Distinguished Composer of the Year Recipients
2018 Distinguished Composer of the Year
Taxonomies of Pulse
Commissioned by the Indiana MTA
A Chicago-based composer and pianist with interdisciplinary engagement across a wide range of media, Benjamin Krause is a recipient of a Copland House Residency Award, Houston Symphony Emerging Composer Award, a Presser Award and the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau’s Prix Marion Tournon Branly. His music has been performed worldwide, with performances and commissions by the Houston Symphony, Network for New Music, Da Camera of Houston, Musiqa, and the Delgani String Quartet. Krause received a DMA degree from Rice University, and, as a pianist, is fluent in many idioms, from the traditional classical repertoire to new music and jazz. He often joins his wife, pianist Christina Giuca Krause, in performances as the piano duo 4x5. He has taught at Rice University, the University of Oregon, Hope College and Valparaiso University. Visit his website www.benkrause.com.
2017 Distinguished Composer of the Year
Commissioned by the Louisiana MTA
Philip Schuessler’s music explores the intricacies of subtle timbres and dynamics through extended acoustic and electro-acoustic resources. He has received many awards for his music that has been performed by world-renowned artists. His degrees are from Birmingham-Southern College, the University of Miami and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He currently teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University and is assistant director and co-founder of the New Orleans-based Versipel New Music.
2016 Distinguished Composer of the Year
Cycles for Violoncello and Piano
Commissioned by the Iowa MTA
David Gompper has lived and worked professionally as a pianist and a composer in New York, San Diego, London, Nigeria, Michigan, Texas and Iowa. He studied at the Royal College of Music (ARCM, MMus) with Jeremy Dale Roberts, Humphrey Searle and Phyllis Sellick. After teaching in Nigeria, he received his doctorate at the University of Michigan. He is professor of composition at the University of Iowa and directs the Center for New Music. In 2002–2003, Gompper was a Fulbright Scholar at the Moscow Conservatory. In 2009 he received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, and in 2013 a Fromm commission (Harvard University). The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (London) is recording five works for a forthcoming Naxos release: four concerti for clarinet, cello, double bass and a double concerto (violin and cello), as well as an orchestral work entitled Sunburst.
2015 Distinguished Composer of the Year
David von Kampen
Under the Silver and Home Again
Commissioned by Nebraska MTA
David von Kampen is a composer based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Von Kampen’s creative work spans a wide variety of genres and styles, including jazz, choral music, hymnody and liturgy, solo voice, chamber music and musical theater. He holds a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Kansas, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Nebraska. Von Kampen is a six-time Downbeat Award winner in graduate-level jazz writing categories, winner of the 2014 San Francisco Choral Artists New Voices Project, winner of the National Band Association’s Young Jazz Composers Competition, and he received Honorable Mention in the 2014 New York Youth Symphony First Music Commissions. He has more than 50 choral and instrumental compositions and arrangements published with G. Schirmer, Concordia Publishing House, UNC Jazz Press, MusicSpoke and others. Von Kampen is a lecturer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he teaches music theory and ear training, and directs the UNL Vocal Jazz Ensemble. He also teaches applied composition at Concordia University in Nebraska and serves as music coordinator for blended worship at Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln. Von Kampen is a member of ASCAP, the Jazz Education Network and the American Choral Directors Association. For more information visit www.DavidvonKampen.com.
2014 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year
Three Preludes for Piano Solo
Commissioned by the Wisconsin MTA
Christos Tsitaros is professor of piano pedagogy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and piano chair for the Illinois State Music Teachers Association. He received his first formal instruction at the Greek Academy of Nicosia Cyprus, under the tutelage of Nora Karasik. At age 13, he won first prize at the Keti Papaioannou National Piano Competition of the Conservatory of Athens. He then moved on to the Chopin Academy of Warsaw and later in Paris, receiving the Diplôme Supérieur d' Exécution unanimously from the École Normale de Musique de Paris. After receiving a scholarship from the A.G. Leventis foundation, he continued his training at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University, where he received an Artist Diploma and a master’s degree in 1989. He attained a doctor of musical arts degree in piano performance from the University of Illinois in 1993. Tsitaros won the 1992 Composition Competition of the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy and then began a long standing collaboration with Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, which resulted in a series of original piano publications that have been adapted by prestigious examination systems, such as the National Federation of Music Clubs, and the Gina Bachauer Junior International Piano Competition. He has served as clinician and lecturer for the MTNA National Conference, the NCKP and the International Conference on European Music Education in St. Petersburg, Russia. More recently, he was featured artist for the 2013 Symposium on Piano Pedagogy in Seoul, South Korea, where he also gave lectures at various universities and music schools. He was artist-in-residence at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico (2001) and composer-in-residence for the 2014 Piano Competition of the University of Texas in El Paso. Tsitaros has appeared as recitalist and chamber musician in Europe and the United States. Four individual albums of his piano works feature under the Centaur Records label. A contributing composer, clinician and arranger for the Hal Leonard Piano Student Library, he is also editor and recording artist for the Schirmer Performance Editions specializing in the educational works of Johann Sebastian Bach.
