Composer, performer, conductor and educator Joan Tower talks with violist Paul Neubauer and bassoonist Peter Kolkay about motivation, influences and inspiration over the course of her career, spanning more than 50 years. She also discusses in some detail two of her works: Purple Rush for Viola (2016), and Red Maple for Bassoon, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello (2013). Purple Rush is performed by Paul Neubauer; an excerpt of Red Maple is performed by Peter Kolkay, bassoon, and the Calidore String Quartet.
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Artist Profile: Joan Tower
Joan Tower is widely regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. During a career spanning more than sixty years, she has made lasting contributions to musical life in the United States as composer, performer, conductor, and educator. Her works have been commissioned by major ensembles, soloists, and orchestras, including the Emerson, Tokyo, and Muir quartets; soloists Evelyn Glennie, Carol Wincenc, David Shifrin, Paul Neubauer, and John Browning; and the orchestras of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Nashville, Albany NY, and Washington DC, among others.
Recent awards: in 2020 Chamber Music America honored her with its Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award; Musical America chose her to be its 2020 Composer of the Year; in 2019 the League of American Orchestras awarded her its highest honor, the Gold Baton. In 1990, Tower became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Silver Ladders. She is the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission of sixty-five orchestras. The Nashville Symphony and conductor Leonard Slatkin recorded that work, Made in America, with Tambor and Concerto for Orchestra for the Naxos label. The top-selling recording won three Grammy awards in 2008: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance. Nashville's latest all-Tower recording includes Stroke, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
From 1969 to 1984, she was pianist and founding member of the Naumburg Award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players, which commissioned and premiered many of her most popular works. Her first orchestral work, Sequoia, quickly enteredthe repertory. Tower's tremendously popular six Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have been played by over 600 different ensembles. She is currently Asher Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College, where she has taught since 1972.
Her composer-residencies with orchestras and festivals include a decade with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Composer of the Year for their 2010-11 season, as well as the St. Louis Symphony, the Deer Valley Music Festival, and the Yale/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. She was in residence as the Albany Symphony's Mentor Composer partner in the 2013-14 season. She has received honorary doctorates from Smith College, the New England Conservatory, and Illinois State University.
Upcoming premieres include A New Day, a cello concerto for Alisa Weilerstein and the Colorado Music Festival, the Detroit Symphony, the National Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra; 1920/2019, an orchestral work for the New York Philharmonic's PROJECT 19; a viola quintet, Purple Rain, for the Boston Chamber Music Society. Among her recent premieres: Wing Span (2018) for String Theory at the Hunter; Wild Summer (2017), premiered by the Jasper String Quartet; Power Dance (2016), premiered by organist Michel Bouvard at the American Guild of Organists Convention; the orchestral Sixth Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman (2016), commissioned and premiered by the Baltimore Symphony; Second String Force (2014), commissioned and premiered by violinist Bella Hristova; Red Maple (2013), commissioned by the South Carolina Philharmonic, Vanderbilt University, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and Pomona College — premiered by bassoonist Peter Kolkay and the South Carolina Philharmonic; White Water (2012), commissioned by Chamber Music Monterey Bay and premiered by the Daedalus Quartet; Stroke (2011), commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Rising (2010), premiered by Carol Wincenc and the Juilliard String Quartet; White Granite (2009), commissioned by St. Timothy's Summer Music Festival, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, and La Jolla Music Society for SummerFest; Angels (2008), her fourth string quartet, commissioned by Music from Angel Fire and premiered by the Miami String Quartet; Dumbarton Quintet (2008), a piano quintet commissioned by the Dumbarton Oaks Estate (their third commission after Stravinsky and Copland) and premiered by Tower and the Enso String Quartet; Chamber Dance (2006), commissioned, premiered, and toured by Orpheus; and Copperwave (2006), written for the American Brass Quintet and commissionedby The Juilliard School of Music. A Gift (2007), for winds and piano, was commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest and premiered by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS). Other CMS premieres included Trio Cavany (2007) and Simply Purple (2008) for viola, performed by Paul Neubauer.
Her compositions cross many genres: Descending (2012) for chorus, premiered by the New York Virtuoso Singers; Copperwave (2006), written for the American Brass Quintet; DNA (2003), a percussion quintet commissioned for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble; Fascinating Ribbons (2001), her foray into the world of band music, premiered at the annual conference of College Band Directors; Vast Antique Cubes/Throbbing Still (2000), a solo piano piece for John Browning; Tambor (1998), for the Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of Mariss Jansons; and her ballet Stepping Stones (1993), commissioned by choreographer Kathryn Posin for the Milwaukee Ballet and revisited by Posin with the Bulgarian Ballet in June 2011.
Joan Tower's music is published by AssociatedMusic Publishers.
Purple Rush (World Premiere)
Watch the World Premiere performance of Joan Tower's Purple Rush. Performed by violist Paul Neubauer and recorded live in Alice Tully Hall on April 24, 2016.
Red Maple for Bassoon, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello
Bassonist Peter Kolkay joins the Calidore String Quartet for this performance of Red Maple, recorded live from the Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Studio on May 16, 2019.
Watch Composers in Focus May 10 at 6:30 PM ET
Register for this free webinar featuring Joan Tower, who will talk with violist Paul Neubauer and bassoonist Peter Kolkay about motivation, influences and inspiration over the course of her career, spanning more than 50 years. She also discusses in some detail two of her works: Purple Rush for Viola (2016), and Red Maple for Bassoon, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello (2013). Purple Rush is performed by Paul Neubauer; an excerpt of Red Maple is performed by Peter Kolkay, bassoon, and the Calidore String Quartet.