John Schaefer, productor
2. Philip Glass: Now so long after that time
3-8. Richard Einhorn: Carnival of miracles
9. Laurie Anderson: This house of blues
10. Ralph Towner: Simulacrum
11. Steve Reich: Know what is above you
12. Derek Bermel: Three rivers
NOTES ABOUT This recording by John Schaefer:
Writing music seems a straightforward enough proposition: you have an idea for a piece, you write it and then some musicians play it. But few things are as simple as they seem. The birth of a piece of classical music usually requires a midwife — the person or organization who commissions the work. In the old days, this meant a local prince or wealthy patron paying a composer to write a work for his court ensemble or for a group of musicians he supported. The 20th century, with its relative paucity of princes, saw the rise of the private foundation as a leading source of commissions. In Europe, state-run radio stations often commissioned works; the BBC in particular has a notable history of requesting works from a who’s who of English composers. In American radio, however, that idea was almost completely unheard of.
WNYC has bucked that trend by trying to be proactive, instead of reactive. American classical radio stations have traditionally reacted to music, by waiting to see what is performed or recorded and then, after due consideration of the music’s timeliness and potential importance to its audience, ditching it in favor of another recording of The Four Seasons. WNYC, though, has a long heritage of supporting living composers and live music, and a wide view of what the words “classical music” might mean. And so, for the 50th anniversary of WNYC’s FM station in June of 1994, we decided to embark on a program of commissioning music from diverse American composers to celebrate the occasion. Acting on a terrific idea from composer John Corigliano (whose piece will appear on Vol. 2 of this series), we asked the noted poet John Ashbery for a poem, and then sent it to 12 composers. Their instructions were simple: write a piece based on the poem — it did not have to be a typical voice-with-piano setting; it could use some of the text, all of the text, or none of the text.
But there’s another part to commissioning music: finding performers to premiere it. This was quite a chore when juggling twelve different pieces at once. Fortunately, the event was one the music community in New York was eager to embrace, and in the end, a splendid concert took place on June 13, 1994, when thirteen pieces by the twelve composers had their world premieres at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and live on the air at WNYC 93.9 FM.
With the success of that event, WNYC began to seek funding for a continuing program of commissions and premieres. We soon had grants from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the Virgil Thomson Foundation, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and began to pursue seriously the ongoing creation of new works. In some cases, we started with the performers and determined which composer might be most interesting to work with; in others we asked a composer to write something and then found appropriate players to premiere it. At this writing (Spring 2002), with three new commissions in progress, WNYC’s commitment to the music of our time remains as strong as ever. Assembled on this disc are just some of the first fruits of that commitment.
— John Schaefer, WNYC Music Host
NOTES ABOUT Now so Long After That Time:
Philip Glass is arguably the most popular composer alive today. And we knew him way back when… Glass’s music has long been a part of WNYC’s programming — sometimes a very controversial part, especially in the late 1970s/early 80’s, when we began playing his works frequently. Now So Long After That Time is a piano solo whose title comes from the John Ashbery poem. No Longer Very Clear. A New York Times review of the piece at its world premiere performance in June of 1994 likened it to the piano music of Rachmaninoff — an unusual comparison, to be sure; but not, surprisingly, as crazy as it might seem…