2013 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year
Commissioned by the Michigan MTA
Michael-Thomas Foumai has recently been commissioned by the Composers Conference at Wellesley College and will serve as composer-in-residence of the 2014 Alabama Orchestra Association. Winner of the 2013 American Prize for Orchestral Composition, Foumai was named the Composer of the Year by the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra and awarded the Jacob Druckman Prize from the Aspen Music Festival. His music has been recognized with numerous awards including three BMI composer awards and Presser Foundation Award. Foumai’s orchestral works have been performed all over the United States and he has performed around the world. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii and master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Michigan, where he is currently a doctoral fellow.
2012 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year
Commissioned by the Hawaii MTA
Thomas Osborne’s music draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, places and eras. As a composer interested in the possibilities of both Western and non-Western music, he has written works inspired by African polyphony, Indonesian gamelan, Japanese court music, ancient Persian music and Kentucky country fiddle playing. He has written many works for standard Western orchestral instruments and for a wide range of Asian traditional instruments. Raised in Greenfield, Indiana, he went on to study with his principle teachers Edward Applebaum, Claude Baker, Donald Crockett, Don Freund, Arthur Gottschalk and Stephen Hartke, earning degrees from Indiana University,Rice University and the University of Southern California. His music has been played by the American Composers Orchestra, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the New England Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony, the T’ang Quartet, pianist Jason Hardink and many others. He has received commissions from the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the New York Youth Symphony, Korean gayageum soloist Ji-Young Yi, the IronWorks percussion duo and the Intermezzo Chamber Music Series (Salt Lake City), among others. Osborne has lived in Honolulu since 2006 and is associate professor of composition and theory at the University of Hawaii. He is active as a conductor and directs the University of Hawaii Contemporary Music Ensemble. He is spending the 2012–2013 academic year in Seoul, South Korea, as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, composing music for Korean and Western instruments in combination.
2011 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year
M. Shawn Hundley
A New American Ballad
Commissioned by the Florida State MTA
Hundley received a bachelor’s degree in music composition at Radford University, before continuing graduate studies at Florida State University, where he completed a doctorate degree in 2004. His works have been performed at numerous festivals and conferences and have garnered several awards including Charles Ives Scholarship from the Academy of Arts and Letters. Performances have ranged from Prague, to Puerto Rico, to Oklahoma and many venues in between.
Hundley is currently on the faculty of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he is serving as interim chair of the department of music. He has also taught composition at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.
2010 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year
Touch & Go
Commissioned by the South Carolina Music Teachers Association
This year’s MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year is Seth Custer for his work Touch & Go, commissioned by the South Carolina Music Teachers Association. Custer received a bachelor’s degree in saxophone performance from the University of North Dakota, his master’s degree in composition from Central Michigan University and a PhD degree in composition from the University of Iowa. He is currently a music professor at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where he teaches theory, aural skills, composition and saxophone. Custer remains active as a performer and adjudicator and has recently received commissions to compose works for youth orchestra and saxophone/electronic media.
2009 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year
This year’s MTN Distinguished Composer of the Year is Pierre Jalbert for his work, Sonata for Piano, commissioned by the Texas Music Teachers Association. His composition was selected from among 31 works entered in this year’s competition.
Jalbert is associate professor at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Houston, and he serves as one of the artistic directors of Musiqa, a Houston-based contemporary chamber ensemble.
Jalbert earned widespread praise for his richly colored and superbly crafted scores, has developed a musical language that is engaging, expressive, and deeply personal. Among others, he has been honored with the Rome Prize, the BBC Masterprize and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s 2007 Stoeger Award, given biennially “in recognition of significant contributions to the chamber music repertory.”
His music has been performed throughout the United States and abroad, including four Carnegie Hall performances of his orchestral music, one of the more recent being the Houston Symphony’s Carnegie Hall premiere of his orchestral work, big sky, in 2006. Other major works for orchestra include In Aeternam, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, Symphonia Sacra, written for the California Symphony; Les espaces infinis, written for the Albany Symphony, Chamber Symphony, commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Fire and Ice, commissioned for the Oakland East Bay, Marin, and Santa Rosa Symphonies through Meet the Composer Foundation's MAGNUM OPUS Project, and Autumn Rhapsody, commissioned by the Vermont Symphony. Pierre has served as composer-in-residence with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, California Symphony, and Music in the Loft in Chicago. He has also written a Marimba Concerto for marimba virtuoso Makoto Nakura and a Horn Concerto for William Ver Meulen, prinicipal horn of the Houston Symphony. Select commissions and performances include those of the Ying, Borromeo, Maia, Enso, Chiara, and Escher String Quartets; violinist Midori; and the symphony orchestras of London, Budapest, Seattle, Houston, Fort Worth, Colorado, and Albany among others.
