TSO's Young Composers
photo courtesy of Dan Williams

Compositions from the Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s biggest class of composers to date will be premiered at the Young Composers Project Reading Sessions on Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7 at 7 p.m. at the Tucson Symphony Center, 2175 N. Sixth Ave., one block south of Grant. The concerts provide rare opportunities to watch the creative process at such a high level.

On the first night, Friday, May 6, TSO Music Director and Conductor George Hanson will conduct the TSO as the musicians sight-read 13 compositions. Twelve more new works will be read the next night, May 7, by the TSO String Quintet. 

After the orchestra and the quintet sight-read the pieces, the composer, conductor and musicians will have a brief working dialogue about the composition. The composer will be invited to make any changes before the work is performed a second time. The second reading will be recorded and a copy will be given to the composer.

Among this year’s works is “A Tragedy in America,” dedicated to the victims of the Jan. 8 mass shooting in Tucson. The piece was composed by Alexander Garcia, one of seven Young Composers Project students this year to be a Morton Gould ASCAP finalist. Anthony Constantino, Adam Conyne, Kali Cornn, Ben Nead and Cameron Williams also are finalists. The seventh finalist, Clark Evans, also received an honorable mention award. The ASCAP awards for young composers are named after Morton Gould, a child prodigy who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become the president of ASCAP.

In 2008, the TSO’s Young Composers Project was the only local music education program to receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the 2008/09 school year. The $15,000 grant was awarded in the Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth field, a discipline so competitive that the TSO was one of only two organizations in Arizona to receive funding. Even more remarkable, the TSO received the full amount it requested. The TSO’s Young Composers Project was the recipient of NEA grants in the 2009/10 and 2010/11 school years and has applied for a grant for the 2011/12 school year.

According to TSO’s Director of Education and Community Engagement, Shawn Campbell, the TSO serves as a “living laboratory” for the students, providing TSO ensembles and individual musicians to the student workshops throughout the year, access to dress rehearsals of the TSO, tickets to performances, and opportunities for interaction with professional composers and guest artists. The program has also received acclaim from the TSO’s guest artists who meet with the students. After meeting with the class when he performed with the TSO in December, 2009, Yo-Yo Ma stated, “In all my years of working with symphony orchestras, I have never encountered such an extraordinary program.”

Ilona Vukovic-Gay, TSO Assistant Principal Viola, who has been the Young Composers Project instructor for the past six years, describes the weekly class as “painting with sound.” The class begins with basic theory and compositional techniques followed by improvisation with other members of the class. This helps the student practice theoretical skills and share musical ideas.

Tickets to the Young Composers Project Reading Sessions are $5 and are available at the performances and at the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Box Office located at 2175 N. Sixth Ave. TSO Box Office hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, visit www.tucsonsymphony.org.

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