The Annapolis Symphony finds itself keeping some pretty spiffy company these days.
The orchestra recently joined the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the symphonies of Seattle, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Albany, Ga., and the American Composers Orchestra of New York as a recipient of a "Music Alive" grant awarded by the American Symphony Orchestra League.
"Music Alive" is a composer residency program designed to bring American orchestras and prominent composers together to generate community support for contemporary music.
The arts community in and around Annapolis will benefit from this grant by spending two weeks of the ASO's 40th anniversary season - which begins in September -in the company of Stephen Paulus, one of the country's most prolific and frequently performed composers. Artists who have commissioned works from this 50-year-old musician based in St. Paul, Minn., include baritones Thomas Hampson and Hakan Hagegard, soprano Evelyn Lear, trumpeter Doc Severinsen, pop star Leo Kottke, and William Preucil, concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Paulus has composed seven operas, four of them commissioned by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. He is currently at work on "Heloise and Abelard," a commission from the Juilliard Opera Center.
Working with orchestras is nothing new for this artist who has served as a composer-in-residence with the Atlanta Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Tucson Symphony of Arizona and the Dale Warland Singers, a superb choral ensemble based in Minnesota.
"We are truly thrilled to have someone of Stephen's stature coming to spend time with our orchestra and in our community," says Pamela Chaconas, the ASO's education director. "Our board is truly 'on board' with this project, and our community pride is already showing."
ASO conductor Leslie Dunner, who first became acquainted with Paulus in 1984, says he is a perfect match for this residency program. "In fact, I'm hoping his visit will become a springboard for a whole new series of multi-dimensional, forward-looking musical events," Dunner says.
Paulus' first Annapolis residency will take place Oct. 2 to 7, and will culminate in an Annapolis Camerata performance of his "Voices from the Gallery" at Maryland Hall under Maestro Dunner's direction on Oct. 6.
"Voices" is one of Paulus' most inventive compositions. It's a work for narrator and orchestra in which 11 great works of art - "Mona Lisa," "Winged Victory" and Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" among them - speak to the audience in both words and music.
Paulus will return in April 2001 for a week of educational appearances, consultations with Dunner and the orchestra, and the premier of a work the ASO has commissioned from him to be performed at the orchestra's subscription concerts on April 27-28.
"It will be a celebratory work to open the concert and will contain references that are significant to Annapolitans," the composer said during a preliminary visit to orchestra headquarters at Maryland Hall last week. "That's why it's so important to meet an orchestra and get to know its people as I begin sketching a piece out. I may start with a blank sheet, but not a blank head."
Paulus seems quite pleased to have landed with the ASO instead of with the larger, more prestigious orchestras on the list of grantees. "Middle-range community orchestras are far more open to new ideas and interesting programming than the big ones are," he says.
"When I was in residence with the Atlanta Symphony, I had 6,000 new scores submitted to me and the orchestra hardly had time for any of them," he said. "That's why connecting with a flexible orchestra like this one in Annapolis that's such a part of the personality of its community is like making a new friend."