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Century old hall welcomes brand new music

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 1, 2013 - When a rock, pop, folk, soul or jazz artist goes out on tour, it’s often in conjunction with the release of a new recording. Fans of that artist turn out to hear the new music in concert. But that scenario doesn’t seem to apply for new composers who work in the contemporary classical/new music arena and are booking into larger venues.

For example, the 700-seat Sheldon Concert Hall presents a season series that includes artists as varied as Rosanne Cash, Dianne Reeves, Ricky Skaggs and Bobby McFerrin – as well as a classical concert series organized by St. Louis Symphony concertmaster David Halen.

Most of the Sheldon’s classical presentations have featured the standard repertoire rather than new compositions. But that has changed decisively during the Sheldon’s 100th anniversary celebration season, according to Paul Reuter, executive director of the concert hall.

“We’ve partnered with the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation and the Mizzou New Music Initiative to commission the performance of new works as part of our 100th anniversary season,” Reuter says during a recent phone conversation. “And we’re certainly hoping it will be an ongoing relationship going forward. It’s a continual process to get audiences familiar with new composers. It’s the best way to gradually increase the musical vocabulary for our audiences as well.“

Roots at Mizzou

The relationship between the Sheldon, the Sinquefield Foundation and the Mizzou New Music initiative all centers on the University of Missouri Columbia. Reuter earned his master’s degree in composition there and also helped establish a contemporary music competition at Mizzou while working at radio station KBIA in Columbia.

“We had composers submit pieces, and were able to have judges like Aaron Copland judge those,” says Reuter. “Since coming to the Sheldon, I’ve always been interested in working to present more new compositions here.”

In addition, Jeanne Sinquefield chose the University of Missouri as the location for her efforts through the Sinquefield Foundation to support the composition and performance of new music. The foundation donated $1 million to found the Mizzou New Music Initiative, which provides scholarships for composers, produces an annual New Music Festival at the university each summer and works to build audiences for new music throughout the state.

While planning for the Sheldon’s 100th year celebration in the 2012-13 season, Reuter heard about the Mizzou New Music Initiative – and met Jeanne Sinquefield.

As a result, the Foundation funded the commissioning of five new compositions for performance during the Sheldon’s current season.

“For our 100th Anniversary concert this past Oct. 12, a quartet of musicians led by David Halen performed “St. Louis Reds” by Stefan Freund,” says Reuter. “Then a new work by Stephanie Berg was performed in November at the ArtSounds benefit that featured Sylvia McNair. (Feb. 5 and 6), pianist Peter Henderson will perform Patrick David Clark’s new composition, “Snow Coming.“ On Feb. 27, Peter will be playing a new composition by Grant Bradshaw at our ‘Pianoplaooza’ concert. The fifth and final composition – a brass quintet by Michael Anderson – will be played by the Clarion Brass in April. All the composers are either graduates or undergrads at Mizzou, and we worked with the New Music Initiative to get it all coordinated.”

Mizzou New Music Initiative co-director Freund, who is a music professor at the university and directed the MNMI collaboration with the Sheldon, explained how composers were chosen for each of the commissions that are part of the Sheldon anniversary season.

Works recorded

“Paul provided a list of the concerts he wanted to include these new compositions in, and my colleagues and I then met to discuss what would work best for each concert,” Freund says, speaking from his office in Columbia.

Click on the link to hear “St. Louis Reds” and "Gateway" by Stephanie Berg.

“I think it’s been a great opportunity to get new compositions performed and heard. And I think one of the best results of the effort is that all of the five pieces will be recorded. That’s critical for new works, because, often, commissions like this are performed once and then put aside.”

Patrick David Clark, the composer of “Snow Coming,” which will be performed by pianist Peter Henderson this Tuesday and Wednesday, describes his involvement in composing a piece for the Sheldon series during a recent phone call from Columbia.

“I first found out about the commission in October,” he recalls, “and that’s when I found I would be writing a solo piano piece for Peter to perform. In the area of fine art music, you find yourself writing for many different ensembles. But this is only the second solo piano piece I’ve written, so I was pleased to have that opportunity. And as I found out more about Peter and his talent and professionalism, I was pleased that he was the one who would be playing it!”

Reuter is pleased with the incorporation of the five new compositions into the Sheldon’s anniversary season, but is already thinking about how the effort might evolve in future seasons.

“We’ve also been working with the new music group Alarm Will Sound through funding from the Sinquefield Foundation,” he says. “Those efforts go arm-in-arm with the effort to showcase these new compositions. Once audiences get a taste for new music, the Alarm Will Sound performances will become more intriguing to them. And eventually, we’d like to present second and third performances of compositions that have been debuted elsewhere. That’s the way to keep new music alive.

“And I know that David Halen really liked playing Stefan’s quartet in October, and he looking for other places to perform it again. That’s the goal – keeping these new works alive past a first performance.”

Note: The Sinquefields are contributors to the St. Louis Beacon.

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.