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Crane announces first winners of Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize

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POTSDAM - The Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam is pleased to announce the winners of the first Dominic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize. Three operas were chosen from a pool of 74 submissions, which came from across the U.S. and Canada, as well as from Europe.

The three winning compositions will be presented by the Crane Opera Ensemble and Orchestra in November 2014 at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.

“The extraordinary gift of Dr. Gary Jaquay, honoring his life partner Domenic, gives The Crane School the opportunity to bring new, musically exciting and socially profound operatic works not only to our students, faculty and community, but also to the operatic world. As we anticipate this first production, we can only imagine the ripples that will extend from these and future Pellicciotti Prize operas into the lives of those who participate, experience and come to know the operas selected. We are confident that this program will continue to foster exciting new work by composers and librettists active today and in the future,” said Crane School of Music Dean Dr. Michael Sitton.

A prize of $10,000 and a full production will be awarded to the featured winner, “A Letter to East 11th Street,” with music by Martin Hennessy and libretto by Mark Campbell.

“A Letter to East 11th Street” is an intimate opera that affirms, with wit and pathos, the enduring bonds of love, as it charts the impact of the AIDS epidemic on two best friends — first in the early years of the disease and then 10 years later. In 1989, Rick Driscoll, a young man with AIDS, has returned to the suburban house in which he grew up and videotapes a letter to his best friend and former roommate, Susan. A decade later, Susan muses on all that has happened since Rick’s death, and toasts her best friend.

Two $5,000 prizes and the production of an act or segment will also be awarded. The other winners include “In a Mirror, Darkly,” with music by Christopher Weiss and a libretto by S. O’Duinn Magee, and “The Fox and the Pomegranate,” with music by Matt Frey and libretto by Daniel J. Kushner.

Each act of “In a Mirror, Darkly” is a complete story of a woman artist, but each is set in a different era and location. In Act II, set in the 1890s in Paris, Elaine is a painter and assistant in Lantier’s studio, where she works in secret to complete her masterpiece. After Lantier decides to sign his own name to her painting, Elaine is forced to confront her society’s views about women artists and make a decision about her future.

“The Fox and the Pomegranate” takes place in a grove yielding many different fruits. A seductive and mysterious young man named Aril delivers a cryptic omen before seducing Nate, a gender-fluid individual, who has betrayed his lover, Meg. This allegorical opera explores the multifaceted nature of love, the fluidity of gender roles and the nuances of infidelity.

The performances will be offered in November 2014 in the Sara M. Snell Music Theater on the SUNY Potsdam campus, featuring students from The Crane School of Music. Additional events, including forums and masterclasses with the composers and librettists and outreach events for regional schools, will round out the performance experience for the campus and the Northern New York community.

About the Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize:

The Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize was founded by Dr. Gary C. Jaquay to honor his life partner, Domenic J. Pellicciotti, an ardent fan of opera. The award seeks to encourage and acknowledge the creation of new opera works that explore, within a broad range of possible expressions and representations, themes related to tolerance, inclusion and/or the celebration of diversity within an inclusive community. Works that explore issues relevant to the LGBT community were particularly encouraged for this round. The $20,000 prize will be awarded every four years, along with a production of the winning operas.

The selection committee for the 2014 prize included Crane School of Music faculty members Carleen Graham, Kirk Severtson and Gregory Wanamaker, as well as Fort Worth Opera General Director Darren K. Woods, who is also Artistic Director of the Seagle Music Colony in Schroon Lake, N.Y.

To learn more about the Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize, visit www.potsdam.edu/pellicciotti.

About the winners:

Martin Hennessy is becoming increasingly known as a composer for the voice, with his growing catalogue of art song, chamber music, opera and musical theater. “A Letter to East 11th Street” was presented by New York City Opera’s Vox Series in 2008, under conductor George Manahan. Hennessy’s “Four Ben Jonson Songs” won grand prize at the San Francisco Song Festival. In addition, he has been honored with awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, two grants from the American Music Center, two commissions from the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS, as well as a Millay Colony residency.

“A Letter to East 11th Street” librettist Mark Campbell was profiled in Opera News as one of 25 artists “poised ... to become major forces in opera in the coming decade.” In his 10 years as a librettist, he has written nine operas and collaborated with a roster of contemporary notable composers. Campbell’s most recent work, “Silent Night,” which he wrote with composer Kevin Puts for the Minnesota Opera, received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The opera has more than five productions scheduled in the next two years. Campbell’s other successful operas include “Volpone,”“Later the Same Evening,”“Bastianello/Lucrezia” and “Rappahannock County.”

“In a Mirror, Darkly” composer Christopher Weiss’s music has been hailed by the New York Times as “wonderfully fluid [with a] cinematic grasp of mood and lighting.” He has received commissions and performances from the Huntsville Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, the Boston Chamber Orchestra, the Lancaster Symphony, the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, the Columbia Orchestra, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the Twickenham Music Festival and from Music from Angel Fire, where he was the Young Composer-in-Residence. Excerpts from “In a Mirror, Darkly” have been performed by the New York City Opera and the Virginia Arts Festival. Weiss has been in residence at Yaddo, the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. He holds degrees from Rollins College and the Curtis Institute of Music.

As a professor and publishing scholar, S. O’Duinn Magee was known as “Maggie Dunn.” Upon retiring from academics to be a full-time writer, and while working with composer Christopher Weiss on their opera “In a Mirror, Darkly,” she chose the professional pen name, S. O’Duinn Magee. Although not a musician by professional training, her musical interests and ability to read music, combined with a lifelong love of poetry and opera, convinced her to try her hand as a librettist. Magee’s fiction-writing projects include a six-part series of literary mysteries and a five-part series of literary science fiction novels.

Matt Frey is a Brooklyn-based composer of contemporary concert music, both for vocal and instrumental ensembles, along with his opera, “The Fox and the Pomegranate.” Recent projects have included residencies and premieres with the JACK String Quartet, the NYU Symphony Orchestra, the Manhattan Wind Ensemble and the NYU Woodwind Quintet. Currently pursuing a master’s degree at New York University, he is a co-founder and artistic director of the West 4th New Music Collective. Combining inspiration from modern concert composers with a love for the bold gestures of electronic and popular music has become Frey’s trademark, creating a sound uniquely recognizable and popular with both audiences and performers alike.

“The Fox and the Pomegranate” librettist Daniel J. Kushner is a professional arts journalist and music critic whose work has been featured in such publications as Opera News, NewMusicBox, the Huffington Post and Symphony magazine. He trained as a tenor during his undergraduate studies, and he went on to complete his Master of Arts degree at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “The Fox and the Pomegranate” marks Kushner’s debut as opera librettist; the opera was first workshopped at the 2012 John Duffy Composers Institute. Previous work includes the text for the song cycle “A Painting of Pollock,” which was set to music by Matt Frey for vocalist and percussion.

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