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Musical Fund Society Announces 200th Bicentennial Celebration with Four Newly Commissioned Works by León, Jaffe, Sierra, Thomas

November 29, 2018 | By Jonathan Eifert Public Relations

Musical Fund Society Announces 200th Bicentennial Celebration with Four Newly Commissioned Works by Leading Composers Tania León, Stephen Jaffe, Roberto Sierra and Augusta Read Thomas

PHILADELPHIA, PA — The Musical Fund Society will celebrate its 200th bicentennial anniversary in 2020 by doing what it does best: supporting the creation and dissemination of important music by eminent artists. The Society is commissioning four new works by significant American composers and presenting their world premieres with leading Philadelphia ensembles.

The Society’s Edwin G. McCollin Fund competition selected four nationally recognized composers, each commissioned to write a new chamber work based in some way on the rich history of Philadelphia, for one of four participating performing organizations: the 20/21 Ensemble from the Curtis Institute of Music, Network for New Music, a quartet from Astral Artists, and PRISM Quartet.

Fifty applications were submitted anonymously by nationally known American composers and were reviewed by a panel of Philadelphia-area musicians, composers, and arts administrators.

The winning composers are:

  • Tania León — composition performed by Curtis 20/21 Ensemble (wind sextet)
  • Stephen Jaffe — composition performed by Network for New Music Ensemble
  • Roberto Sierra — composition performed by Prism Quartet (saxophones)
  • Augusta Read Thomas — composition performed by Astral Artists string quartet

This once-in-a-lifetime performance, presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, will take place on April 26, 2020 at the Mary Louise Curtis branch of the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. 

The concert will go hand-in-hand with a special exhibit of historic Musical Fund Society memorabilia—including the manuscript of the Bartok third string quartet and a lock of hair from Niccolo Paganini—at the Kislak Center in the University of Pennsylvania Library, and a display of Musical Fund Society-related manuscripts at the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of The Free Library of Philadelphia. There also are plans for a bicentennial program book.

These exciting events will celebrate music in Philadelphia, from the Society’s inception in 1820 through the present time. The bicentennial celebration will call attention to the Society’s unique role in promoting, supporting and encouraging this rich musical legacy by providing vital opportunities to deserving composers, outstanding performing artists, and regional audiences.

“I am very excited about the Musical Fund Society’s upcoming Bicentennial celebration, especially the April 2020 concert featuring new chamber works by some of America’s finest living composers,” said Linda Reichert, president of the Musical Fund Society. “The Society and its activities have quietly thrived under the radar in Philadelphia for many years. These Bicentennial events—presented in partnership with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, The Free Library of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania Library archives, and the four excellent participating Philadelphia music ensembles—will spotlight the important activities of our organization, and connect Philadelphia audiences with the rich musical life of past and present Philadelphia.”   

Tania León’s new work for Curtis 20/21 Ensemble will celebrate the Musical Fund Society’s long-lasting and unwavering support of people from all heritages who have helped build Philadelphia’s music scene, and the Society’s ability to embrace the sounds of each generation, foreseeing what might be relevant for future ones and supporting innovators who later on became music icons.

“Nowadays, society is more mindful of the contributions composers and musicians have made to the history of humanity,” León said. 

Stephen Jaffe is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to write for the Network for New Music Ensemble and Philadelphia’s musical fabric, and for the chance to be part of a group of composers chosen to celebrate the McCollin Fund’s anniversary of enriching Philadelphia’s musical life, being mindful of the deep imprint the vital musical and artistic life of the region has made on him.

“As I soak up ideas and ambience, let them ferment, and aim to produce something previously unheard, new, beautiful and curious, I celebrate the city and the region for the plentifulness that contains the seeds of effervescence,” Jaffe said. 

Roberto Sierra will write a work for Prism Quartet inspired by the urban street as a sequel to his work Graffiti, written in 2017. He said Philadelphia, like all major American cities has great street art.

“I am always honored when an institution or an individual is interested in a new work from me,” Sierra said. “This project in particular is special because it was a competition by invitation, and also because the pieces were judged blind.”

For Augusta Read Thomas’s work for Astral’s string quartet, she is picking up on Philadelphia’s history of inclusion, innovation, communication, industry, healthcare for the world’s family, fertile fields and the love that binds us all together.

“The reason I compose music is to express gratitude,” she said. “The music will flow like the arc of the rivers that define this great city. From planting seeds through to harvesting the fruit of mind and labor embodied in the freedom and the spirit of Philadelphia, thanks is given for our mutual celebration of the human experiences of justice, love and joy, health and knowledge, beauty and insight into the nature of being.”


For press inquiries contact: Jonathan Eifert

pr@jonathaneifert.com, 347-741-1913




About the Musical Fund Society

Founded in 1820, the Musical Fund Society (MFS) is our nation’s oldest continuing musical organization.  Each year, the Society assists Philadelphia music organizations, provides Philadelphia music organizations with project funding, honors a distinguished musical leader at its annual collation, highlights a distinguished artist with its Career Advancement Award, partners with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society to present a concert series featuring artists and repertoire of special interest, and assists composers and musicians in other ways.

