Hi, I’m Adam Schoenberg

By: Edna Landau To ask a question, please write Ask Edna. Adam Schoenberg is a very gifted young composer with a knack for building relationships. He first entered my life early in 2011, shortly after I started writing this blog. He wrote me a lovely e-mail, saying that there were things he wanted to “Ask Edna” but he didn’t think they were straightforward enough for the blog. His thoughtful and considerate style of writing (as well as his compliment on my blog!) made me want to try and help him. He had graduated from Juilliard the previous year, where he earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree, and had already been commissioned to write works for the Atlanta and Kansas City symphonies. The premiere of his American Symphony was scheduled just a month later in Kansas City under the baton of its music director, Michael Stern. Our initial discussions revolved around generating attention for the Kansas City premiere and how he might get through to conductors and artistic administrators to acquaint them with his music. He was particularly interested in trying to secure a West Coast premiere for his chamber orchestra work, Finding Rothko, which was inspired by four paintings, one of which was housed at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. We met in person about a month later in Los Angeles, where he is based, and where I was making a visit to the Colburn School. At that time, he told me that there was a European music publisher that might be interested in him but that things were moving slowly, as they had never before represented an American composer. I gave him some suggestions about how to move things along in general and offered to speak to a few people on his behalf. In truth, I didn’t do all that much for him but he claims that my enthusiasm for his music and his entrepreneurial initiative gave him a big boost in continuing his networking and remaining optimistic that things could eventually fall into place. We stayed in touch for a short while and then there was a hiatus of 16 months. In October of 2012, I noticed that Adam was listed on Opus 3 Management’s roster, that he had a publishing agreement with Ricordi in London (part of the Universal Music Publishing Classical Group), and that his list of commissioned works had expanded to include a new work for the Atlanta Symphony, La Luna Azul, personally commissioned by its music director, Robert Spano; another art-inspired work, Picture Studies (conceived of as a 21st century Pictures at an Exhibition), jointly commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony and the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and a ballet-inspired symphonic work, Bounce, co-commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival & School and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I was eager to know all the intermediate steps that had led to these exciting developments and my curiosity brought me back in touch with Adam. I learned that while Adam was an undergraduate at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he was friendly with a young singer who was later represented by Jeffrey Vanderveen, then a managing director at Universal Music Group in Europe. He made an introduction for Adam to James Kendrick and Silke Hilger of Universal Music Classical Publishing. They subsequently came to Aspen to hear a performance of Finding Rothko and decided to take him on a few months later. By that time, Jeffrey Vanderveen had moved to Opus 3 Artists in New York as Vice President, Artist Manager, and he brought Adam on to the artist list. Adam’s Aspen association proved fruitful in other ways as well. He was a student there in 2002 and 2003 and, needing a summer job, returned for the following two summers as a stagehand. While there, he met Michael Stern, who became a regular tennis partner, and Asadour Santourian, Artistic Advisor and Administrator. His first ever commission was from Aspen for a quintet for the American Brass Quintet (premiered in July 2006 and later recorded by the ensemble). Around the same time, Adam was commissioned by Michael Stern to write his first orchestral work Finding Rothko for the IRIS Chamber Orchestra. Six years later, when Adam was hoping to get on the radar screen of the Los Angeles Phiharmonic, it was Asadour Santourian (in town for pre-concert lectures) who suggested that he contact Chad Smith, Vice President of Artistic Planning at the orchestra, and use his name. Adam subsequently met Chad Smith for coffee and gave him two of his scores. Now he greatly looks forward to the inaugural performances of his new work Bounce at the Aspen Music Festival on July 17, 2013, with Robert Spano conducting, and at the Hollywood Bowl on September 10 with Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting. Adam met Robert Spano in Miami, where he was living in 2009. Spano was guest conducting the New World Symphony and happened to be taking a rehearsal break outside the hall when Adam was walking down Lincoln Road. He walked over to Mr. Spano and said: “Hi, I’m Adam Schoenberg and we have two things in common. We both went to Oberlin and I studied orchestration with Christopher Theofanidis.” Mr. Spano excitedly responded: “I just commissioned him to write his first symphony and the score just arrived today. Do you want to hear it?” He took Adam upstairs, played some of it for him and then invited him to lunch the next day. Adam brought along two of his pieces and eight weeks later, he got a call. Mr. Spano said: “I’ve found a way to program Finding Rothko in Atlanta and I’m commissioning you to write a new work” (which became La Luna Azul). Adam’s time is taken up with many things in addition to his composing. His American Symphony was conceived of as a musical message of hope that would unite the orchestra community throughout the country. He is currently engaged in a project to secure performances of it in all 50 states by the 2015-16 season. So far, he has commitments from seven. His time is also taken up with teaching at UCLA and with a Young Composers Institute for high school students which he founded this past year while composer-in-residence with the Kansas City Symphony. This project, while not unique, generated a great deal of excitement in the community and was a thrilling experience for the young participants whose works were performed by members of the symphony.  He hopes to start more programs like this around the country. Adam is excited that Reference Recordings and the Kansas City Symphony, with Michael Stern conducting, plan to record a CD of three of his works in 2014, all of which were commissioned by the orchestra. He has been commissioned to write a new work for the Lexington (KY) Philharmonic, where he will be composer-in-residence next season. He is also proud of his first major venture into film scoring, having recently collaborated with his father, composer Steven Schoenberg, on the score for the movie Graceland. Recognizing that composers have relied on patrons and benefactors since the time of the Renaissance, Adam recently added an innovative “Patrons” page on his website which allows for tax-deductible gifts of support via Fractured Atlas’s fiscal sponsorship program. He received his first gift just recently. Despite the fact that he has a publisher and manager, Adam hasn’t stopped networking. He still sends e-mails to artistic administrators from time to time when he feels he can build on an existing connection. He may soon have to make adjustments to his busy schedule as he and his wife are expecting their first child in August (which partly explains the title for his newest work Bounce). I have no doubt that Adam will continue to set the bar very high for himself and that he will be successful in achieving his goals. He told me the following: “All I really care about, and what I think every composer should care about, is to write the best possible music that expresses who we are. I want to write music as beautifully and intensely as I can, and I am happy if the audience and performers respond deeply to my music.” He must have been gratified when Atlanta arts critic Mark Gresham wrote: “La Luna Azul deserves a descriptor not often afforded contemporary music: ‘beautiful’.” Timothy McDonald of the Kansas City Star has also written: “Schoenberg demonstrated a distinctive and exciting compositional voice. His American Symphony is bold and brilliant, and deserves to be a staple among orchestras in the U.S. and abroad.” Michael Stern told me that he has every expectation that Adam will be a real voice in American music in the coming years. It would seem that he is far from alone in his estimation. To ask a question, please write Ask Edna. © Edna Landau 2013

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