The Composers Concordance is a presenting organization for contemporary music by primarily living American composers. We strive to give opportunities to composers to have their works heard in a concert hall or a club setting and aim to present music in innovative ways with a thematic emphasis. Our mission is to give exposure to composers who otherwise would remain unheard, and we have a 26 year history of featuring women and minority composers as part of our natural mix. We arrange performers from a core group we have worked with over the years, but also are open to featuring performers who are recommended by composers and who are interested in championing their work.
In the past several years we have moved many of our three yearly concerts out of the traditional concert hall and into club venues and art galleries. To assist with this, we have our younger directors Gene Pritsker and Dan Cooper curate these programs. They have also introduced us to a new performer base.
Our overriding vision is to see contemporary music, composers and new works as a rightful and respected part of society. Note: Group photo by Jill Steinberg.
The Composers Concordance started as an idea of composer/librarian Patrick Hardish. He had begun his own series at Barnard College's Sulzberger Parlor in 1983, being employed at that time at the Columbia University Library, but it was clear that he needed more help with the effort. He met composer/pianist Joseph Pehrson in the early 1980's through their shared association with composer Max Lifchitz. Patrick had known Max from Juilliard and Columbia, where Max was currently teaching, and Joseph had met him at the University of Michigan, where he was on a one year appointment in 1980.
Clearly two people working together would present a more effective organization, and Patrick asked distinguished Columbia University teacher and composer Otto Luening to serve as an advisor. Otto readily accepted and became the group's main mentor until his death in 1996 at the age of 96. Otto was also instrumental in procuring early funding for the group, notably the BMI Foundation, which funded the organization for 8 seasons.
Meantime, Joseph was busy incorporating the group with its own 501(c)(3) status. The preparation was done by Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts' Brenda Hochberg, who continues to serve as the Composers Concordance's legal advisor. After its incorporation, Compcord, as it also came to be known, became eligible for funding from the New York State Council on the Arts. It received its first NYSCA grant in 1986.
New York State Council on the Arts
The very first concert, featuring Otto Luening, was given in the Bruno Walter Auditorium in February, 1984. Other early venues were the Barnard Sulzberger Parlor, Christ & St. Stephen's Church, the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall (then known as the Carnegie Recital Hall), St. Ignatius Church (2 concerts), the New School, in association with Stefania de Kennessey, and Middle Collegiate Church for a mostly electronic concert.
Composer/music engraver William Holab joined the organization early in 1984 and was part of the original incorporation of three directors. He also recorded several of the early concerts for the group at minimal cost, and provided print services through the C.F. Peters Corporation where he worked at the time.
Around 1989, Composers Concordance settled in for a series of 10 concerts at CAMI Hall, across the street from Carnegie Hall. At that time, we found the venue affordable and also easily accessible. Some receptions were held at the venue and, later, in private apartments when CAMI no longer allowed them in the hall. There were several successful concerts there, but perhaps the most successful, from an audience standpoint, was a concert in October 1989 which featured the latest in electronic music and gathered an audience of 130 persons to CAMI, filling the hall to capacity.
Around 1990, Joseph Pehrson got better acquainted with composer Frank Wigglesworth, who had run a very successful series of concerts at the Greenwich House Music School for at least a couple of decades. In 1992, in fact, he presented the music of Pehrson and Hardish on that series. Wigglesworth recommended Composers Concordance to a new foundation that had just been established at the time, the Virgil Thomson Foundation, based upon the assets of Virgil Thomson's estate, mostly through the sales of paintings of various famous painter friends. Virgil Thomson had died in 1989. The first grant was small, but Wigglesworth and composer Nicolas Roussakis, whose music was performed by Compcord in 1992, recommended that Pehrson contact composer and founder of the American Composers' Orchestra, Francis Thorne, who was also very instrumental in the Virgil Thomson Foundation. He did, and this led to a friendship between Pehrson, his wife Linda Past and Francis Thorne which continues.
Also, gratefully, it led to continuing support for Composers Concordance, since Francis Thorne voted for the organization at Virgil Thomson Foundation board meetings and the organization received substantial funding for 15 years.
In 1993, Patrick Hardish also explored a new venue, the Kosciuszko Foundation on Manhattan's East Side, in midtown. This is a beautiful hall with an opulent area for receptions, always an important component of Composers Concordance concerts. At that time, it was also affordable. The organization gave 11 concerts there, through 1999.
