The AGO Student Commissioning Project is the AGO’s most recent new music initiative. Each year, grants of $1,000 are awarded to four collaborative composer-and-organist pairs for the composition and performance of four new works for the organ. In the fall, as the academic year begins, a student pair submits a joint application describing a proposed work and its performance. There are no restrictions with regard to a work’s compositional style; however, all composers and organists must be enrolled as full- or part-time students at an accredited U.S. college, university, or conservatory. After the new work is approved by the AGO Committee on New Music, the organist must premiere the work and provide a video recording. 2024 Project Guidelines.
Award: Four grants of $1,000 will be awarded each year to four composer and organist pairs by the AGO Committee on New Music
2023 Award Winners
Four composer-organist student pairs were selected in the fall of 2022: Victor Cui (composer) and Midori Ataka (organist) from Johns Hopkins University; Owen Johnson (composer) from the New England Conservatory and Jacob Gruss (organist) from Juilliard; Nara Lee (composer) and Jihye Choi (organist) from Indiana University; and Christopher Enloe (composer) from Johns Hopkins University and Grant Smith (organist) from Rice University. Videos of their winning compositions are below.
2023 Award Winning Projects
Midori Ataka plays Phoenix Contemplates God by Victor CUi
Phoenix Contemplates God is my first attempt at the organ. The instrument’s textural and coloristic complexity posed a great challenge to me. The piece is strictly monothematic, with one pentatonic motif whimsically shifting between distant key areas without preparation. The abrupt juxtaposition of contrasting keys reflects how my thought process generally is: erratic, unpredictable, always making imaginative leaps of faith though random associations.
Jacob Gruss plays Earth-Waves by Owen Johnson
Earth-Waves is inspired by the poem “The Treasure” by Robinson Jeffers. Rather than programmatically set this poem, I gravitated to the general perspective that it takes on, that of examining human life from the scale of the universe. What strikes me about Jeffers’s attitude is his ability to find comfort in this seemingly bleak, large-scale, way of thinking. He finds beauty in the “flash of activity” that is a human life and accepts it rather than being consumed by its brevity. Earth-Waves reconciles this idea with the micro-reality of my lived experience and confronts Jeffers’s treasure musically.
Jihye Choi plays The Creation by Nara Lee
The Creation depicts the scenes of the God’s Creation based on the bible verses. The prominent compositional technique being used throughout the piece is “half-pulled (drawn) stops”; exploiting the various sound effects which are produced by different ranges of drawing stop knobs. This technique is only possible on mechanical stop action organs. The desired sounds are created when one precisely controls drawing stop knobs with key(s) pressed. This idea came from the composer’s impression of the “half-pulled stops”. The process of making sound, from silent to sound, resembles “The Creation”. Rather than listening to the melodic or harmonic progression, I would like to suggest you listen to how the sound is formed and how it changes.
Grant Smith plays Exsultet by Christopher Enloe
Like the ancient Latin hymn, Exsultet is a triumphant exaltation of Christ as King victorious. Exsultet recontextualizes cellular fragments of three hymn tunes – Passion Chorale, Duke Street, and Lasst Uns Erfeuen – into richly varied musical contexts. While I was initially drawn to purely aesthetic features of these tunes, my associations with text drove the compositional arc. O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun, and All Creatures of Our God and King spun through my head throughout the writing process. In this piece, I glimpse the coming day when all creation will receive her King, the Prince of Peace, completing His victory over sin and death. “Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!”
M. Jonathan Ryan, MM, FAGO, ChM, ex officio (Vice President/Councillor for Competitions and New Music) Email
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