Throughout the 19th century, an orchestra formed by the Society presented concerts of then unknown works by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Weber and others, including the U.S. premiere of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The Musical Fund Hall, built in 1824, was one of America’s leading concert venues, featuring prominent artists of the day such as violinist Ole Bull and Henri Vieuxtemps, pianist Louis Gottschalk, and singers Jenny Lind and Adelina Patti. The Hall would also host Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Convention in 1837; the first national convention of the Republican Party in 1856; and lectures by writers Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others. In 1928, a panel of judges convened by the Society—including conductors Fritz Reiner and Willem Mengelberg—awarded Bela Bartok a $3,000 prize for composition of his String Quartet No. 3; the original manuscript to this work remains in an archive at the University of Pennsylvania.

Today, the Society continues to promote the city’s rich and diverse cultural life through an annual concert series, grants to music organizations, commissions, and a Career Advancement Award that has supported musicians—in early stages of their careers—including pianists Marc-André Hamelin and Cynthia Raim, violinists Soovin Kim and Benjamin Beilman, and singers Eric Owens and Sarah Shafer.

The Society’s Edwin G. McCollin Fund composition competition was established in 1925 to assist and promote living composers. The Fund has had a rich history, including support for the composition of Bela Bartok’s Third String Quartet in 1928. 


About the Composers


Tania León

Tania León (b. Havana, Cuba) is highly regarded as a composer and conductor and recognized for her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been profiled on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, and independent films.

León's opera Scourge of Hyacinths, based on a play by Wole Soyinka with staging and design by Robert Wilson, received over 20 performances throughout Europe and Mexico. Commissioned by Hans Werner Henze and the city of Munich for the Fourth Munich Biennale, it took home the coveted BMW Prize. The aria Oh Yemanja ("Mother's Prayer") was recorded by Dawn Upshaw on her Nonesuch CD, "The World So Wide."

Commissions include works for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Ursula Oppens and the Cassatt Quartet, Nestor Torres, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New World Symphony, Koussevitzky Foundation, Fest der Kontinente (Hamburg, Germany), Cincinnati Symphony, National Endowment for the Arts, NDR Sinfonie Orchester, American Composers Orchestra, The Library of Congress, Ensemble Modern, The Los Angeles Master Chorale, and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, and International Contemporary Ensemble, among others. Recent commissions include: the score for the opera, The Little Rock Nine, with a libretto by Thulani Davis, and historical research by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., commissioned by the University of Central Arkansas's College of Fine Arts and Communication. 

A founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, co-founded the Sonidos de las Américas festivals with the American Composers Orchestra, and served as Latin American Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra and New Music Advisor to the New York Philharmonic. She is the founder and artistic director of Composers Now Festival and the Composers Now organization, a nonprofit in New York City founded in 2010 and dedicated to empowering all living composers, while celebrating the diversity of their voices and honoring the significance of their contributions to the cultural fabric of society. In 2017, a proclamation was presented to Tania Leon and Composers Now on behalf of Mayor Bill de Blasio in recognition of their contributions on behalf of living composers.

Her honors include the New York Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award, Symphony Space's Access to the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Fromm, Koussevitzky, and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 2012 she received both a Grammy nomination (for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition") and a Latin Grammy nomination (for "Best Classical Contemporary Composition") and in 2013 she was the recipient of the prestigious 2013 ASCAP Victor Herbert Award. Most recently she was awarded a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship.


Stephen Jaffe

The music of Stephen Jaffe has been regularly performed in the U.S., Europe, and Asia by such organizations as the National Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco and New Jersey Symphonies, the Oregon Bach Festival, Spectrum Concerts Berlin, London’s Lontano, and many others. About a dozen of his works have been recorded on the Bridge, Neuma, Albany, and CRI labels, including Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Bridge 9141) winner of the Koussevitsky International Recording Award in 2006, and also awarded 10/10 Highest Rating from Classictoday.com.

Jaffe’s work has been described as direct and involving without ever being simplistic; emotionally complex but not convoluted. Writing about the composer’s Double Sonata in the New York Times, Will Crutchfield remarked that the composer’s harmonies were “rich with consonant intervals, although I would not call them neo-Romantic, and they certainly did not sound like any particular music of the past.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Stephen Jaffe received his training in composition at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with George Crumb, George Rochberg, and Richard Wernick, and at the Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva, Switzerland. In addition to a Premiere Medaille from that institution, his work has been recognized with the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Tanglewood, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Jaffe’s works have been commissioned by a variety of groups, including the Fromm and Naumburg Foundations, the National Symphony, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Citing his “eloquent and original voice” in 1989 Brandeis University awarded him its Creative Arts Citation, and in 1991, Jaffe received the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for his 32-minute First Quartet written for the Ciompi Quartet. In 2005, Jaffe was the Classical Recording Society’s Composer of the Year, and in 2007, a master artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

Jaffe’s projects have included three major concerti: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2003), commissioned by the National Symphony (Leonard Slatkin, Music Director), for the orchestra’s principal cellist David Hardy; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, written for Nicholas Kitchen, recorded for Bridge by Gregory Fulkerson, violin, and the Odense, Denmark Philharmonic; and Chamber Concerto (“Singing Figures”), for Oboe and Ensemble, commissioned by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and subsequently recorded by Speculum Musicae with Stephen Taylor, oboe. Additional orchestral premieres have included short takes such as Cut Time, also by Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony and two orchestral works written for the North Carolina Symphony under Grant Llewellyn: Poetry of the Piedmont, and Cithara mea (Evocations): Spanish Music Notebook for Orchestra, based on Spanish Renaissance music. Recent contributions to chamber music include Light Dances (Chamber Concerto No. 2), written for Philadelphia’s Network for New Music; a cello and piano work, Sonata (in Four Parts) for the Kennedy Center Chamber Players, and Designs II, for a trio of clarinet/bass clarinet, guitar/electric guitar, and percussion.

Stephen Jaffe lives in Durham, North Carolina, where he teaches at Duke University and co-directs the concert series Encounters: with the Music of Our Time. In 1999 he was appointed Mary D.B.T. and James Semans Professor of Composition.


Roberto Sierra

For more than three decades the works of Roberto Sierra have been part of the repertoire of many of the leading orchestras, ensembles and festivals in the USA and Europe. At the inaugural concert of the 2002 world renowned Proms in London, his Fandangos was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a concert that was broadcast by both the BBC Radio and Television throughout the UK and Europe. Many of the major American and European orchestras and international ensembles have commissioned and performed his works. Among those ensembles are the orchestras of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New Mexico, Houston, Minnesota, Dallas, Detroit, San Antonio and Phoenix, as well as the American Composers Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, the Spanish orchestras of Madrid, Galicia, Castilla y León, Barcelona, Continuum, St. Lawrence String Quartet, Opus One, and others. 

Commissioned works include: Concerto for Orchestra for the centennial celebrations of the Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and the Philadelphia Orchestra; Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for James Carter; Fandangos and Missa Latina commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington DC; Sinfonía No. 3 "La Salsa", commissioned by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Danzas Concertantes for guitar and orchestra commissioned by the Orquesta de Castilla y León; Double Concerto for violin and viola co-commissioned by the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Orchestras; Bongo commissioned by the Juilliard School in celebration of its 100th anniversary; Songs from the Diaspora commissioned by Music Accord for Heidi Grant Murphy, Kevin Murphy and the St. Lawrence String Quartet; and Concierto de Cámara co-commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Chamber Music Northwest and Stanford Lively Arts.

In 2017 he was awarded the Tomás Luis de Victoria Prize, the highest honor given in Spain to a composer of Spanish or Latin American origin. In 2003 he was awarded the Academy Award in Music by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The award states: "Roberto Sierra writes brilliant music, mixing fresh and personal melodic lines with sparkling harmonies and striking rhythms. . ." His Sinfonía No. 1, a work commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, won the 2004 Kenneth Davenport Competition for Orchestral Works. In 2007 the Serge and Olga Koussevitzky International Recording Award (KIRA) was awarded to Albany Records for the recording of his composition Sinfonía No. 3 “La Salsa”. Roberto Sierra has served as Composer-In-Residence with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and New Mexico Symphony. In 2010 he was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Roberto Sierra was born in 1953 in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, and studied composition both in Puerto Rico and Europe, where one his teachers was György Ligeti at the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg, Germany. The works of Roberto Sierra are published principally by Subito Music Publishing (ASCAP). His music may be heard on CD's by Naxos, EMI, UMG’s EMARCY, New World Records, Albany Records, Koch, New Albion, Koss Classics, BMG, Fleur de Son and other labels.


Augusta Read Thomas

The music of Grammy-winning composer Augusta Read Thomas is majestic, elegant, lyrical; it is “boldly considered music that celebrates the sound of the instruments and reaffirms the vitality of orchestral music.”(Philadelphia Inquirer) The New Yorker Magazine called Augusta "a true virtuoso composer." Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone wrote, “Heart and soul in the breathtaking music of a thoughtful contemporary composer. Thomas's brainy brand of modernism reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart.” 

The citation read at her 2009 American Academy of Arts and Letters induction: “Her impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry.  Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession. Later, as an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern and Tanglewood, chairperson of the American Music Center, and the Chicago Symphony’s longest-serving resident composer, she has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music.”

Thomas has composed over 40 works for orchestra. She was the Mead Composer-in-Residence for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez with the CSO from 1997 through 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle – one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. 

She founded and directs the Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago.

Barenboim, Boulez, Salonen, Knussen, Ozawa, Rostrapovich, Slatkin, Roberton, Maazel, Davis, Graf, Zhang and Eschenbach have championed her music, which has been commissioned by leading orchestras and ensembles around the world.  Winner of the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize and many other international awards, currently she is composing an opera commissioned by a consortium led by Santa Fe Opera association with San Francisco Opera that includes: Lyric Opera Kansas City, Minnesota Opera, Opera Theatre Saint Louis, Sarasota Opera, and Seattle Opera. 




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