction of ACO’s Artistic Director, composer Derek Bermel, and were conducted by George Manahan, with Bermel, and Melinda Wagner as mentor composers. The conductor, mentor composers, and principal players from ACO provided critical feedback to each of the participants during and after the sessions. In addition to the Readings, the composer participants took part in Career Development Workshops with industry professionals. This year's New Music Readings attracted nearly 200 submissions from emerging composers around the country.
The Underwood Commission and The Consortium Commission were chosen by mentor composers Derek Bermel and Mindy Wagner and by Music Director George Manahan.
For over a generation, ACO's Underwood New Music Readings have provided all-important career development and public exposure to the country's most promising emerging composers, with over 150 composers participating. Readings alumni have won every major composition award, including the Pulitzer, Grammy, Grawemeyer, American Academy of Arts & Letters, and Rome Prizes. Orchestras around the globe have commissioned ACO Readings alumni.
The New Music Readings have launched many of today's top composers, such as ACO’s own Artistic Director Derek Bermel, Lisa Bielawa, Anthony Cheung, Anna Clyne, Cindy Cox, Sebastian Currier, Jennifer Higdon, Pierre Jalbert, Aaron Jay Kernis, Hannah Lash, Carter Pann, P.Q. Phan, Tobias Picker, Narong Prangcharoen, Paola Prestini, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Huang Ruo, Eric Samuelson, Carlos Sanchez-Guiterrez, Kate Soper, Gregory Spears, Joan Tower, Ken Ueno, Dan Visconti, Wang Jie, Dalit Warshaw, Randall Woolf, Nina Young, and Roger Zare.
About the Selected Composers and Their Music
Paul Novak (b. 1998) – as the light begins to drift for chamber orchestra
Paul Novak writes music that is lyrical but fragmented, exploring the subtleties of instrumental color and drawing influence from literature, art, and poetry. He has received numerous national awards, most recently from the ASCAP/SCI Commission, Tribeca New Music, Webster University, and YoungArts Foundation, and has participated in festivals across the country, including the first-ever National Youth Orchestra of the United States Composer Apprenticeship. Novak has collaborated with ensembles including the Austin Symphony, Orlando Symphony, Reno Philharmonic, NYO-USA, the Amaranth and Rosco Quartets, Sō Percussion, Texas New Music Ensemble, NODUS Ensemble, MotoContrario Ensemble, Ensemble Ibis, Blackbox Collective, Face the Music, and Worcester Chamber Music Society; he has worked on interdisciplinary projects with Rice Dance Theatre, poets Ming Li Wu and Erica Cheung, and the Bowdoin Museum.
Of his piece as the light begins to drift, Novak writes, “As a student at Rice, I’ve become familiar with the unusual and beautiful cloud formations that appear in East Texas skies. as the light begins to drift was inspired by their subtle interplay of light and shadow and their flowing, hazy geometries. The work opens with a burst of swirling texture, with spiraling runs and swells entangling in a chaotic sound world. The brass interjects with jagged, syncopated hits as different instruments emerge from and then vanish into the ensemble. After a spiraling downward run, a plaintive English horn melody is accompanied by a canopy of string harmonics and trills. In the second section, crystalline percussion instruments merge with subtle orchestral textures. A clarinet solo leads into a pulsing triplet ostinato, which is passed throughout the ensemble, growing in intensity until it reaches a furious climax. The work closes gently with the return of the English horn, fading to nothing in a halo of shimmering sounds.”
Dai Wei (b. 1989) – Saṃsāric Essay
Dai Wei is originally from China. Her musical journey navigates in the spaces between east and west, classical and pop, electronic and acoustic, innovation and tradition. She often draws from eastern philosophy and aesthetics to create works with contemporary resonance and reflect an introspection on how multidimensional conflict and tension can create and inhabit worlds of their own. Her artistry is nourished by the Asian and Chinese Ethnic culture in many different ways. Being an experimental vocalist, she performs herself as a Khoomei throat singer in her recent compositions, which filter different experiences and backgrounds as a calling that transcends genre, race, and labels.
Of her piece Saṃsāric Essay, she writes, “The piece was inspired by a book I was reading called The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which is written by Sogyal Rinpoche. He says, ‘The successive existences in a series of rebirths are not like the pearls in a pearl necklace, held together by a string, the “soul,” which passes through all the pearls; rather they are like dice piled one on top of the other. Each die is separate, but it supports the one above it, with which it is functionally connected. Between the dice there is no identity, but conditionality.’
The title comes from the Sanskrit word Samsara, which is defined as the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. There are three different characters who represent three different lifetimes. They are being reincarnated and intersected by each other and more. It’s like a musical hotpot filled with diverse ingredients, and diversity is something we have since day one in our history. At the end of the piece, the orchestra evolves into only one pitch which represents the oneness of everything. As if we can finally rest. And yet, another journey is just about to start.”