by Robert Leeper
Organizations that further the careers of young composers are plentiful these days, but the American Composers Orchestra takes its support a step further with its Underwood New Music Readings, offering a rare peek behind the curtain of what it takes to bring a new orchestral work to the stage. Seven new works - chosen from hundreds of entries - received a run-through last Thursday evening at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, with George Manahan conducting the ACO.
Sitting just in front of the seven composers were several “mentor composers,” including ACO artistic director Derek Bermel, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Kevin Puts. Despite casual dress from the orchestra and the educational setting, much was at stake: one of the composers was to be awarded a $15,000 commission to write a work for the ACO, to be performed next season.
This being a working read through after just one rehearsal, the performances were far from polished. That said, there were certainly some noticeable trends - most notably, the lack of dense, serial music à la Schoenberg or Pierre Boulez. Despite the occasional odd rhythmic turn or timbral innovation, the works leaned heavily toward late Romanticism and Impressionism.