A Milestone for Merriman Family Young Composers Workshop
A Concert of World Premieres: Seattle Symphony members and friends, Samuel Jones (director, conductor, and host), Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 30.4.2013 (BJ)
Samuel Jones has been at the center of the Seattle Symphony’s widely admired work in championing contemporary music since 1997. That was the year former music director Gerard Schwarz appointed him the orchestra’s Composer in Residence. During his 14 years in that post, Jones produced a sequence of works for the orchestra that received critical praise, while at the same time appealing to a broad spectrum of non-professional listeners. Sharing Jones’s characteristic combination of serious style with approachability has been a series of concertos, for instruments including cello, tuba, horn, and trombone, and a violin concerto for Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is currently approaching completion.
Having stepped down from the composer post two years ago, Jones continued to work in his other Seattle Symphony position: he took over, also in 1997, as director of the orchestra’s Merriman Family Young Composers Workshop, founded by Schwarz five years earlier, and previously headed by Jones’s predecessor as Composer in Residence, Bright Sheng. Under Jones’s tutelage, more than 90 students have participated in the workshop, receiving training in all aspects of composing, and preparing a final score for performance at the concert that regularly concludes the year’s activity.
This year’s concert, however, marks the end of Jones’s leadership: he is taking leave of the workshop to devote more time to his own composing. It was, inevitably, a sentimental occasion. Seated at a table to the side of the stage, Jones (born in 1935 in Inverness, Mississippi) interviewed each of the ten participating composers in turn, with his customary relaxed affability, and, for those pieces that needed a conductor, he fulfilled that function too. It would be inappropriate, for an event of this kind, to offer specific or comparative reviews of the works we heard. I will content myself by saying that at least two or three of the ten teenaged composers showed enough talent to suggest the potential for a successful career, and all ten were clearly possessed of the sense of artistic responsibility that, along with technical facility, it has been Jones’s mission to impart.
The performances demonstrated equal dedication on the part of more than a dozen instrumentalists. Pamela Merriman, whose family foundation’s support has been crucial to the success of the workshop, joined Jones on the platform to receive warm applause from a satisfyingly numerous audience. It was the end of an era; I shall wait eagerly to hear about future plans for this unusual and inestimably valuable program.