2008 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year
Commissioned by the Alabama MTA
2007 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Stäudlin As Vogl: Preamble To A Winter Journey (alto saxophone and piano)
Commissioned by the Massachusetts MTA
Believe it or not, some people today try to distill beauty from daily complications. John McDonald is one of those people. Inspired by observations of everyday events, he composes his musical responses to life, literature, and existing music, keeping it simple by scoring his musical thoughts using a good pencil and 11x17 oblong manuscript paper. Bravo! Someone still recognizes the value of an original manuscript in the composer's hand compared to the computer-generated score. He encourages his students at Tufts University to try handwriting for its beneficial effects upon their compositional processes. McDonald opts for simplicity in other areas as well. He prefers small dinner parties to big gatherings so that people have a chance of speaking meaningfully with one another. He prefers the intimacy of solo recitals, song recitals, and chamber music because they hold the possibility of informality, of sending true personal messages. He likes the miniature "character piece" or song-like form the most.
McDonald's music, however, is anything but simple. At times it is compelling, gripping, grave, and moving; at other times it is meditative, lyrical, lovely, and wistful. He inspired writer Bob Bochnak (Tufts Journal, January 2002) to say that "McDonald confronts his audience with music of our times."
McDonald compositions have been performed on four continents by a world-class list of ensembles and individual performers, often including himself at the piano. A prolific composer, he composes piano miniatures, songs, chamber works, and has completed a "piano album" every year since 1984, chronicling difficulties and joys of daily life. His musical ideals have adjusted themselves somewhat over the years, moving toward his current preference of a somewhat lighter touch which he feels allows more potential for power and surprise. The fundamental quality he admires most in all music is sincerity, even though he finds it surprisingly elusive.
For him, there are not favorite composers so much as favorite musical elements or cherished pieces. McDonald says that his music reflects the things he likes: "two-note phrases that weep downward,...athletic pianism - big crashing chords, extreme dynamic contrasts, dissonant attacks that resonate astonishingly. Piquant harmony - otherwise pedestrian chords that have one or two things "wrong" with them. I am enormously influenced by poetry and poetic forms of all kinds, as well as by painting, drawing, sculpture, and words themselves."
Stäudlin As Vogl: Preamble To A Winter Journey (alto saxophone and piano), commissioned by Massachusetts MTA, was performed at the 2008 MTNA National Conference in Denver. It is in two parts, each consisting of twelve brief impressions. Saxophonist Philipp Stäudlin initiated the idea of performing Schubert's song cycle "Winter Journey" with the vocal part played by saxophone. McDonald responded to the endeavor in his own compositional way, devising small responses to elements that stood out to him in each song. He realized that, much like Schubert's trusted singer Johann Michael Vogl (1768-1840), Stäudlin had become his "Winter Journey" muse as he was in the process of conceiving his Schubertian responses with the saxophone in his ear.
Although he is very busy with university service, outside committee work, and serving as an advocate for issues of academic freedom and the best possible faculty treatment, John also enjoys time with his wife Janaki and their three children, running, going to the dog park, reading poetry and essays, gardening, and traveling. They love public transport and being on foot; for years they have managed the family with one car and keep plotting how they can lose the car altogether. Balancing a frightening schedule as an active pianist and composition professor with
the responsibilities of parenting, maintaining a successful marriage, plus carving out time to compose requires abundant energy and commitment. From complexity to simplicity, this artist seems to handle it all with great finesse.
For details of John McDonald's curriculum vitae, visit http://www.johndmcdonald.com/.
"Honorable Mention" was awarded to: Murray Gross, Michigan, for "Irrational Exuberance" (alto saxophone/piano), and José Manuel Lezcano, New Hampshire, for "Viola Concerto". The distinguished judging panel consisted of MTNA/Shepherd Distinguished Composer 2006 David Froom (Maryland), and composer/professors Daniel Asia (Arizona) and Simon Sargon (Texas).
Submitted by Ann Rivers Witherspoon, DMA
Chair, MTNA Commissioned Composer Program
2006 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Commissioned by the Maryland State MTA
The MTNA/Shepherd Distinguished Composer 2006, David Froom composed "Lightscapes" to fulfill his commission from the Maryland State Music Teachers Association. "Lightscapes" is a work for flute and piano in three movements; each of the movement titles refers to light. The first movement, "Radiant," moves gently and evenly, with ideas flowing smoothly between the piano and flute. The second movement, "Coruscating," drives forward with strong rhythmic momentum, using a small number of ideas that recur in various guises at unpredictable times as a way of evoking brilliant light glinting in different directions off a single entity (like a crystal or a river). The last movement, "Lambent," is a kind of accompanied flute recitative, and uses spare and simple textures to create the impression of softly glowing light. This piece was written in the fall of 2006 for the flutist Lucille Goeres (whose first name suggested the idea of music about light). Ms. Goeres and pianist Eliza Garth gave the premiere performance at St. Mary's College of Maryland in November of 2006 as well as its performance at the CFMTA/MTNA/RCM Conference in Toronto, Ontario in March 2007.
Dr. Froom is no newcomer to receiving recognition for his achievement in composition. He studied with some of the most notable names in composition of the latter quarter of the twentieth century, including Chou Wen-chung, protégé of Edgard Varèse and integrator of musical traditions of the East and the West, Pulitzer Prize winner Mario Davidovsky, Alexander Goehr, student of Messiaen as well as the son of the conductor and Schoenberg pupil Walter Goehr, and composer, conductor, and percussionist William Kraft. He holds degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Southern California, and Columbia University. While Dr. Froom freely acknowledges the extraordinary advantages such an education can give, he hates the idea that a composing career might involve competition among composers. Instead, he chooses to focus his energy on being part of the collective desire composers have to create and, through teaching, helping to proliferate good music.
