Composer Quinn Mason is HSO’s first artist-in-residence under new Black Artist Fellowship – Hartford Courant
Classical composer Quinn Mason intends to make the most of a new year-long residency he begins this year with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, coming to Connecticut frequently and using those experiences to fuel new composition, that the orchestra will premiere in June 2023.
“I will make four visits during the season. The first time will be in September,” Mason said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “I want to get to know the community as a whole. I want to generate public interest in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. I want to raise awareness because I am a product of it myself – I attended my first classical music concert when I was 10 on a school trip.
The residency exists through the Joyce C. Willis Fund for Excellence and Equity in the Arts, founded in 2020 to support leading young black artists of national stature in the creation of new work for major arts institutions in Hartford. Mason, who is based in Texas, says he has already had several conversations about the residency with Tim Brown, HSO’s director of learning and social impact.
The composer sees the residency as a special opportunity.
“It will have a cool structure. It’s different from what I usually do with residencies. I usually go there for a week, sometimes just a few days. Depending on what else is on the schedule, I’m lucky if I have 30 minutes to talk to the orchestra. For this one, I will be able to get to know the players.
Mason is an accomplished classical conductor as well as a composer. He was invited by the symphony orchestra to conduct this premiere of his own work, but refused due to his admiration for HSO’s musical director, Carolyn Kuan.
“I’ve known Carolyn for a while, as we both studied at different times with Marin Alsop,” said Mason, who was the first conductor to receive a MacArthur “genius” award.
“Carolyn is an incredible conductor. Why wouldn’t I want her to run this? he says to the symphony.
Although he has composed chamber and solo works and once premiered a piece for three bass drums in college, Mason says, “I specialize in writing for orchestra. Whenever you write for an orchestra, you are writing for all of its different qualities, sounds and timbres.
Mason, who is still in his early 20s, has previously had other residencies with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Austin, Texas-based classical music station KMFA.
Among his works is ‘Reflection on a Memorial’, an open-ended piece for a string ensemble that can be used for a variety of contemplative memorial events. This piece alone has been performed by more than a dozen orchestras. His other orchestral works include “Irish Dance Suite”; “Svítání” (the title is a Czech word meaning “dawn” and the piece speaks of rebirth and renewal following the pandemic, protests and other turbulent issues of recent years; and “Little Contemporary Chamber Symphony (after Milhaud)”, a response to a 1921 chamber work by French composer Darius Milhaud.
“Reflection on a Memorial” and “Svítání” demonstrate how Mason not only brings stylistic range to his work, but also thematic range. “‘Svítání’ is a bit of the opposite of ‘Reflection on a Memorial'”, says the composer, “Reflection” being a reaction to a sad event that has just happened and ‘Svítání’ being “about rebirth, turned towards the future. It’s full of hope.
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When it unveiled its lineup for the 2022-23 MasterWorks season in May, the HSO announced that the final concerts of this season, June 9-11, would include work by its Willis Fund artist-in-residence, but did not haven’t mentioned who this composer might be. Also on the program for this end-of-season concert, Iain Bell’s “Stonewall Suite” and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” symphony.
When Joyce C. Willis, a longtime patron of the arts in Hartford, died in 2020, the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation established a fund to support black artist residencies at three major arts institutions in Hartford: Hartford Stage, the HSO and the Amistad Center for Art and Culture. The Amistad Center was the first to announce the recipient of its residency grant: New Haven-based photographer Merik Goma. Hartford Stage announced earlier this year that the artist-in-residence would be recent graduate of Yale’s Geffen School of Drama, Christopher Betts, who will direct “Trouble in Mind” for theater next season and a yet-to-be-announced play. for the following season.
Lisa M. Curran, executive director of the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation, administers 40 to 50 grants a year for the foundation, working with nine volunteer board members.
“Hartford Symphony did something a little different with this residency,” Curran says. “We gave them $150,000 and suggested a two-year residency for an artist, but they decided to do three residencies at $50,000 a year.”
The other two artists have yet to be announced.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected].