First Concert of KMFA’s Draylen Mason Composer-in-Residence Program Launches New Music for Classical Radio — Sightlines
Anthony McSpadden wants to expand the music we hear every day on classical radio.
“There is a reason why [classical music] has survived this long: it’s because it’s great music,” said McSpadden, director of broadcasting and content at KMFA, the classic Austin station. “But we have to continue with new music and add to the repertoire,” he said.
So he set about establishing a composer-in-residence program, hoping in particular to amplify voices that have been historically underrepresented. This residency also goes hand in hand with KMFA’s performance space, the Draylen Mason Music Studio, named after an up-and-coming young bassist killed in the 2018 Austin bombing.
This idea seedling will eventually become the Draylen Mason Composer-in-Residence program.
The inaugural composer is Quinn Mason (no relation to Draylen), a Dallas-based rising talent whose work has been performed everywhere from her hometown of Texas to Detroit to San Francisco. Throughout his residency, he will compose three pieces, including one solo and two major works. Each will be recorded and shared with classic radio stations across the country for inclusion in their playlists.
The first, Sonata 22 for solo piano, will be performed by Lara Downes at KMFA’s Draylen Mason Music Studio on May 27.
There is a rich history of radio stations commissioning composers for broadcast. In the 20th century, many composers wrote pieces for radio, including renowned artists like Aaron Copland. And from the 1920s, some composers even wrote short operas specifically for radio broadcast.
For McSpadden, starting a composer-in-residence program was a chance to bring back the idea of a radio composer and allow listeners to find new music on KMFA and other classic stations across the country. He chose Mason as his first Fellow after discovering his music while reading an extensive profile about him in Texas Monthly last year. McSpadden dug into Mason’s music, watching video after video of his work, impressed by his lively and accessible melodies.
“He’s a terribly interesting and extremely talented person,” McSpadden said.
The residency began in February when Mason spent a week in Austin. He participated in many public and private activities and learned more about the Austin music community. He visited Draylen Mason High School in East Austin as well as KMFA’s neighbor Martin Middle School to give talks and masterclasses. He also spent time with Draylen’s family, having dinner with them and learning more about their son.
“It was bittersweet, but it was so nice to get to know them personally,” Quinn said.
Quinn’s Sonata 22 is named for Draylen and its premiere on May 27 would have been his 22nd birthday. It follows Quinn’s recent work, Sonata ’21, which meditated on the events of the year 2021. Sonata 22 is a one-movement work that weaves ruminative melodies to form a sense of deep introspection and reflection. .
“It will be both solemn and festive [occasion]“, Mason said. “I really wanted to create something that had a bit of both. Even though the piece is pensive, it has a cheerful heart.
The May gig was a fortuitous duo: pianist Downes, whom McSpadden immediately thought was a good candidate to play Mason’s music, had already recorded some of his work and loves it. Downs advocates for the popularization of classical music by women and black Americans. She will create Sonata 22, which will be recorded and sent to radio stations across the country who can air the piece and keep it rotating.
The two additional works commissioned, one for symphonic winds and one for choir, will be premiered and recorded in the fall also for radio broadcast.
Looking forward, McSpadden hopes the residency will continue each year, bringing many new composers to write pieces for radio as well as interface with the Austin community.
“I think it’s important,” McSpadden said. “[This] that is what public radio is for.
The KMFA Draylen Mason Composer-In-Residence Concert with Lara Downes will be at 7 p.m. on May 27. Tickets at kmfa.org/kmfa-composer-in-residence-lara-downes-concert