Bermel: Why aren’t composers writing more symphonies?

Posted on: September 5, 2013

“Having encountered thousands of submissions to the American Composers Orchestra over the past several seasons, I’ve noticed a dearth of works with ‘Symphony’ in the title,” writes composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel on Wednesday (9/4) at NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog. “At the ACO, where I am the artistic director, the 2007 strategic plan mandated a focus on ‘emerging’ composers, and programming has reflected that change. That’s yielded a dramatic drop-off in the number of symphonies programmed in recent years. I asked several younger composers about this phenomenon and was intrigued by the thoughtful and thought-provoking answers they offered.” Bermel cites responses from composers including Gabriela Lena Frank (“Maybe I’m rebelling against the reverential stupor that often greets the word ‘symphony’ ”), Mason Bates (“I avoid the old-school term because it misses a creative opportunity”), Anthony Cheung (“The [noun] carries the huge weight of a glorious but rather specific tradition”), Andrew Norman (“There is very little incentive for a composer to spend a year or more writing a giant piece that will in all likelihood get one performance”), and Clint Needham (“I did recently string three works commissioned separately together as one larger 25-minute work … I guess that could be a symphony”).

Posted September 5, 2013

Derek Bermel photo by Azzurra