McDermott: ‘All music was once new’

Anne-Marie McDermott
Bravo! Vail

The popular National Public Radio (NPR) podcast, “Composers Datebook,” concludes each segment with a reminder I especially love: “All music was once new.” I think about this often when listening to and programming works that are so well-loved and familiar to us today but were shocking or misunderstood when first heard.

The wonderful book, “The Lexicon of Musical Invective” by Nicolas Slonimksy is a treasure trove of bad reviews, such as the description of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony as a “hoax,” or his Ninth as “dull and ugly.” Clearly, tastes change, and time is very much on our side in the world of music. It is hard to imagine what it was like to hear those masterworks for the very first time, but even harder to imagine our musical lives without them.

This is why it is so thrilling for us at Bravo! Vail Music Festival to actively commission and premiere works by today’s composers through our Symphonic Commissioning Project, launched last year. Not only can we hear newly composed music for the very first time, but we can also meet these composers on the stage of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater through post-concert discussions. It may be too late to ask Beethoven what he was thinking when he wrote his symphonies, but this summer we can ask our three Symphonic Commissioning Project composers — Angélica Negrón, Anna Clyne, and Nina Shekhar — what inspired their new compositions after our resident orchestras premiere them.

I invite you to please join us for the following Symphonic Commissioning Project concerts and composer talkbacks at this summer’s Bravo! Vail Music Festival:

Angélica Negrón is a composer-in-residence with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

July 2 at 6 p.m. (Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater): Fabio Luisi leads the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in the summer’s first Symphonic Commissioning Project premiere: Angélica Negrón’s “Arquitecta,” featuring Colombian vocalist Lido Pimienta. Set to a poem by Puerto Rican poet Amanda Hernández, “Arquitecta” captures “the maternal spirit and its connection to tangible spaces often burdened by a lifetime of memories and labor.” Ms. Negrón, who is also composer-in-residence with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, expresses this theme in unique and poignant ways throughout “Arquitecta,” including the use of pre-recorded vocals from women in her life and household items — including pots and pans — in the percussion section.

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July 14 at 6 p.m. (Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater): The Philadelphia Orchestra led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin gives the world premiere of Anna Clyne’s “This Moment.” Recently named the eighth most-performed contemporary composer in the world, Ms. Clyne drew inspiration for her work from the writing of Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Zen Master, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who passed away in January 2022 at the age of 95. “This Moment” is a reflection on his words: “This moment is full of wonders.” It incorporates elements of nature, including transcribed birdsong, as well as themes from Mozart’s “Requiem,” which will also be performed that evening.

Nina Shekhar’s work, ‘The Mother is Standing,’ is dedicated to her mom.

July 19 at 6 p.m. (Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater): The New York Philharmonic gives the world premiere of “The Mother is Standing” by Indian American composer Nina Shekhar, led by Guest Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. A doctoral student in composition at Princeton University, Ms. Shekhar’s work has already attracted the attention of many notable artists and ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic, who performed her incredible “Lumina” last season at Bravo! Vail. Her work, “The Mother is Standing” is dedicated to her mom and draws inspiration from the Stabat Mater Christian hymn to Mary, examining the strength and fierce love between mother and child.

For more information or to purchase tickets to Bravo! Vail’s Symphonic Commissioning Project concerts, please visit

Anne-Marie McDermott is the artistic director for Bravo! Vail Music Festival

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