In 1994 an important association began with the New Music Connoisseur magazine, as Composers Concordance offered to operate as a fiscal conduit for its operations. That association continues. The New Music Connoisseur, run by its editor, Barry Cohen, offers free advertising space to the organization as well as announcements of its activities, and also serves to enhance the enterprise's educational component. In return, Compcord assists with the magazine's fundraising.
In 1999 an important addition was made to the organization as composer William Rhoads also assisted in our programming plans. By that time, contemporary music in New York had started to change, and listeners were becoming more and more interested in youthful music with popular elements combined with the usual contemporary classical themes. Bill Rhoads, always interested in these trends, joined the group as Associate Director in 1999 and immediately began suggesting "alternate concerts" based upon more popular themes.
One of his most successful concerts was a combined effort with Miller Theatre maverick presenter George Steel in presenting the works of two composers, Sebastian Currier and Ornette Coleman. The concert featured concert pieces of Coleman, of which he has several. It was a great pleasure for Compcord to work with Coleman and he certainly did help draw an audience to Miller Theatre. The concert of January 6, 2001, attracted more than 300 people.
Another very important association began in 1996, when Pehrson became acquainted with Director of the Composition Program of the New York University education department, Dinu Ghezzo. Dinu provided something very critical to the Composers Concordance, a free hall in the NYU Loewe Theatre. Compcord continued this association and presented concerts at the Loewe Theatre for 10 years, from 1996 to 2006. For several years, in the late 1990's the main venues for Composers Concordance were, then, the Kosciuszko Foundation and the NYU Loewe Theatre, with a few concerts at Christ and St. Stephen's Church near Lincoln Center.
From the very beginning of the organization to about 2005, Meet the Composer grants were very important to the group and two composers were usually interviewed at each concert by Joseph Pehrson's wife Linda Past. Generally, the questions for the composers were prepared in advance. This program, a composer award of a "participation fee" was established by John Duffy, who founded Meet the Composer. The awards had started in the early 1980's and Composers Concordance received these grants consistently for well over 20 years until the nature of the program changed around 2005.
In 2002, Composers Concordance began presenting concerts at Washington Square Church in Greenwich Village, a venue which had generous seating capacity. One of the more successful concerts there, on February 26, 2003, attracted over 90 people with three Meet the Composer grantees.
In 2004, Compcord enhanced its club concerts that had been started with Bill Rhoads, with the additional efforts of composer Lev Zhurbin and Associate Director, composer Gene Pritsker. Pritsker became very instrumental in setting up subsequent club concerts, three of which took place at the renowned Cutting Room in Manhattan. Several of these concerts had an attendance of over 80 individuals.
In 2006, based upon recommendations of New Music Connoisseur editor Barry Cohen, Pehrson moved the main concert series to the Greenwich House School of Music Renee Weiler Auditorium, the same concert space that Frank Wigglesworth had used for his concerts for many years. The first concert of Compcord's 25th anniversary season was held there.
In 2009, the Composers Concordance added Dan Cooper as a director and completely revamped its directorial structure. Dan Cooper was Otto Luening's primary assistant for many years and an authority on this important Composers Concordance mentor. He had, meanwhile, become a friend of Gene Pritsker's through other musical channels so it was inevitable that he should become an important director of the organization. The new configuration consisted, then, of three "Founding Directors": Patrick Hardish, Joseph Pehrson and William Holab, and three full co-directors, Dan Cooper, Gene Pritsker and William Rhoads.
For the 2008-2009 season, a concert was given at the Chelsea Art Museum in June 2009. This concert was a collaboration between the Composers Concordance and the museum and tied in with the theme of the museum's summer exhibition, the 40th anniversary of the human moon landing. Composers Concordance asked directors of the organization to write pieces based upon this theme and also included related video at this concert.
In 2009-2010, a concert at the Players Theatre on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village was the first of the Composers Concordance "contrast" concerts which feature contrasting instruments. For this first concert we contrasted voice, soprano Melanie Mitrano and percussionist Peter Jarvis in a thematic concert called "Skins and Breath." The idea of thematic programming, instituted by Pritsker, was to remain vital.
Contemporary classical music, i.e. Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams...