As part of Orpheus’ ongoing commitment to new works by living composers, the American Notes commissioning initiative seeks to engage composers from diverse musical styles and backgrounds to create works that explore the question of American identity – particularly in our increasingly globalized world. Orpheus is proud to continue the American Notes exploration over the next two years with composers Harold Meltzer, Jessie Montgomery, and Michael Hersch. Each of these composers will begin with the complex question of what defines the American spirit today – the characteristics, experiences, communities, and relationships.

The theme of American Notes is inspired by Charles Dickens’ 1862 travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. Written during a six-month trip throughout the United States just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Dickens documented an America in transition, describing in detail the changing communities he observed. American Notes is also influenced by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration and its engagement of artists throughout the country, specifically the iconic snapshots taken by photographers in the 1930s. Artists such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans shared a cross-section of American life, capturing the current American identity in diverse settings and providing a record for future generations. In engaging composers with different styles and musical backgrounds, Orpheus hopes to capture musically emotional snapshots and personal aspects of current American identity and spirit.

Jessie Montgomery is a New York native violinist, composer and music educator, performing regularly among New York’s classical and new music scenes.

She is currently a member of the highly acclaimed  Catalyst Quartet, raved by the New York Times as “invariably energetic and finely burnished…playing with earthly vigor.” She was a co-founding member of PUBLIQuartet, an ensemble made up of composers and arrangers, featuring their own music as well as that of emerging and established composers. She was also a member of the Providence String Quartet from 2004-2009, quartet in residence of Community MusicWorks. Ensemble experiences have lead to collaborations with The Orion String Quartet, The Miro String Quartet, and The Knights. Jessie has also collaborated with several avant-garde artists such as clarinetist Don Byron, Butch Morris and William Parker.

Widely considered among the most gifted composers of his generation, Michael Hersch’s work has been performed in the U.S. and abroad. His solo and chamber works have appeared on programs around the globe – from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in the U.S. to Germany’s Schloss Neuhardenberg Festival in Brandenberg and the Philharmonie in Berlin; from the U.K.’s Dartington New Music Festival and British Museum to Italy’s Romaeuropa and Nuova Consonanza Festivals. Performances in the far east include those with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Japan’s Pacific Music Festival.

Michael first came to international attention at age twenty-five, when he was awarded First Prize in the Concordia American Composers Awards. The award resulted in a performance of his Elegy, conducted by Marin Alsop in New York’s Alice Tully Hall in early 1997. Later that year he became one of the youngest recipients ever of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. Mr. Hersch is also a recipient of both the Rome and Berlin Prizes.

Join the Composers Club for behind-the-scenes access to the composition process, and artistic decision-making, and more. Composers Club members receive invitations to private rehearsals, have the opportunity to interact with Orpheus musicians and our featured composers, and support Orpheus’ commitment to the creation of new works for chamber orchestra.

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Harold Meltzer is inspired by a wide variety of stimuli, from architectural spaces here and abroad to postmodern fairy tales and messages inscribed in fortune cookies.  In Fanfare Magazine, Robert Carl commented that he “seems to write pieces of scrupulous craft and exceptional freshness, which makes each seem like an important contribution.”  The first recording devoted to his music, released in 2010 by Naxos on its American Classics label, was named one of the CDs of the year in The New York Times; soon there will be new recordings on the Bridge Records and BMOP/Sound labels.  A Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2009 for his sextet Brion, Harold has been awarded the Rome Prize, the Barlow Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and both the Charles Ives Fellowship and the Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

During the 2014-2015 Season, Orpheus was proud to present three new works as part of American Notes. The composers Anna Clyne, Timo Andres, and Fazil Say each created a work specifically for Orpheus that ranged in emotions from darkly introspective to vibrantly dance-like. Orpheus is delighted to continue this exploration into the next two Seasons.