Dr. Froom has received honors and awards in abundance during his career as a composer. Among the many organizations that have bestowed honors upon him are American Academy of Arts and Letters (Academy Award, Ives Scholarship), the Guggenheim, Fromm, Koussevitzky, and Barlow Foundations, the Kennedy Center (first prize in the Friedheim Awards), the National Endowment for the Arts, and the state of Maryland (four Individual Artist Awards). He had a Fulbright grant for study at Cambridge University, and fellowships to the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Wellesley Composers Conference, and the MacDowell Colony.
Evidence of the desire to share his love of music lies in the many years Dr. Froom has dedicated to teaching. He has taught at the University of Utah, the Peabody Conservatory, and, since 1989, St. Mary's College of Maryland, where he is professor and chair of the music department. Dr. Froom considers his first challenge in teaching composition to be that of helping students toward a basic technique within a basic context. He hopes to guide them toward being able to put down on paper what they hear in their heads, and to help them know how to spin these initial fragments into fully fledged expressions. This, of course, must be done within the basic context of knowing enough 20th/21st Century Music to know what some of the possibilities are. From there, the focus shifts to helping them explore their own musical personalities. The greatest challenge, he says, is that in a world without clear and universally accepted compositional leaders, students, at a very early age, are expected to find their own unique way, in essence, to lead themselves. Dr. Froom believes that he can help by being non-judgmental about stylistic choices, but within any style he must show students how composing is a matter of embracing or rejecting possibilities. He tries to let students draw him into their worlds, where he first confirms with them that he understands what they are trying to do. He then tries to help them see, within their own style, the wealth of possibilities open to them.
David Froom has spoken and written about the state of affairs in which we find new music today. In an article published in Contemporary Music Review, 1994, Vol. 10, Part 1, pp. 3-10 [© 1994 Harwood Academic Publishers BmbH], he validates the "age-old complaint that composers who write challenging music simply are not fully appreciated in their own time - with a few notable exceptions, they never have been." He believes that "our popular music recording industry...created a huge market for music both as pure entertainment and as background noise. ... Generalized musical background sound is now so pervasive that it is unusual not to hear music in a store, a restaurant, an elevator, a place of business, or while on hold on the phone." He goes on to explain that, "...unfortunately, this training not to listen is what is brought to the concert hall. ... [Many in the audience] have lost the concept of listening as an activity in and of itself."
He concludes this article with an astute observation concerning the current status of living composers: "The influences shared by my generation show explicitly in our music. ... Although musically the dissimilarities among us...seem to have brought about a lack of strict adherence to any single dogma (the serial composers are less rigidly serial, the minimal composers less minimal, etc.) and a concomitant interest in a wide variety of approaches to the act of composing. This seems to me to be the first step on the road back to a common language, or at least to...a shared vision. It is as if we had all arrived at the same spot, but were looking in different directions: while the views are all different, we are breathing the same air, weathering the same storms, ...Maybe most important, we now seem willing to value each others' presence."
Works by Froom have been performed extensively throughout the United States by major orchestras, ensembles, and soloists, including, among many others, the Louisville, Seattle, Utah, and Chesapeake Symphony Orchestras, The United States Marine and Navy Bands, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Twentieth Century Consort, the New York New Music Ensemble, violinist Curtis Macomber, and saxophonist Kenneth Tse. He has had performances in England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Holland, China, and Australia. Reviewers have praised his work with statements such as, "...the listener's ear was bathed and caressed with the language of the soul." [The St. George (Utah) Spectrum]; "For a bravura finale of nearly unimaginable proportions, the recital ended with David Froom's Sonata." [Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner]; "All of the pieces had their particular merit, but the one that grabbed the ears and held on tenaciously was David Froom's..." [Marilyn Tucker, The San Francisco Chronicle]; and, "As a craftsman, Froom stood out from the pack." [Charles McCardell, American Record Guide]
Dr. Froom is married to pianist Eliza Garth. They have two lovely young daughters, Rosalie and Anna.
MTNA offers its congratulations to two exceptional composers who received "Honorable Mention" in the 2006 competition: John Fitz Rogers, South Carolina, for "Release" and Hu Xiao-ou, Missouri, for "Soul". The distinguished judging panel consisted of MTNA/Shepherd Distinguished Composer 2005 Michael Djupstrom (Philadelphia), composer/professor Young Mi Ha (New York University, NYC), and composition professor emeritus/film composer George Burt (Sonoma, California).
More information about David Froom may be found at http://faculty.smcm.edu/dfroom/
Submitted by Ann Rivers Witherspoon,
Chair, MTNA Commissioned Composer Program
2005 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Michael Djupstrom, winner of the MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year Award, performed his composition, Walimai, at the conference with saxophonist Brian Sacawa. The 2005 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year Michael Djupstrom is, at age 26, already embarking upon a rather remarkable career as a composer, pianist and educator. He completed MA and BM degrees in composition at the University of Michigan. He states his professional goal as being one that seeks "to revitalize and foster public interest in classical music, especially in contemporary music, through my activities as a professional composer, performer and educator. In the future, I plan to teach composition in a university or conservatory; I want to help young composers to develop not only their technical skills, but also their awareness of the important connection between musician and listener, their sense of interdependence with the audience." Djupstrom currently teaches at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and actively composes and performs with the Phoenix Trio, a Boston-based piano trio.
