World Premieres & More New Music
Along with a deep attention to historically-informed performance practice, one of the signature features of Staunton Music Festival is its commitment to new music. At Staunton old and new music are often programmed together on the same concert; rather than having an event solely devoted to "modern" music, familiar and unfamiliar works take the stage together, shedding new light on each other. This approach derives from artistic director Carsten Schmidt, who has helped to premiere over 100 compositions and who has worked alongside numerous composers.
With leading support provided by the Allan & Margot Blank Foundation, Staunton Music Festival launched a New Music Initiative in 2017. The Initiative secures funding to help continue programming exceptional 20th- and 21st-century music, and a principal part of that effort goes to commissioning world premieres. These premieres are a feature of the Summer Festival in August.
Each August the Festival invites several living composers to Staunton for a residency, involving chances to interact and discuss their music with the public, as well as featuring their music on numerous concerts. Recent composers-in-residence have included prominent European artists (Moritz Eggert, Stefan Heucke, Willem Jeths), and many American masters have been spotlighted in Staunton in past seasons (Allan Blank, Susan Botti, John Hilliard, Gabriela Lena Frank, John Yannelli, Chester Biscardi). In addition, Festival programs are often graced by the best new works from Virginia composers, including Judith Shatin, Matthew Burtner, Eric Guinivan, and Casey Cangelosi.
With the presence of so many talented composers each summer, the Festival began an Emerging Composers Program in 2008 to help support the youngest composers at the starts of their careers. This program led to the creation of many premieres each season. From this program emerged one of the brightest lights in American music: Zachary Wadsworth. Wadsworth has appeared on Festival programs every year since his debut here in 2011, and the Festival is proud to have commissioned a dozen new works from Zachary in that time.
Photo credit (c) Dallas Southcott
The effort does not always stay within the boundaries of traditional "classical" music. For many years the Staunton Festival had a fruitful collaboration with Chuck Dotas, trumpeter and jazz composer, who created original music inspired by classical works for the August series. More recently, the brilliant bandoneon player and composer, Juan Pablo (J. P.) Jofre, appeared in Staunton for several original creations and joined the performance of Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires. World music has also featured heavily in past seasons, with such figures are Simon Shaheen, Min Xiao-Fen, and Cleek Schrey bringing their unique blend of traditional regional styles to merge with Western idioms.