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Posts tagged 'John Duffy Composers Institute'

PSNY Remembers John Duffy (1926-2015)

John Duffy was truly a monumental figure in American music. From humble beginnings in the Bronx, where he was one of 14 children to an Irish immigrant family, he went on to compose over 300 works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, television, film, and stage, and is largely responsible for the concept of a composer-in-residence, now adopted by nearly every major orchestra, through Meet the Composer (now New Music USA)—an organization he started in 1974 and ran for several decades. Duffy's musical compositions tread a path between a distinct sense of Americanness, evident in his interest in American history, politics, and culture, and a sense of Modernity, made audible in his unique compositional voice. We've featured some of his works before on PSNY, and encourage you to take a second listen. 

Duffy's passing this past December has lead to an outpouring of remembrances, memorials, and personal stories about this truly amazing figure. In the New York Times, William Grimes writes of Duffy's days as a night guard in a department store, when he would go to jazz clubs to see composer/performers such as Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, leading him to a life-long advocacy for jazz composers in America. In New Music Box, current New Music USA president Ed Harsh writes,

A gathering of voices would be entirely appropriate to John’s devotion to the American ideals of democracy and pluralism. He was known to list the quality of “tolerance” at the top of his list of values he appreciated most. The example of his own life suggests something broader, more positive and more proactive than mere tolerance. He was omnivorously curious about and respectful of all music. Even if a given artist’s work might not have been to his taste, he would be interested to know more about it, to understand a bit better what drove its creation. What’s more, he wanted others to be interested, too.

The comments on Harsh's memorial reveal Duffy's deep and long-reaching influence on a wide section of American music. Composers, performers, educators, and presenters such as Charles Wuorinen, Ursula OppensCharles Amirkhanian, and many others have added their voices to Harsh's rememberance. With this short tribute, we hope to add ours, too. 

The Works of John Duffy on PSNY

John Duffy is a towering figure in American composition, having composed over 300 works for symphony orchestra, chamber ensemble, film and television, opera, and theater. Born in 1926, Duffy is of a generation of American composers who helped define what it means to be a composer in the 21st century. Having studied with American greats, such as Copland, Cowell, but also European modernists such as Dallapiccola, Duffy pursued a compositional tack that melded direct, emotional writing with a unique sense of modernity.

In 1974, Duffy founded Meet the Composer, the pioneering organization that brought contemporary American composition into the homes of millions of Americans. Supporting programs that would engage composers with their audiences, Meet the Composer partnered with over 4,000 artistic and civic organizations to engage over 7,000 living composers with communities in all 50 states. Over its 37-year tenure as an independent organization, Meet the Composer had already fundamentally changed the face of American composition before merging with the American Music Center to become New Music USA, which continues its heritage. 

In addition to Meet the Composer, John Duffy founded the John Duffy Composers Institute at the Virginia Arts Festival in 2004. The Duffy Institute has supported the development of new operas by young composers, providing a platform for workshop performances of dozens of new works. Several PSNY composers have been involved with the Institute, including Christopher Cerrone and Gregory Spears.

Many of Duffy's works are available through Schott Music, including his recent opera, Black Water, as well as many orchestral and large-scale works. But here at PSNY, we're pleased to make available several of Duffy's chamber works for direct digital download. Beginning with a curated selection of five of his works from across the decades, we will be posting more works in the coming year. 

Duffy's 1971 Variations, for french horn, violin, viola, and cello, shows the composer exploring the possibilities of both rhythmic and melodic variations while still keeping the music full of humor, direct emotion, and a clarity of purpose. This playfulness is seen again in his 1975 Toccata and Fuguefor piccolo and percussion. Old forms are made new again in his 1990 Heritage Suite, which sees the composer evoking historical dances while making a thoroughly contemporary statement. Finally, Duffy's 2005/9 piece, We Want Mark Twain! is an evocative and dramatic piece for string quartet and narrator. 

We hope that you will have a chance to explore Duffy's works both on PSNY and through Schott Music, especially as we gear up to celebrate his 90th birthday in 2016! 

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