What inspired you to compose the MTNA award-winning Walimai?
I found the creative impulse for this piece - as well as its title - from"Walimai," a short story by Isabel Allende, which is part of her collection Cuentos de Eva Luna (Stories of Eva Luna). I've long enjoyed her work, and these stories, in particular, are so intensely colorful and dramatic that many of them suggested a musical illustration to me even after a single reading. I attempted an orchestral sketch based on another of the stories for an orchestration class at the University of Michigan, but"Walimai" is my first completed work that was inspired directly by Allende's work. Practical matters also had a lot to do with the creation of the piece. In 2005, I was offered a commission from the Michigan Music Teachers Association for a chamber work to be premiered at their annual state convention; around the same time, Professor Donald Sinta, who teaches saxophone at Michigan, approached me about writing a work for saxophone. Brian Sacawa, then a doctoral student of Sinta's, wanted to get involved in the commission, too, and so my piece for the MMTA became a saxophone work. The qualities of that instrument shaped the piece to a large degree: the warmth of its sound, its incredible facility and flexibility, even the works that make up its standard literature all influenced me.
What is your favorite instrumentation, if you have one?
I'm not sure if I really have a favorite group to write for. The thing is, I often don't choose my instrumentation. Usually, a request for a piece comes from a particular performer or group of performers, and their makeup determines a lot. Each group of instruments or voices sets up certain challenges and presents a number of different solutions for a composer. In the case of"Walimai," I was particularly comfortable with the instrumentation, so it presented fewer problems and more options for me. I used to study the saxophone somewhat seriously myself, and even after I gave it up, I continued to spend a lot of time with the instrument as an accompanist for many of Professor Sinta's students at Michigan. So I was both familiar with the instruments, in particular, and much of the standard literature available for that combination. Though I said I might not have a favorite instrumentation, there are still many groups I haven't yet explored but would love to write for. And I'd like to compose again for the orchestra; it provides such a varied and limitless palette of sounds that I think it would be hard to ever grow tired of it. Recently, I've been fascinated by music combining live musicians with some kind of electronic element. It's something I'd like to learn more about, though it might be a bit down the road for me.
What composers have had the greatest influence upon you? In what way?
I first fell in love with the classical music of the early 20th century, and composers active during that period - Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky to name a fewÑhave had the most obvious impact on my own music, especially in terms of harmony. Their music inspired me to learn about how music functions on a sophisticated, intricate levelÑreally, to learn about composing. Earlier composers like Brahms, Schubert and Beethoven have taught me about economy of material, and yet, look at the incredible variety they were able to create within that! Romanian composer George Enescu is a newer favorite of mine; much of his music has a subtle, elusive quality that both confounds and delights me.
What teachers do you consider to have had the greatest influence upon you? In what way?
In composition, I think I owe the most to Bright Sheng, with whom I studied as an undergraduate and graduate student at Michigan. He taught me to demand excellence in my music, that if I wanted to write great music, I should compare my works to masterpieces. And he taught me innumerable ways to study and learn from those masterpieces, to make those composers my teachers. It's how I learned about structure from Beethoven, economy of means from Brahms, or the vocal line from Puccini - without consciously imitating their music, I learned to extract the truths they presented in their pieces and use them in my own work. Bright was also the first to make me believe in my own abilities as a composer. I owe a lot to him and I'm very grateful. I've also studied piano for many years, and while at Michigan, I was very lucky to have been a student of Katherine Collier. Everything of great importance I learned from her. Her ability to facilitate technique, especially, is phenomenalÑshe could explain anything so simply and directly. I'd be thrilled if I could ever emulate that for my own students. Professor Collier is responsible for the fact that I consider piano and performing as important to me as composing todayÑsomething I never would have dreamed of saying five years ago.
Did your parents encourage you in your music?
My parents recognized early on my interest in music and supported it completely: through piano lessons, my involvement in school bands and choirs, taking me to concerts, letting me have chamber rehearsals at home, really anything I might have asked for. And they helped me attend college to pursue music study, not something every parent would agree to. They've come to my performances all around the country and are definitely my biggest fans. The fact that they're not musicians themselves makes their amazing support all the more remarkable.
What is your philosophy of teaching composition and/or performance?
I don't know if I've been doing it long enough to have really formed a "philosophy" surrounding my teaching, but I do believe in a few simple ideas very firmly: learn all that you can about your discipline. Study as much music as possible and ground yourself firmly in your technique. Then hold yourself to the highest artistic standards you possibly canÑnever allow anything less.
Do you participate in other non-musical activities?
Of course! I'm tremendously fascinated by foreign languages and I spend a fair amount of time studying them and try to practice in any way I can (reading, speaking with anybody I meet, checking out foreign films from the library). I've had the chance to travel some and would love to do more of it (I'm trying to create some professional excuses to visit China soon). Cooking is also fun, though that has as much to do with the eating as the cooking!
