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Some Observations by New Music USA’s Guest from Wales

November 8, 2013

By Caio Higginson

Last week I had the privilege to visit the great city of New York on behalf of Tŷ Cerdd – Music Centre Wales. Through the generosity of New Music USA and IAMIC, I was able to visit the American center to learn more about the ways that they promote new music through the use of online platforms.

Tŷ Cerdd’s main goal is to promote the music of Wales to the world, and we have a motivated team at our office within the Wales Millennium Centre that achieves this through our recording studio, our five National Youth Music Ensembles of Wales, the 300 musical societies from across Wales who are members of Tŷ Cerdd, and our education program, which offers an original range of classroom music resources to primary schools.

As the music information and archivist officer, my role at the Welsh Music Centre is to update and promote our archive of works by Welsh composers. Our archive is a rich and unique resource that links with other departments in their promotion of Welsh music spanning the mid-19th century to current commissions.

I am grateful to New Music USA, IAMIC, and Tŷ Cerdd for this opportunity to experience the music industry in America, albeit as much as possible within one week. I am also grateful to Frank J. Oteri, who arranged a jam-packed week of meetings with publishers and other musical organizations while teaching me the ropes at New Music USA and arranging for me to attend a feast of concerts and performances.

Having arrived on Saturday afternoon, I had the remainder of the weekend to explore and see the sights of Manhattan. The rich diversity of the city made it a fascinating place to casually stroll around. Ironically enough I would later be able to relate my experience to a jazz improvisation album, appropriately named Navigation by Taylor Ho Bynum that Frank requested I write an essay on.

During the week, the team at New Music USA shared with me their expertise and knowledge on an array of different topics related to their work. The grant distribution department has introduced a new method of funding project proposals. The process of applying for grants can be a tedious task, the genuine intent and excitement of a particular project struggling to appear from a spreadsheet of figures. The revolutionary means of application on the New Music USA website allows individuals and organizations to apply by creating an online profile which will help promote the project to a wide audience.

As my time in the office coincided with the grant submission deadline, their website received a lot of traffic and it was great to see the close work between the grantmaking department and the website team in administering this popular service.

New Music USA’s online platforms are fantastic not only for grants but also for Counterstream Radio and NewMusicBox, their online magazine, and the service that those mediums provide in promoting new music is invaluable. It was also very interesting to meet with the development department. Although Tŷ Cerdd and New Music USA are funded in different ways, it was beneficial to exchange ideas considering the current tough economic climate.

In between learning the trade at the office, I also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Boosey & Hawkes, The League of American Orchestras, ScoreStreet, The New York Philharmonic Archive, and EAM/Schott. It was a golden opportunity to pick the brains of some of the industry’s leading institutions, and I relish the chance to share the ideas with my colleagues at the Welsh Music Centre.

But it wasn’t all work! On Monday night I attended the Bedroom Community Showcase at (Le) Poisson Rouge, where I was treated to a set by violist Nadia Sirota to the accompaniment of piano and synth.

Tuesday was a highlight as I managed to see two concerts at Carnegie Hall. Weaving from the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall to the Stern Auditorium and back, I heard soprano Jessica Rivera and mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor with Robert Spano on the piano perform works by Saint-Saëns, Gounod, and Debussy before darting off to hear the New York premiere of Night Parade, a thrilling work by David Bruce performed wonderfully by the San Diego Symphony which was followed by Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Lang Lang on the piano. After intermission, we managed to catch the Mompou and Gabriela Lena Frank pieces at Zankel Hall.

Opera was on the agenda for Wednesday night as I went to see a performance of Two Boys by the young American composer Nico Muhly at the Metropolitan Opera. Based on a contemporary subject, this was an exciting opera with the chorus parts effective in conveying the complexity of the theme.

Thursday night was jazz night, and it was a real thrill to see the Grammy-nominated pianist Vijay Iyer play with his trio at the Jazz Standard club. On my final night, I was invited to a concert to celebrate the 90th birthday of composer Ned Rorem at the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields. The program was a selection of works by the composer performed by Phillip Cheah (voice) and Trudy Chan (piano), and it was a relaxed and entertaining way to finish the week.

A week was nowhere near enough time to experience the musical environment of New York and America, but Frank ensured that I would not waste a moment in doing so and provided me with as many CDs of new music as my suitcase would allow me to carry.

I can’t wait to come back again!