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ASO scores 'final four'

October 21, 2007

When Dan Visconti visited Annapolis a few months ago, he probably did a lot more listening than the average tourist. He was looking for inspiration for a new work he'd been commissioned to write a few months before by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. The 25-year-old Arlington, Va., resident finally found his muse in the sounds of the water and in the music of churches. The result, "The Breadth of Breaking Waves," will premiere in three weeks at ASO's November concert. It's the first of four new works by composers who will compete for a $5,000 prize and the right to have their music included on a special commemorative recording by the symphony.

"Sounds have so much symbolism and meaning," Mr. Visconti said. "I mulled several ideas, It took about 1½ months getting the right idea."

Mr. Visconti said the rolling quality of waves is very similar to the rolling quality of church hymns, which is how he blended the two themes. He said he's excited by the chance to work with ASO musicians and energized by the process. The other three finalists in the Annapolis Charter 300 Young Composers Competition - Narong

Prangcharoen, Kristin Kuster and Jacob Bancks - will premiere their works at the February, March and May concerts, respectively.

Mr. Visconti's work is six minutes long, while the others are between seven and 10 minutes. Regardless of length, ASO Music Director Jose-Luis Novo said it's no easy task to write an orchestral piece.

The winner will be announced at the end of May, after a voting process that includes members of the orchestra, audiences and music experts. The finalists were selected this spring from a field of 111 applicants age 35 and younger. Their finished scores were due at the ASO offices a few weeks ago.

"I think it's good stuff," Mr. Novo said. "Some of it is very, very good stuff. All of them are different, and that's one of the great things. Each composer has a well- defined style that's personal."

Mr. Novo didn't want to reveal specifics about the works because he's one of the final judges, but did add that it's a joy to bring new music to the city.

"We're so proud of our scores," added ASO President Lee Streby.

The composers will get the chance to rehearse their works with the orchestra prior to the concerts, and will talk to audiences about the pieces to provide a deeper understanding of the music and the motivation behind it. Mr. Streby said the audience vote will be developed from a survey that will be distributed at the concerts.

"I'd really recommend that they get engaged, and realize (the works) are from four people from different walks of life and different cultures." Mr. Streby said.

Mr. Novo said he (and others) worked very hard for a long time to establish the competition and select the finalists. Now that the composers have submitted their finished compositions, he said he can relax and enjoy the music. This is the fun part," he said.

Composing themselves

Mr. Prangcharoen, a native of Thailand living in Kansas City, Mo., was the only one of the finalists not to visit Annapolis.

A heavy overseas music schedule this summer prevented him from coming here, so rather than "pretend," he decided to make his piece a celebratory work that's meant as a gift from the people of Thailand. The finished work is titled "Tri-Sattawat," which means three centuries in Thai.

"I didn't want to pretend I know much about Annapolis (although he did research the city) to try to write something about it," he said. "I want to be honest."

Ms. Kuster, on the other hand, was smitten with the city and spoke with residents at coffeeshops and bars to really get a feel for the populace. The New York City resident's work, "Beneath This Stone," was inspired by a commemorative marker she spotted downtown, and touches on issues of time and existence.

"It's a big deal for young composers to have the opportunity to write an orchestral piece," she said. "It's so rare. The ASO and Jose-Luis Novo and Lee and everyone who's been involved in this have been wonderful."

Mr. Bancks had similar praise. In fact, all four composers said they were honored to be selected as finalists. All are also working on a multitiude of additional composing projects.

"The (ASO) project is amazing," said Mr. Banks, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago. "I'd never heard of anything like it (before). I feel like I already won. To get a performance with a major symphony orchestra like Annapolis is a prize in itself."

Mr. Bancks' work is called "Severn Voyages," and draws on both the maritime history of the city, including the Naval Academy, and the current boating lifestyle. He envisioned the water as a starting point and ending point of many of life's journeys.

"The history and the culture was so vivid (when I visited), it provided a lot of inspiration," he said. "It's quite a city."

For more information on the ASO, call 410-269-1132. The box office can be reached at 410-263-0907. The ASO's Web site is http://www.annapolissymphony.org/. Mr. Visconti's work premieres at the Nov. 9-10 concert. Mr. Prangcharoen's score will be showcased at the Feb. 15-16 performances; Ms. Kuster will take center stage on March 21-22; and Mr. Bancks will have his turn May 2-3.