Hewlett Foundation Announces First Winners of 50 Arts Commissions Initiative

Michael Zwiebach on November 14, 2017
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park is commissioning Dohee Lee to create MU/巫: 9 Goddesses | Credit: Pak Han

The Hewlett Foundation dropped a money bomb on the Bay Area arts scene today, announcing the first 10 recipients of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions initiative. Each of the organizations will receive $150,000 to commission a new musical composition. The initiative runs over five years and includes a variety of genres.

This year’s grant recipients:

  • Cal Performances and Jimmy López for Dreamer, a composition on the U.S. immigrant experience
  • Community School of Music and Arts and Taylor Eigsti for Imagine our Future, a jazz work crowdsourced from Bay Area students
  • Del Sol String Quartet and Huang Ruo for Angel Island Oratorio, a piece for string quartet and choir inspired by immigrant poetry
  • Internet Archive and Paul D. Miller, AKA DJ Spooky, for Sonic Web, an acoustic portrait of the Internet
  • Kronos Quartet and Terence Blanchard, for At War with Ourselves, an evening-length work exploring race relations in America
  • Mills College and Meredith Monk, for Indra’s Net, an interdisciplinary, immersive composition about humanity’s connection to the natural world
  • Music at Kohl Mansion and Jake Heggie/ Gene Scheer, for Violins of Hope Bay Area Project, a chamber work for historic stringed instruments
  • Opera Parallèle and Laura Kaminsky, for Today It Rains, an opera based on the life of artist Georgia O’Keefe
  • Peralta Hacienda and Dohee Lee, for MU: 9 Goddesses, a mythological musical performance ritual
  • SFJAZZ and Miguel Zenón, for Golden City Suite, a new work of jazz rooted in the experiences of San Francisco’s communities.

“Without a doubt, this was the most competitive set of proposals I’ve seen in almost two decades of working in arts philanthropy,” said John McGuirk, director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program. “The works we ultimately selected are of the highest artistic quality and enduring value.”

Laura Kaminsky is composing Today It Rains cor Opera Parallèle | Credit: Rebecca Allen

Opera Parallèle is working with Laura Kaminsky, who has achieved major success with As One (2014). Although the company specializes in contemporary opera and has commissioned chamber orchestrations of existing operas, this is their first commission from scratch and they are co-producing with American Opera Projects, (which also sponsored As One). OP’s founder and artistic director, Nicole Paiement said of the project, “[This award] gives us the opportunity to step up to yet another level as well as continue to build the canon of repertoire of opera for the 21st century. With a female composer and a female artist as the protagonist, we continue to demonstrate our organization’s commitment to empowering and promoting women artists.”

Composer Jimmy López, whose work is commissioned by Cal Performances, is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the composer of Bel Canto, which had its well-received premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago, only a year ago. His and Nilo Cruz’s work will focus on the life of a Dreamer (a person without citizenship papers, brought to the U.S. as an infant or child who has grown up and lived his life the United States).  According to López, “We will research those stories, gather testimonies, and create a narrative describing the travails of crossing the border, the difficulty of assimilating into a completely different culture, and the uncertainty that the future now holds.”

A similar, issue-based approach dominates Terence Blanchard’s thinking about his new work: I want nothing less than to change hearts and souls,” he said. “Music is communal. Concerts bring people together to vibe in one place, for one night. That, to me, is the power of this art.”

Politics aside, the list of composers is impressive and we can at least hope that Hewlett will be responsible for sending out a flood of great new music into the world.