Min Kwon’s “America the Beautiful” project was not the first time pre-existing musical materials were to be at the core of a challenge I took on as composer. Prior commissions of this nature brought me face-to-face with Bach’s Art of Fugue, the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth, and a signature viola moment in Berio’s Folk Songs as “source materials” for new compositions. I love the challenge as it taps on the imagination in ways that can be quite intriguing to tackle: how to “borrow” musical materials that can range from the formidable to the widely familiar and create something that will let the listener discover something new in them?
What made this particular assignment different from prior ones, however, was that the historical moment when Min Kwon developed her project could not be ignored and was, unequivocally, on my mind as I began composing this brief work in late May 2020, completing it on June 19th. Concurrently with pondering how best to harness, musically, the intervals, rhythms, and implied harmonies of a melody as familiar and as iconic as “America the Beautiful”, I knew there was a dark undercurrent that needed to come to the fore, perhaps questioning “the Beautiful”. All this led to an ending that hints at the unresolved, and to the title America Summer 2020 [the Beautiful].
Shulamit Ran’s music has been praised as “gloriously human”; “compelling not only for its white-hot emotional content but for its intelligence and compositional clarity”; and “she has written with the same sense of humanity found in Mozart’s most profound opera arias or Mahler’s searching symphonies.”
Shulamit began composing songs to Hebrew poetry at the age of seven in her native Israel. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel’s most noted musicians, and within several years was having her early works performed by professional musicians, as well as orchestras. She continued her studies in the U.S., on scholarships form the Mannes College of Music and the America Israel Cultural Foundation. Winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in music for her Symphony, she has been awarded most major honors given to composers in the U.S., including first prize in the Kennedy Center-Friedheim Awards competition for orchestral music, two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, grants from the N.E.A., the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, Chamber Music America, and many more.
Her music has been performed worldwide by leading ensembles including the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, the Mendelssohn, Brentano, Pacifica, Spektral, and Juilliard Quartets, Chanticleer, and many others. Maestros Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Christoph Von Dohnanyi, Gustavo Dudamel, Zubin Mehta, Yehudi Menhuin, Gary Bertini, David Shalon, and others, have conducted her works. She was Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra between 1990 and 1997, and with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1994-1997 where her residency culminated in the premiere of her first opera Between Two Worlds (the Dybbuk).
The recipient of five honorary degrees, she is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2011 she was the Paul Fromm Composer-in-Residence at the American Academy in Rome.
Her numerous residencies in festivals and summer programs across the U.S. have included the Tanglewood Music Center, the Aspen Institute, Yellow Barn, the Steans Institute at the Ravinia Festival, Wellesley Composers Conference, and many more. She also served as music director for “Tempus Fugit," the International Biennial for Contemporary Music in Israel, in 1996-2000. In the summer of 2018 she was composer-in-residence with the Marlboro Festival and later at the International String Quartet Competition and Festival in Banff, Canada.
Shulamit, who is the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor Emerita in the University of Chicago Department of Music, where she has taught since 1973, is currently composing Anne Frank, a full-scale opera on a libretto by Charles Kondek.
As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents. They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization. Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor. Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility. In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far. CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward". I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities, whom we felt we could easily move forward.
- Min Kwon