Annapolis in tune with its times

Orchestra launches competition to write city's theme for 300th anniversary celebration

October 18, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun Reporter

Annapolis will soon will have a theme song to mark the 300th anniversary of its government charter -- and it won't be "Dock of the Bay."

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra has launched an international competition, inviting young composers to create a musical work as a component of the city's Charter 300 celebration.

"It'll be like our own `Anchors Aweigh,'" said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, referring to the famed U.S. Naval Academy anthem.

The composers need not have set eyes on the state capital's spires, domes and dock, but they must be no older than 35. The advice from the ASO's music director, Jose-Luis Novo, 39, is blunt: "Have something to say -- impress me. Give us something well-crafted, with meaning."

A $25,000 grant from the city's Art in Public Places Commission allows the ASO to offer $5,000 commissions to four finalists from the applicant pool.

After the finalists are selected this winter, they must compose one original work each, with a performance time of seven to 10 minutes. Each premiere will be performed at a different concert during the symphony's 2007-2008 season.

"This is ambitious for our orchestra," ASO President R. Lee Streby said. "My favorite part is that the music created has to connect with the audience it is intended for."

Just as Annapolis residents were given a measure of self-government under the royal charter in 1708, the modern audience listening to performances of the four finalists will have a voice in determining the winner.

In democratic style, the audience's survey responses will count as one of four "votes." The others will come from an independent panel of experts, the ASO musicians and Novo.

The winner, to be announced in the spring of 2008, will receive an additional $5,000. The score will be professionally recorded by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Streby said, as the finale of the celebration.

The commemorative recording, which will be sold to the public, will include works from 1708, 1808 and 1908. The new symphonic work will, of course, represent 2008.

Novo underscored the importance of an orchestra playing more than the classical canon from Bach to Beethoven, Brahms to Berlioz. In January, the orchestra received critical acclaim for its Mozart concerts celebrating the composer's 250th birthday, but now Novo is ready to look forward.

"I love the idea of working with living composers," Novo said. "How a piece comes about is an important process. It's important for the life of the audience and city to hear living artists."

The chairman of the city's Charter 300 celebration, Chuck Weikel, said the competition will accompany other themed public arts throughout the city, including sidewalk history signs and street wall murals. But nothing equals an original symphonic work, he said.

"This is the jewel in the crown of the celebration, to have a musical composition that reflects the times," Weikel said. "It's like a looking glass where we can see ourselves in various times and places, back into the past and what we are today, to understand what's ongoing through our culture."

Said the conductor: "From Mozart's 250th to connecting to living composers is a wonderful arc for our activities."

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