Composers Conner, Gwon, Kahane Get Commissions at Signature; Foley, Michelson Snag Grants

News   Composers Conner, Gwon, Kahane Get Commissions at Signature; Foley, Michelson Snag Grants It's music to the ears of theatre songwriters: You've just won a commission. Five emerging writers will be given money toward creating new musicals for Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, the troupe announced June 19.

Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer announced a $300,000 multi-year grant from The Shen Family Foundation for "The Next Generation," a program to help emerging composers create new works for musical theatre.

An expansion of Signature's American Musical Voices Project, this program will award three commissions in 2008: composers Matt Conner, Adam Gwon and Gabriel Kahane will each receive a $25,000 commission to write new musicals for Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.

The theatre is also awarding honorees Peter Foley and Marisa Michelson $5,000 grants for the development of their musical ideas in preparation for three additional $25,000 Next Generation commissions to be given in May 2009.

The program also includes a performance component for the new works. The Next Generation-commissioned artists will take part in Signature Theatre's new summer performance initiative entitled the "21/24 Signature Lab." Beginning in July 2009, each commissioned musical will have a three-week rehearsal period and two performances. "21/24" will also feature a cabaret performance highlighting the composers of The Next Generation.

"We're grateful for the continuing support of The Shen Family Foundation toward our new American musical theatre initiative," stated Schaeffer. "It's an exciting time at Signature Theatre as we provide opportunities for up-and-coming composers to develop and present their new works. The Next Generation grants will help pave the way for the future writers of the theatre. Each of these writers has a unique voice and I am thrilled not only to give them the opportunity to write these new musicals but also to present them over the coming years." Ted and Mary Jo Shen, executive directors of The Shen Family Foundation, said in a statement, "We are very excited about broadening our commissioning collaboration with Signature Theatre to include emerging composers who write with exceptional originality and high artistic aspiration. Eric Schaeffer and his colleagues make ideal partners for us because of their longstanding commitment to excellence and innovation in the musical theatre works they produce."

The American Musical Voices Project began in May 2006. At that time Musical Theater Composer Grants presented to Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael John LaChiusa and Joseph Thalken awarded each composer $25,000 a year plus health coverage for four years. Each of those grants was accompanied by a commission to create a new full-length musical that would be produced at Signature Theatre during its 2009-2011 seasons.

In addition, Musical Theater Leadership Awards were made to four individuals in recognition of their extraordinary influence on and contribution to the advancement of new musical theatre. Those recipients were orchestrator Bruce Coughlin, composer Adam Guettel, singer/actress Audra McDonald, and director/musical director/orchestrator Ted Sperling.

Each Leadership Award was presented in conjunction with a one-time grant in the amount of $25,000 to support the artist's continued contributions to musical theatre.

For more information about Signature's Next Generation composers, visit the continually developing microsite at signature-theatre.org/american_voices_next_gen.htm.

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The Next Generation Commission Composer Biographies

Matt Conner has been performing, composing, teaching, and music directing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for the last eleven years. Conner's world premiere musical, Nevermore, was produced at Signature Theatre in 2006 (directed by Eric Schaeffer with orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick). He recently wrote the book/lyrics/music to A Carol Christmas for the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC, produced in December 2007, as well as a new commissioned work for Signature Theatre entitled Crossing, which had its first reading in October 2007. Among Conner's stage credits are: Aurelio/Ensemble in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Scotty in Merrily We Roll Along, Toby in Witches of Eastwick, Steward in Into the Woods, John Hinckley in Assassins, and Tamate in Pacific Overtures (all at Signature Theatre), Riff in West Side Story (Olney Theatre Center) and The Page of Herodias in Oscar Wilde's Salome (Synetic Theatre). Conner received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre from Shenandoah Conservatory of Music and has been the music director on numerous shows including Brigadoon, Grease, Crazy for You, Shenandoah, and his original score, A Christmas Carol. Conner is currently writing Senior Moments/Silver, a Signature Theatre commissioned musical still in the pre-workshop phase, and Partial Eclipse, a world premiere song cycle to be produced at Signature Theatre in June 2009. Conner is also working on a children's show called The King of Pizza, about diversity and working together, which will be produced in the fall of 2008. Conner is a proud voice on the Grammy Award-winning recording of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, a teaching artist with Creative Cauldron, Inc., and a member of the Actors Equity Association. For more information on Matt Conner, visit www.mattconner.org.

Adam Gwon is a composer and lyricist recently named one of "50 to Watch" by The Dramatist magazine. His latest musical, Ordinary Days, will receive its world premiere at Pennsylvania Centre Stage in the summer of 2008, and its UK premiere at the Finborough Theatre in London in fall 2008. His other musicals include the upcoming Bernice Bobs Her Hair, with librettist Julia Jordan and director Joe Calarco; Ethan Frome, with bookwriter Michael Ruby; and Lulu. His work has been seen at Primary Stages, the York Theatre, New Dramatists, NYMF, NAMT, American Music Theatre Project, the ASCAP/Disney Musical Theatre Workshop, HERE, the Flea Theater, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, and many others. He has scored more than 25 productions across the country, and also writes for film and advertising. Adam is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, was a 2006-2007 musical theatre fellow at the Dramatists Guild, and is currently a teaching artist with Roundabout Theatre Company, where he helps 8th graders write musicals about paintings, presidents, and pajamas. For more information visit www.adamgwon.com.

