Thursday, June 14, 2012

Scott Tucker to succeed Norman Scribner at Washington Choral Arts Society

 I recently was contacting Scott Tucker of Cornell to let him know I would be in the Ithaca, NY area this November (the Ithaca College Choral Festival has commissioned me for a work for their great fall festival) when I found out from Scott that he is leaving Cornell to succeed Norman Scribner as director of the Choral Arts Society in Washington. Wow- what an amazing appointment for Scott! I wish him much success. I especially love to hear that Scribner is handing over his group graciously and lovingly to Scott.

Here is a Washington Post article about the appointment:

Scott Tucker to succeed Norman Scribner at Choral Arts Society

Courtesy of Cornell University Glee Club - Scott Tucker will be the new music director of the Choral Arts Society.

The Choral Arts Society has announced the successor to Norman Scribner, who is retiring as planned at the end of this season from the chorus he founded 46 years ago. And he’s not anyone most people in Washington have heard of.
Scott Tucker, the choral director at Cornell University since 1995, is retiring from his tenured position leading the university’s choruses to take over from Scribner.

“I was craving a new adventure, a new challenge,” said Tucker, 55, of his impending career change, which takes effect at the start of the 2012-13 season.
“Conducting is educational, no matter who you are working with,” he said, “even in the professional world.” He added, “My students at Cornell are not music majors. They’re very bright, motivated students who see music as a release, more than anything, but who bring to it such passion and intelligence. I don’t see that as being so different” than the Choral Arts Society. Furthermore, he will have more consistency with the singers in Washington as opposed to a student group: “As soon as they’ve perfected it all, they graduate.”
Tucker was one of four finalists who came in this season to work with the 170 members of the amateur chorus after Scribner, now 76, announced his retirement in August 2010. The search for his successor became an international one, with about 80 applicants. Tucker applied cold, without any inside connections.
“It’s such a surprise for all of us,” said Debra Kraft, the executive director of Choral Arts, speaking yesterday after the board’s unanimous and rapid confirmation of Tucker’s official appointment. “It came from a source we never expected.”

Tucker’s experience includes fundraising (of particular interest in today’s climate), commissioning new work — he commissioned more than 30 new pieces while at Cornell, including works by Augusta Read Thomas, Chen Yi and Libby Larsen — and world music. He spent part of a sabbatical year in South Africa, learning traditional music by rote from an expert who requested that he not write anything down, saying, according to Tucker, that “those staff lines are like prison bars to the music.”
“The freedom with which you sing that kind of music,” Tucker said, “can be directly applied to [Bach’s] B minor mass or [Beethoven’s] Missa Solemnis. Maybe not the vowels, but the spirit.”

The Choral Arts Society, founded in 1965, has long been a flagship chorus in a choral-oriented city. It has worked with generations of National Symphony Orchestra conductors and other leading artists, including Mstislav Rostropovich, Christoph Eschenbach and Valery Gergiev (with whom the chorus recorded Mahler’s 8th Symphony in London in 2008). In August and September, it will be touring Europe with Leonard Slatkin in performances and a recording of Berlioz’s Requiem.

All four of Washington’s big symphonic choruses have experienced sea changes in recent years as their music directors approached retirement age. The Master Chorale of Washington shut down in 2009; two years earlier, the Washington Chorus ushered out its longtime director, Robert Shafer, and eventually hired the 40-something Julian Wachner. (Shafer promptly founded the City Choir of Washington, now in its fifth season.) The Cathedral Choral Society is seeing major staff changes this season, although J. Reilly Lewis remains at the musical helm.

In this climate of transition, Scribner wanted his succession to proceed smoothly. He presided over the search without actually involving himself in the decision-making process. “It’s been wonderful, reassuring to everyone,” Kraft said, “to know that the process had his blessing but not his interference.”
“It’s almost like a parent watching a child and hoping they’ll pick the right mate to marry,” she said. “You can’t do an arranged marriage, but you hope they’ll pick the right one.”

In a statement, Scribner said, “It is a joy for me to welcome Scott Tucker as the new artistic director of Choral Arts.” His successor’s talents, he added, embrace “an intense natural musicality, a consummate technique, a fabulous ear, and a vast reservoir of knowledge and experience in virtually all periods and styles, together with a clear vision for the future of music in our own time. . . . Scott’s appointment heralds a brilliant new era in the Choral Arts Society’s pursuit of excellence in the choral arts.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer 2012 Composer Newsletter

Here is what's been going on in the life of a not-yet-dead composer.

