The Grammy-Award winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. Photo by Luke Ratray.
The objective of the competition is to encourage creativity by composers throughout the United States and to recognize and reward their accomplishments. Applicants were required to submit current scores and recordings to demonstrate their ability to compose for eighth blackbird. Three finalists were to be announced December 31, 2010, however, something wonderful happened that prevented this from happening on schedule: An unanticipated number of composers were inspired to send in their scores.
Chris Richardson, administrative director of eighth blackbird, explains: “Our internal speculations led us to hope for 100 submissions and admit the possibility of as many as 200. We never would have dreamed of receiving over 500.”
This might not seem like a huge number until you begin to contemplate the details. Each submission included up to three scores and recordings. Even to simply listen to every recording could easily be a full-time job for a few weeks. And then where would you be? How could you begin to balance some aspects of submission #217 against those in submission #503?
Further complicating matters, eighth blackbird is a sextet. How do you get six people to agree on anything? What’s more, they judged the entries themselves. Chris Richardson confirms: “The ensemble remained committed to personally reviewing every single submission.” He continues: “I was in the enviable position of being able to eavesdrop as these six very different personalities worked their way through a dizzying array of compositions and painstakingly sought consensus for a mere three finalists.”
Matt Albert, who plays violin and viola with eighth blackbird, elaborates on the process: “Choosing three finalists out of a pool of over five hundred submissions was extremely daunting, not because of the time required to review each one thoroughly but for the responsibility we felt to carefully choose the most exceptional among them. As we whittled it down from 504 to 68 to 15 to 3, I found myself getting more and more excited by the variety of high level entries we were listening to. I sincerely hope we’ll be able to reach out to more of these composers for collaborations down the road.”
Each finalist will receive $1,000 and be asked to write a piece for eighth blackbird. These pieces will be workshopped and performed in the ensemble’s Chicago studio in December 2011. (Finalists will receive an additional $500 to help defray expenses associated with attending the workshop and studio performance). One composer will receive the final prize: an additional $2,000 and a future public performance by eighth blackbird.
While not part of the initial plan, the volume and quality of submissions also inspired eighth blackbird to recognize twelve additional applicants as deserving of honorable mention. They are:
Alex Freeman (Northfield, MN)
Sean Friar (Princeton, NJ)
J.M. Gerraughty (Nashua, NH)
Aaron Gervais (San Francisco, CA)
Yotam Haber (Brooklyn, NY)
Derek Johnson (Carmel, IN)
Amy Kirsten (New Haven, CT)
Zibuokle Martinaityte (New York, NY)
Douglas Pew (Erlanger, KY)
Jeremy Podgursky (Bloomington, IN)
Mike Solomon (Gainesville, FL)
Daniel Wohl (New Haven, CT)
“The contest inspired submissions from more than 500 composers nationwide,” said John Nuechterlein, American Composers Forum president and CEO. “We were elated to see this kind of response and delighted to partner with eighth blackbird and MakeMusic in the effort to discover new talent. Most of all, we are eagerly anticipating the works that will be written for this stellar chamber ensemble.”
“With the contest, we did exactly what we set out to do: to find fresh, new voices that we had never heard before,” said Nicholas Photinos, eighth blackbird’s cellist. “I was floored and honored by the level of applicants, particularly at the later stages of the judging, and it was a pleasure to discover so much great and varied music.”
The latest contest schedule, guidelines and more information can be found at the contest website. As the contest progresses we’ll provide updates here as well. Did you apply? Have you experienced eighth blackbird? Please share your insights by clicking on “Comments” below.