Composer/performer Gabriel Kahane defies classification through his sonically challenging, emotionally resonant, and deeply accessible works. Kahane's most well-known work is his Craigslistlieder, an eight-movement song cycle comprised of settings of anonymous classified ads from craigslist.org. In addition to its many performances throughout the U.S. by the composer, Craigslistlieder was heard in excerpt at Carnegie Hall this season in a recital by critically-acclaimed baritone Thomas Meglioranza. The summer of 2008 will witness the premiere of Kahane's For The Union Dead, a new song cycle on poems by Robert Lowell for small ensemble, at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. Among his varied credits as a performer, Gabriel has appeared in recital with Grammy winning bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff throughout Europe, toured the Schumann Piano Quintet with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and accompanied violinist Hilary Hahn in the slow movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in a dirty bar. He has shared the stage with indie-rock luminaries My Brightest Diamond and Luke Temple, and has recorded with Sufjan Stevens and former Nickel Creek front-man Chris Thile. Kahane's sprawling self-titled debut LP to be released in October 2008, features twenty-odd musicians while deftly marrying dense harmony and counterpoint to tasty melodic hooks. Much in demand as a composer of chamber music, Gabriel is currently completing solo piano commissions for pianists Natasha Paremski as well as for his father, Jeffrey Kahane. An evening-length work exploring his family's genealogy and journey from Germany to the United States will premiere in the fall of 2009. An avid theater artist, Kahane has collaborated extensively with the Obie-winning New York City-based downtown theater company Les Frères Corbusier, serving as musical director for a number of their productions including Hell House, A Very Merry Unauthorized Scientology Pageant, and the Los Angeles production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Visit www.gabrielkahane.com.

The Next Generation Honoree Composer Biographies

Peter Foley's music and lyrics for The Hidden Sky earned him an NEA grant, the Richard Rodgers Award, the Stephen Sondheim Award, and a Jonathan Larson Foundation grant. The Hidden Sky premiered at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia, where it was nominated for seven Barrymore Awards including Outstanding Original Score and Outstanding Production; it was subsequently produced at the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich, CT, where it received the Spirit Award for Best Original Score. Concert versions have been performed at Ars Nova and Joe's Pub in New York City. His other stage works include The Bear (Golden Fleece, Triangle Theater Co., Opera Unlimited), music for "To Sing" from Songs from an Unmade Bed (New York Theatre Workshop) and scores for several plays, including Newton's Universe (Arts at St. Ann's), Henry V (New Jersey Shakespeare Festival), W.B. Yeats' The Only Jealousy of Emer (Playwrights Horizons Theater School), Andre Gregory's Alice in Wonderland (Berkeley Theater Project), and The Mildred Piece (InCoAct, NYC). Upcoming theatre projects include a music-theatre piece with playwright Ellen McLaughlin and the new musical comedy, Bloom. His songs have been performed at Lincoln Center, Town Hall, Symphony Space and LaMaMa, among other venues. He has also composed scores and themes for numerous television documentaries, including "Listening To America with Bill Moyers" and the award-winning PBS series "Art:21." He has served as musical director/keyboardist for the premieres of Rinde Eckert's Highway Ulysses (American Repertory Theater), Kenneth Vega's Heartfield (Baltimore Theater Project), and for several concerts by actor/singer-songwriter Manoel Felciano. He is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from the MacDowell and Millay colonies, the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Music Theater Conference, and the Sundance Playwrights Retreat at Ucross. He lives outside New York City with his wife, writer/director Kate Chisholm, and their daughter. For more information on Peter Foley visit hellagoodmusic.com.

Marisa Michelson currently lives in New York City, where she teaches singing and piano to children and adults both privately and through Soyulla artists. Her original musical Still Life With Toe Shoes (written with Joshua H. Cohen) will have its world premiere this July with Old Deerfield Productions in western Massachusetts, before traveling to Macedonia in November as part of the Albanian National Theatre Festival. Marisa and Joshua were also recently commissioned by the Prospect Theater Company to create a short musical based on Rene Magritte's painting "The Lovers." Marisa's full-length musical, Hotel Sarajevo, for which she wrote the book, music, and lyrics, has received readings at CAP 21/NYU and Smith College, and is currently being developed for education and outreach with the New York based QuoVadimus Theatre. This past March, Marisa was selected to participate in the New Dramatists Guild's Composer-Librettist studio (where she collaborated with such writers as Rinne Groff and such performers as Manoel Felciano). In 2006 and 2007 she traveled to India on a fellowship to compose music and study Indian Hindustani singing in the Global Arts Village, an international artist's colony. She graduated with a BFA in Drama from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Winner of the 2006 St. Botolph Award for Excellence in Composition, she has studied composition with Adam Guettel as well as classical voice at Tanglewood Young Artists' Institute. Visit www.marisamichelson.com.

For more information on Signature Theatre visit www.signature-theatre.org.

For information about The Shen Family Foundation visit www.shenfamilyfoundation.org.

The Shen Family Foundation "is committed to supporting and encouraging excellence, originality, and high aspiration in musical theatre music-writing through its Musical Theater Composers Project. Inspired by the extraordinary, innovative musical theater works of Stephen Sondheim, the Foundation has engaged with non-profit theatre organizations to help fund more than 40 projects since 2002 involving the creation, development, production, and cast recordings of works by Mr. Sondheim, and the next generation of innovative musical theatre composers including Ricky Ian Gordon, Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa, and Joseph Thalken."