Composer Institute Alumni in the Community

Composer Institute Alumni in the Community

Since 1996, 141 emerging composers have participated in the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute and its predecessor, Perfect Pitch. Many have since gone on to impressive careers, earning prestigious commissions and high honors. A growing number of them are also nurturing ties to the Twin Cities music community.

Several have had their music programmed at Minnesota Orchestra subscription concerts, including Sean Shepherd and Missy Mazzoli during the 2018–19 season.

Polina Nazaykinskaya, a 2010 alumnus whose Winter Bells will be played by the Orchestra next March, has forged an especially strong bond with the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, whose music director is William Schrickel, the Minnesota Orchestra’s assistant principal bass.

Polina Nazaykinskaya onstage before the Minnesota Orchestra’s performance of her Winter Bells at the October 2010 Future Classics concert.

Schrickel commented on the connection and its origins: “When I performed Polina’s Winter Bells with the Minnesota Orchestra as part of the Orchestra’s 2010 Composer Institute, I was immediately impressed by the strength and beauty of her writing for full orchestra. I immediately arranged with her to conduct the piece with the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra the following season, and the MSO and I have since performed three more of her works, including the premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in 2017. I believe that in ten years the world’s major orchestra will be competing to perform Polina’s compositions, and I’m proud and excited to champion music of such depth and power.”

Other composers who have maintained connections to Minnesota include 2019 Composer Institute alumna TJ Cole, who has been commissioned to compose a new work for Edina High School’s Concert Band, and 2016 participant Matthew Peterson, who returned to the Twin Cities last June to record his chamber opera Voir Dire at Minnesota Public Radio’s studios in St. Paul. In addition, the Minnesota Orchestra’s assistant principal librarian Valerie Little, a violist, programmed works by Institute alumni Hannah Lash and Missy Mazzoli, among other female composers, in a crowdfunded string ensemble performance last August. 

Local audiences have a chance to hear music by another Institute alumnus on Sunday, June 2, at 7:30 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where 2016 participant Emily Cooley’s Slow Song for Mark Rothko will be performed by Orchestra musicians Greg Milliren, Brian Mount and Anthony Ross, with Stephen Yoakam narrating poetry by John Taggart. This new work was commissioned by former Minnesota Orchestra Concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis through the Michael Steinberg and Jorja Fleezanis Fund—which previously financed a work by 2008 Institute participant Justin Merritt.

Emily Cooley being interviewed by host Fred Child at the January 2016 Future Classics concert.

Fleezanis, who is now a professor of music at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, explained how the Institute led to these commissions: “I flew up to hear two different Composer Institute concerts in hopes of discovering a compositional voice I would respond to. In both cases I identified Justin Merritt and Emily Cooley. The mission of the Steinberg/Fleezanis Fund is to merge music with the written word by commissioning emerging young composers. In the case of Emily, I was touched by the delicacy of her orchestral work played at the Composer Institute concert and remembered it while pondering a possible poem to marry with it—which turned out to be a poem by John Taggart called Slow Song for Mark Rothko.” 

Jorja Fleezanis, the Minnesota Orchestra’s concertmaster from 1989 to 2009, conferring with composer Missy Mazzoli at a Future Classics rehearsal in November 2006.

With the next Composer Institute scheduled for January 2020, the Twin Cities community can look forward to even more new music and new connections.

Minnesota Orchestra Staff