Newsletter Joan Tower: Composer of the Year
Joan Tower, the first woman ever to receive the Grawemeyer Award in music, is the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Composer of the Year during the 2010-11 season.
Joan Tower. © Bernard Mindich. The orchestra salutes Tower with works both familiar and new to Pittsburgh audiences during five subscription series. She says, "Working with the PSO is a dream come true. I don't know of any orchestra that plays FIVE pieces of a living composer in one season! That is a commitment that is truly exciting in the world of major orchestras and shows a unique vision towards the living composer. They have already tackled some very challenging pieces of mine with hard work, and a sophisticated and passionate playing. I am indeed blessed."
Leonard Slatkin, a champion of Tower's work since he named her composer-in-residence with the St. Louis Symphony in the early 1980's, led off her Composer of the Year celebration with Made in America and For the Uncommon Woman in October, two of Tower's most well-loved works. "Joan's music goes exactly with her," says Slatkin. "She is a terrific personality, great with people." Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2/4/2010) makes the same point: "Rarely do the music of a composer and her personality match as well as those of Joan Tower. After only a few minutes into a conversation with the gregarious, thoughtful and intense woman, her inviting and energetic music makes even more sense. Hardly a point is made without a hearty, easygoing laugh the sort of warm color that streams through her rhythmically charged music."
As the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission, Tower composed Made in America, a fantasy on "America the Beautiful," in 2004 as a commission for 65 orchestras from 50 states. Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony recorded the piece in 2008 (along with Tambor and Concerto for Orchestra). The album collected three Grammy awards: Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance.
Also this fall, Ludovic Morlot made his Pittsburgh Symphony debut conducting Tower's Sequoia on October 29th and 30th. In November, the orchestra's principal clarinetist Michael Rusinek performed her Concerto for Clarinet about which Druckenbrod wrote "the real fireworks Friday night came inside Heinz Hall when principal clarinetist Michael Rusinek stepped in front of the PSO to solo in Joan Tower's Clarinet Concerto." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/20/10)
Coming up in March 2011, Yan Pascal Tortelier will lead the Pittsburgh Symphony in Tambor, which the orchestra commissioned and premiered in 1998 with conductor Mariss Jansons. Tambor, Spanish for drum, is a fifteen minute percussion showcase described by Donald Rosenberg as "a colorful score full of zesty percussive effects inspired by South American sources." (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/20/2004). The work is dedicated to Robert Moir, the Pittsburgh Symphony's artistic director. Concluding Tower's residency will be the premiere of Stroke, her second commission from the orchestra, in May under the baton of Music Director Manfred Honeck
In its tenth year, the Pittsburgh Symphony's Composer of the Year program provides audiences with many opportunities to experience living composers and their music each season, not only at orchestral concerts but in discussions, chamber music performances, and student coaching in the metropolitan area. Past Composers of the Year have included John Corigliano, Richard Danielpour, and John Adams.
On May 5, 2011 Columbia University's Miller Theatre will feature Joan Tower on its Composer Portraits series. Performers from the esteemed Curtis Institute bring an incredibly wide-ranging chamber music program. For tickets and more information, visit the Miller Theatre website.