The Ziering-Conlon Initiative at the Colburn School

By James Conlon

As readers of Musical America may know, I have long been an advocate for the works of composers whose lives and musical legacies were damaged through their suppression by the Third Reich.  Last month this mission experienced a moment of great promise with the announcement of a gift of $1 million from Los Angeles philanthropist Marilyn Ziering to establish The Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at The Colburn School.  I am as much honored by this gift as thrilled to collaborate with a first-rate conservatory. Marilyn Ziering’s generosity and commitment to this cause has made me even more determined to bring the music and personal histories of these composers into greater focus for an emerging generation of musicians.

The name “Recovered Voices” may be familiar to some.  This is the term we have used at LA Opera (and subsequently elsewhere) for the works I have programmed by Viktor Ullmann, Alexander Zemlinsky, Walter Braunfels, Franz Schreker and others.  At the Ravinia Festival, we have used the term “Breaking the Silence.”  Mrs. Ziering is particularly keen on the name “Recovered Voices” (having generously underwritten a large portion of LA Opera’s productions), hence its use in connection with L.A.’s Colburn School.

This Initiative reflects the commitment of one of America’s great conservatories to examine the so-called canon—or what we think of as the canon—with eyes and ears open to a different, more complete version of music from the first half of the twentieth century.  For the young artists of The Colburn Conservatory, many of these composers will not remain vague names; they will become fully fleshed-out individuals whose works will be heard, analyzed and evaluated in the same way we have previously heard, analyzed and evaluated the music of other, more fortunate, composers of the era.

The Colburn School has invited me to teach a course one semester each year. It will be offered as an elective to all students and opened to members of the public as well. Thus, both practicing musicians and music lovers can become familiar with an important body of works, which have remained in comparative obscurity since the Second World War.

The School will invite scholars from around the country and the world to convene on campus, starting in August 2014, to discuss the latest research into these composers and their era and to consider wider questions of their history, context and reception.  During the summer of 2015, the School will host a competition for young musicians from across the country to perform chamber music by “Recovered Voices” composers.

In the course of the semester, I hope to inspire students to include some of this music on their recital programs alongside, not separated from, more established works.  My belief is that the students will carry this music with them into the future. Through trial and error, we expect to develop a curriculum that can inspire other conservatories and universities.

Much of this music will find its place in the repertory, but not before the next generation of musicians becomes acquainted with it, and that is the purpose of the Ziering-Conlon Initiative at the ColburnSchool in Los Angeles.

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