Pittsburgh composers win competition
For the first time the prestigious “Meet the Composer” program has been won by Pittsburgh composers.
R. James Whipple and Efrain Amaya are co-winners of the three-year grant, and will present their first public performance as part of the program at 7 p.m. Sunday at Glenshaw Presbyterian Church. Children and professional musicians will perform several pieces by each composer.
Whipple has been a well-respected member of the local musical community for a quarter century. He was a founding member in 1975 of the Renaissance City Winds, of which he has been the director since 1978. He began composing when he was 14, and has won many previous awards for his creations.
“I’d written National Endowment for the Arts grant applications before,” Whipple says, “but I never had to jump through a series of hoops like this before.”
Founded in 1974, “Meet the Composer” is a national program supported by many major foundations. Its president, Heather Hitchens, explains “Composers are afforded the opportunity to create work in a new and exciting context, and communities are exposed to and participate in the creative process. All of this has led to a greater understanding and enthusiasm for the work of the living composer.”
“Meet the Composer” brought John Harbison to town to be composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony for the 1982-83 and 1983-84 concert seasons.
The Heinz Endowments collaborated with “Meet the Composer” for the past year and a half to bring the current residency program to Pittsburgh. Applications were sent directly to a national review panel in New York City.
The entire $150,000 grant was funded by Heinz Endowments. Heinz program associate Kerry Spindler says nearly all of the money will go directly to the artists and to support their activities. It is part of the ninth round of “Meet the Composer” grants that will be announced nationally in January.
Whipple, 50, heard about the call for applications in February. He says the proposal was very complicated because it requires at least two arts organizations or community settings such as a school of school district or be part of the application.
Whipple lined up the Gateway to the Arts program, the Shaler Area School District, WQED/FM and his own Renaissance City Winds Music Society. His busy schedule performing and teaching at Carnegie Mellon led him to seek another composer to share the commitments required.
Only five days before the deadline, the other composer dropping out, leaving Whipple feeling like “I was at an eighth grade dance at 10 to 10 trying to find someone for the last dance.”
He remembered that a Carnegie Mellon colleague, Efrain Amaya, told him he’d worked with a group whose plans had fallen apart. Amaya, 42, says that when Whipple called, it turned out to be “very convenient for us, since we both teach and don’t have to quit everything we’ve been doing to do the work of the grant.”
The Venezuelan composer, who was educated at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, contributed a fine score to “Clepsydra,” multi-media installation art that was premiered at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Gallery on Dec. 31, 1999. This fall a full CD of his Amaya’s compositions was released by Elan Records.
The two composers will have complicated schedules, producing radio shows and working with partners. But the biggest reward of the grant may be that Whipple will be able “for the first time in my adult life to compose two full days a week.”
After all, according to Ludwig van Beethoven, a composer needs freedom and quiet.