Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - Project 440

In celebration of their fortieth year, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra established Project 440 to commission four separate works from four contemporary composers.  Working together with WQXR 105.9 FM in New York they invited listeners to become an active part of the selection process.  After a panel of “artists and industry experts” nominated a group of 60 candidates listeners were invited to explore composer biographies and audio samples, leaving comments and their attempts to sway the selection committee.

Of the four final composers was one woman, Cynthia Wong.  She was one of three women to make it to the second round of finalists – included with her were Yu-Hui Chang and Paola Prestini.

Other women that were part of the original 60 include Amy Kirsten, Wang Jie, Paula Matthusen, Missy Mazzoli, Polina Nazaykinskaya, Laura Andel, Gabriella Smith, Beata Moon, Ann Millikan, and Zibuokle Martinaityte.

In total, 13 women composers were included in the first round – not quite half, which is a positive sign.  I am curious about the selection process as a whole and the transparency of it all.  It seems as if the selection committee made a very conscious effort to be inclusive with candidates in the first round – of gender, nationality, and race.  However, I still feel that the time when instituting blind auditions as a radical new step in ensuring fair evaluation of performance was not that long ago.  Though we certainly have come a long way from that first step, I don’t think we are “there” yet.  Not to suggest that this process was inherently biased in some way – I will just offer that it would have been interesting to see what the results would look like if after the initial selections were made the composer’s identity was not revealed in conjunction with their works.  After all, from an incredibly diverse selection of sixty composers the winners were three white men and a Chinese-American woman.

I feel that judging artist merit is inherently an incredibly difficult process and entirely subjective.  Congratulations to all the composers that were nominated, and especially to those that will be composing for Orpheus, and who will premiere their works in the 2011-12 season.

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