I wrapped up my very rewarding year as composer in residence with the many choirs of The Young Naperville Singers, artistic director Angie Johnson. The students were amazing (330 singers in eight choirs, ages from 6-18) and four new pieces came from this collaboration- some of them easy-ish SA to more involved SSA or SSAA suitable for HS and beyond women's choirs. Let me know if you'd like to see perusal scores (FYI, two of the pieces are Christmas music- one is very festive and has optional handbell parts).

I was thrilled to judge for Heritage Festivals for the first time this spring. They are a wonderful organization and I was very fortunate to get to clinic one of the great choirs there- the amazing Mason City High School Choir (IA) led by Joel Everist.

My sometimes gorgeous, sometimes gnarly double choir re-imagining of Billings' “When Jesus Wept” received two more performances. This is a piece no publisher will touch- they don't want double choir, counterpoint, or anything really creative- so it will remain self-published. The performance led by Patrick Dill (great DMA student of Richard Sparks) at University of North Texas was excellent. You can hear a recording here:

Coming up this summer and next season:

I will be presenting an interest session at the Missouri ACDA meetings in mid-July. The subject is how to commission effectively for your choir and I will guide the attendees through how to do this right and keep it pain-free. After a period when a number of session leaders were covering this topic around the country it seems like no one has been doing it of late. If you'd like a copy of my two-page outline for this presentation, let me know. And while I am there Paul Crabbe's wonderful choir “Voices of Prometheus” will premiere a new piece with a clever battle of the sexes text by Philip Marlowe called “Dirge for Love”. I'm looking forward to hearing them have great fun with this piece (SSAATTBB a cappella).

Speaking of commissions, I am really excited to have been chosen to write for the ACDA Women's Choir Commissioning Consortium led by Iris Levine. I've already been working hard on this piece, a setting for SSA/piano of "Full Fathom Five" which will be presented by over thirty top women's choirs around the country. Wow, talk about good fortune- that's a lot of choirs premiering a new piece. I have some other commission orders too- the other big one is for the Ithaca College Choral Festival in November. This will be a setting of an amazing anti-war poem by Amy Lowell. Hint- I still have time on my schedule for more commissions and short or long term residencies for 2012-13. E-mail me if you are interested.

You made it- you survived another school/concert year and lived to tell the tale. Take a deep breath, enjoy the summer a bit, but I know you are already thinking about repertoire for next year! So with that in mind here are some pieces of mine which might really spice up your December programs. Let me know if you would like any free perusal scores of these pieces. I will just highlight a few- you can view a complete listing with details, score samples, etc. of all of my many Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice scores by visiting:

One of my holiday bestsellers is the Hanukkah song "Unending Flame" with a truly nice text (so many Hanukkah texts are awful, I think you will agree). Voicings available are SA or SABar. There is also an orchestration for this piece which really makes it pop. You can see a beautiful video we created for the piece and hear the orchestrated version here:

Another bestselling piece which can be either with piano or orchestra is my very dancey SSA version in mixed meters of I Saw three Ships:

If you are looking for SATB works, Nancy Menk made a very nice recording of my lyrical “Hush my Dear, Lie Still and Slumber" which you can hear:  

I also have a piece with a similar feel to it- my arrangement of “Gabriel's Message”, available in manuscript.

Finally, some pieces with brass. First up is “Christmas Bells”, which was commissioned by Edie Copley at N. Arizona University. This is big and festive (yet with a very introspective middle section)  for SATB/brass/organ/perc/handbells.  The ending will ensure that your entire audience is awake:

The other brass piece is not as festive since the text by the brilliant Thomas Merton is generally more reflective- it's called “The Winter's Night Carol”. I don't have a good recording yet of the piece due to miking issues at performances, but I can certainly e-mail you a score if you like!

So there you have it- all the things I am doing while not sleepwalking, crashing stock cars, or lobbying Congress to make the Congo Buffalo our official national pet. And please accept my sincere thank you to those of you who perform my scores. Without YOU they make no sound!