What do you wish to be your musical future?
Well, I certainly want to remain busy with composing and performances of my works. I'm sure that performing will also continue to be a part of my musical life. I'd like to mention one group: I'm part of the Phoenix Trio, a young professional piano trio. We try to give a fresh take on the standard chamber music concert through creative programming and by presenting works with some details about their historical and cultural contexts. We've given a number of concert tours throughout the Northeast, and audiences seem to really enjoy them - a number of people have commented that the nontraditional approach helps to break down the barrier between performer and listener and that it really deepens their musical experience. That's really gratifying for me to hear as a performer, and I'm excited for what might happen in the future for our group.
Submitted by Ann Rivers Witherspoon,
Chair, MTNA Commissioned Composer Program
2004 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Stefan Freund, winner of the MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year Award, performed his composition Screams and Grooves at the conference with pianist Patrick Dell and alto saxophonist Leo Saguiguit. The 2004 Distinguished Composer of the Year has a rich student history with MTNA. Stefan Freund, D.M.A., Eastman School of Music, is a professor of composition at the University of Missouri in Columbia and was the winner of four state composition awards and two division composition awards from 1988-1992. It is most gratifying to get to see the career development of a musician we've supported through our activities.
DW: As you were growing up, did you have a teacher who encouraged (or discouraged!) composing?
SF: Well, that would be my dad. At the time he was a professor of composition at Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis, and a member of MTNA. Now he teaches at Indiana. Listening to him practice piano, watching him compose, seeing his passion for music and being around as he collaborated and performed with other musicians were a great inspiration. He's a very eclectic composer, which I think is fantastic. There's so much great music in the world, from jazz, to Mozart, to rock, to French impressionism, to folk music, the avant-garde, etc. He's inspired me to not be afraid to incorporate elements of all the music I love into my own.
My mother was a very dedicated Orff public school teacher. The Orff method is a great introduction to music, especially for creative young people who may go on to compose. In my music classes there was always an emphasis on performance and improvisation. This served as a great introduction to making music and having fun doing so.
DW: Your life was positively affected by an array of great teachers. Do you have a philosophy of teaching composition?
SF: I believe in a"baptism by fire" approach to learning composition. This means I require my students to write as much as possible and, more importantly, have their works read and performed. This is the only way to truly grow as a composer, just as a performer matures through performance. We do a lot of listening and score study as well. I try to encourage students to steal from the great masters as much as possible.
DW: What would you say is involved in building a career as a composer?
SF: For myself, it means doing many things in order to make a living. I teach, I perform with a new music ensemble (Alarm Will Sound) in New York, and I conduct the Columbia Civic Orchestra. Plus, in the summer I usually teach at Sewanee Summer Music Center. That's a lot of jobs! That's the making a living part of the equation.
As far as building a career as a composer, you need to make as many connections as possible. As a performer, I have the advantage of meeting other performers through working with them. There's also the"professional" side of being a composer, which I'm not so great at. This means mailing out your scores and CDs to competitions, conductors, managers and performers. Hopefully, this award will encourage me to promote my music a little more. Certainly, the cash prize has allowed me to take a little time off in the summer to compose, which is great!
DW: What inspires you?
SF: Music. There are so many things that can be done while writing music, so many characters to illustrate, moods to convey and ideas to communicate. I enjoy the challenge of taking an idea and creating a piece out of it that serves as a journey, visiting many sound worlds.
DW: What contributed to the development of your"style"?
SF: I believe that everything I'm exposed to influences my personality and consequently permeates my sense of style. Growing up in Memphis around the blues, having a string teacher who encouraged us to improvise, playing rock music in high school, listening to composers who were able to integrate folk and popular influences into their art music, these are the primary influences in what I see as my style. Then there is all the art music around me, the music of the classic masters, the music of the twentieth century, the music I perform, the music of my friends and colleagues and, of course, my dad's music.
DW: Is there anything you'd like to try that you haven't tried yet?
SF: Oh yeah. Symphony, opera, the usual.
DW: Do you engage in other creative pursuits or hobbies?
SF: I love sports. I am especially obsessed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indiana Hoosiers and Indiana Pacers.
2003 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
MTNA President Phyllis I. Pieffer, NCTM, recognized Liduino Pitombeira with the MTNA-Shepherd DCY Award for his composition Brazilian Landscapes.
Hello! I'd like to introduce you to Liduino Pitombeira, currently of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was named the 2003 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year for Brazilian Landscapes No.1. This exciting trio was selected from among twenty-eight works entered in this year's competition and was performed at the MTNA National Conference in Kansas City. Thirty states participated. Pitombeira received a $3,000 award made possible through the generosity of Sylvia Shepherd. He is now able to submit the work to Theodore Presser Co., which has an agreement with MTNA to give special consideration for publication to the winning entry. The judges for the competition were William Roger Price, associate professor of music (piano and composition), University of Tulsa; John Anthony Lennon, professor of composition, Emory University; and Michael Rose, associate professor of composition, Vanderbilt University. Honorable Mentions were awarded to Thomas Albert of Virginia, Jorge Martin of Vermont and Ronald Keith Parks of South Carolina.
