EXCLUSIVE: Lawrence A. Johnson on the American Music Project and Its First Commission: 'Piano Quintet' by Composer Amy Wurtz

By Louise Burton on Aug 07, 2014 04:18 AM EDT

Writer and music critic Lawrence A. Johnson recently launched the American Music Project (AMP), a nonprofit foundation that supports performances of existing works of American classical music, while also commissioning new works from American composers. AMP's first commission is Piano Quintet by Chicago-based composer Amy Wurtz. Her work will receive its world premiere in Chicago on October 5.

I recently spoke with Johnson about the inspiration behind his new initiative. "As a critic for almost 20 years, it's been a constant source of frustration [to me] that we're not hearing more American repertoire, because I feel there is so much strong music out there," Johnson said.

He names 20th century composers such as David Diamond, Walter Piston and Irving Fine, and more recently, Carlisle Floyd and Marvin David Levy, as examples of composers whose works are seldom heard in American concert halls and opera houses.

"I think the David Diamond symphonies are masterpieces," Johnson said. "Especially the wartime symphonies, the Third and the Fourth. They come about as close to being the 'Great American Symphony' as anything we have. They are strong enough to stand with Copland's Third."

"I'm also a great admirer of Walter Piston," he continued. "Paul Creston is worth hearing. And there's a lot of American opera that we're not hearing," said Johnson.

"My reasoning is, if there was a foundation specifically geared towards facilitating the performance of this repertory, which would enable us to get more hearings and more performances, then hopefully the music would work its way into the repertoire," Johnson explained.

He noted, too, that AMP will focus approximately 75 percent of its activity on supporting performances of existing American music and 25 percent on commissioning new works from American composers.

AMP's inaugural event will be a concert on October 5 at 2:00 p.m. in Chicago's Ganz Hall, featuring the foundation's first commission, the Piano Quintet by composer Amy Wurtz.

This all-American program also includes works by Charles Ives, David Diamond and Irving Fine (to commemorate Fine's centennial year). Wurtz, who is a pianist, will perform with the Chicago Q Ensemble on this program, which Johnson plans to repeat in Boston and New York next spring.

"I am thrilled to have received the inaugural commission from the American Music Project and excited to contribute to the repertoire with my Piano Quintet," says Wurtz. "I look forward to a second collaboration with the Chicago Q Ensemble."

In 2012, the Q Ensemble performed the world premiere of Wurtz's String Quartet No. 2. Here they are performing the first part of the work:

Each new work commissioned by AMP will be premiered in three different cities and recorded, in order to reach as broad an audience as possible.

The second AMP commission will be announced in December.

Music organizations, ensembles and presenters will be able to apply for grants from the AMP Foundation for performances of American music during the 2015-16 season. Details and guidelines for submitting grant proposals can be found at

Johnson, who is based in Chicago, is also the founder of the Classical Review group of websites devoted to the coverage of music in Chicago, Boston, New York and South Florida.

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TagsLawrence A. Johnson, American Music Project, AMP, music critic, American music, Amy Wurtz, Chicago Q Ensemble, David Diamond, Classical Review

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