I had many questions for Pitombeira, who is originally from Brazil and finished a Ph.D. degree in composition from Louisiana State University this April.
DW: What inspires you?
LP: I do not wait for inspiration. I compose every day and work on several pieces simultaneously. This way, if "inspiration" ceases to contribute for one piece, it becomes strong again in another one. However, as a nationalist composer, I can say that Brazilian culture, as a whole, strongly inspires my work. My music comes mostly from intuition and improvisation rather than from meticulous calculations. It is mostly based on sound rather than on abstract plans that work well on paper but could produce mediocre results when performed. If some sonority does not please me, I do not use it even if it fits some beautiful structural design that works well on paper. I also believe that intuition is millions of times faster and more efficient than reasoning, in the field of musical composition. The same mechanism works with sports: no soccer player, for example, will calculate the weight of a ball, the inertial forces, the friction, the speed of wind and the influence of the gravitational force in order to shoot a goal. He or she simply shoots based on intuition. All the calculations needed are done intuitively in a fraction of seconds. Only daily and hard work increases the craft of a composer as it does with athletes. I may start a piece inspired by some kind of intervallic symmetry or mathematical relationship (axial symmetry of a particular set, for example) but later, as the writing progresses faster, intuition takes place completely. It is also the ear that comes in the finalization process to clean all the cold and disconnected passages within the piece, transforming what is on paper into music. This latter phase is accomplished by observing the playability of some passages and adjusting them to get a better result. The problem with composers that only trust calculations is that they stick with ideas (especially rhythmic ones) that would produce a better performance with small adjustments. But since these ideas are a product of rigorous calculations, they are considered"sacred" and cannot be changed at all. The rational approach to music composition is necessary during the study of some technique but it just slows down the output in the real world. That is why composers that follow intuition, like Henry Cowell and Villa-Lobos, have a huge catalog of works. It is not that they consider quantity more important than quality--they just happen to compose quickly.
DW: Are there any issues in composition that are particularly important to you?
LP: The business of composition has, like every field in life, from time to time some kind of fashion, some subject or keywords that composers keep emphasizing in conversations, meetings and conferences. For example, forty years ago, not composing serial music meant not being a composer at all, and this was a clear tendency openly registered in books, articles and papers. I think, the issues now can be summarized in two expressions that we hear all the time:"express your own voice" and"bring audiences back." So, every composer tries to balance these two factors, which really are dependent on one same cause. The"own voice" is not something isolated from the"community voice." A composer does not live and compose in a vacuum, which means that if this"own voice" is something authentic, it will somehow express the composer's environment.
2002 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Annette Conklin presented the 2002 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year Award to Timothy Hoekman.
Timothy Hoekman has been selected as the 2002 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year for his composition To Make a Prairie, commissioned by the South Dakota Music Teachers Association.
A professor of vocal coaching and accompanying at The Florida State University, Hoekman has written extensively for singers. His compositions include four sets of songs published by Recital Publications: Seven Housman Songs, American Lyrics, The Nash Menagerie and Bless This New Marriage: Three Wedding Songs. Other recent commissions have included the one-act opera Princess Gray Goose, premiered in 1996; Margarets: Two Duets for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and Piano (recorded on the CD To Sun, To Feast, and To Converse, Albany Records);
Then Swims Up the Great Round Moon (a song cycle for vocal quartet and piano with texts by Walter de la Mare); Harlem Night Songs for SATB chorus and piano with texts by Langston Hughes; and a fanfare for Glimmerglass Opera Company's 2002 season.
Hoekman has composed a new song cycle for baritone and harpsichord called Suite Italiana, to be premiered by baritone Jerrold Pope in June. Other works include The Nativity for soprano and orchestra, sacred choral anthems, hymn preludes for organ and works for trumpet and organ.
Hoekman has presented master classes for singers and accompanists for the Florida State Music Teachers Association and at many colleges and universities nationwide. He holds a B.A. degree from Calvin College, an M.M. degree from Peabody Conservatory and a doctoral degree in piano performance from the University of Michigan. He has performed as a collaborative pianist throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Australia, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Hoekman serves as a pianist, harpsichordist and coach for the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, New York. In addition, he was the artistic director of the South Georgia Opera Company from its inception in 1986 until spring 1993. He has written for The Journal of Singing, the publication of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and Voices, Opera America's Bulletin for Singers.
2001 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Annette Conklin presented the 2001 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year Award to David Mullikin.
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Mullikin holds degrees in music performance from the University of Cincinnati and the University of Michigan. He has been a member of the Colorado Symphony for 29 years. He is very active in the Symphony's Education Department, both as performer and composer, creating many pieces for educational use. Mullikin has also been a pioneer in the creation of curriculum-based outreach programs, which have been widely performed and enthusiastically received. He plays cello for the Ariel Trio.
"Voice of the River Han is an evocative and sensitive song cycle for soprano and piano trio with colorful Korean influenced melodies and rhythms. It is a privilege to recognize David Mullikin as the MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year," said Thomas Ediger, MTNA Composer Commissioning National Chair.
"It was a great privilege and honor to be chosen as this year's MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year. The Composer Commissioning Program is an especially valuable endeavor, as it provides the impetus for the creation of many worthy new pieces," said David Mullikin. Voice of the River Han is compiled of eight songs, representing four poets plus two anonymous works. The dates of the poetry span the thirteenth through the eighteenth centuries.
The composition was selected from a field of 31 submissions, according to MTNA Executive Director, Gary L. Ingle. A panel of recognized composers selected the winning piece. The Ariel Trio performed Mullikin's piece at the recent 2002 MTNA National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.
2000 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Dr. Sylvia Shepherd presented the 2000 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year Award to Elisenda Fábregas.
Elisenda Fábregas is a composer, pianist and teacher. Born in Terrasa, Barcelona, she has been living in the U.S. since 1978, when a postdoctoral Fulbright grant brought her to the Julliard School; she subsequently earned another doctorate in music at Columbia University.
Fábregas began composing at the Julliard School in 1985, working with several dance companies and choreographers in New York City, including Jerome Robbins, Maria Benitez Spanish Dance Co., Hector Zaraspe, Janet Soares and Anna Sokolow. Her works have been commissioned by the Orchestra of Santa Fe, Dale Warland Singers, the Texas Music Teachers Association and numerous chamber groups and soloists. Fábregas's music has been heard throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic, Taiwan, Japan and China.
Mirage, for solo piano, the Andrew Gurwitz Memorial Commission for the 1997 San Antonio International Piano Competition, was premiered in March 1998 by the contest's Gold Medalist at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City. Roger Wright, the Silver Medalist and the Best Performance Award of the Commissioned work, has recorded Mirage for the Eloquence Label (ABC Records). Her music is published by Alphonse Leduc & Cie. in Paris and by Southern Music Co. Elisenda Fábregas is an adjunct professor of piano at The University of Texas at San Antonio.
1999 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Dr. Sylvia Shepherd presented a plaque to Laurence Bitensky, the 1999 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year.
Laurence Bitensky of Lancaster, Kentucky, has been selected as the 1999 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year for his composition entitled Mishb'rey yam (Breakers of the Sea), a song cycle for high voice and piano on texts of Yehudah Halevi. The piece was commissioned by the Kentucky Music Teachers Association (KMTA).
"I am absolutely thrilled to have been selected for this special award, and I am very grateful to MTNA and KMTA," says Bitensky."As an educator and composer, I am particularly honored to receive recognition by such a prestigious teaching organization. I am greatly looking forward to sharing my work in Minneapolis."
According to Bitensky,"The songs are influenced by melodic principles from Jewish liturgical chants and their deep connection to the rhythm and inflections of the Hebrew language." Through his songs, Bitensky reflects the rich lyricism and turbulent imagery of Halevi's poetry.
Chosen from twenty-eight submitted compositions by composers nationwide, Bitensky was invited to perform his acclaimed composition during the 2000 MTNA National Convention in Minneapolis in March. Following this performance, Bitensky received a check for $3,000 and a plaque presented by the award sponsor, Dr. Sylvia Shepherd.
Bitensky is assistant professor of music theory, composition and piano performance at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He has served as adjunct instructor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York; and Broome Community College in Binghamton, New York. Bitensky holds a doctorate in music composition from Cornell University, a master's degree in composition from Ithaca College, New York, and a bachelor's degree in piano performance from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
The accomplished composer has received several other prestigious awards including a grant from the ASCAP Foundation Grants to Young Composers in 1996; honorable mention from the ASCAP Foundation in 1993; and the John James Blackmore Prize in 1993 and 1994. He also was winner of the Smadbeck Composition Competition in 1989. His piano work, Shouts and Murmurs, was the winning entry in the 1997 Friends and Enemies of New Music Composition Competition and the 1997 Modern Chamber Players Composition Competition.
1998 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year
Dr. Sylvia Shepherd presented the MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year Award to Erik Santos.
Erik Santos, a faculty member of the University of Michigan School of Music since 1997, has been named the 1998 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year. His composition,"…con Cruces de Fuego (…with Crosses of Fire)" for mixed sextet, was commissioned by the Michigan Music Teachers Association and premiered at its 1998 state convention.
Santos' piece was selected from among twenty-two commissioned compositions for this national award. The Distinguished Composer of the Year Award is sponsored by Dr. Sylvia Shepherd of Rancho Santa Fe, California. Santos received a check for $3,000 and a plaque from Dr. Shepherd following the performance of his piece at the MTNA National Convention in Los Angeles in March.
As a composer, Santos' special interest is illuminating the connection between music and magic, exploring how mundane elementsÑmusical and nonmusicalÑare galvanized into a powerful poetic and ecstatic experience
"Zauberkraft," a percussion solo composed by Santos, was premiered by percussionist Timothy Lutte at the 1996 Percussive Arts Society International Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Last year, MTNA Collegiate Artist Percussion Performance Competition Winner Stacey Jones performed the piece at the 1998 MTNA National Convention in Nashville. Santos has had commissions from the Wild Swan Theater of Ann Arbor, the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra, the percussion duo EQUAL TEMPERAMENT and the Butte Symphony and Choir.