nienteForte was founded with a mission to inspire and instill in our audiences the same passion for contemporary music that unites our staff and existing community. We can only truly fulfill this mission by creating an environment that normalizes diversity both specifically in the contemporary art music community and broadly in our white-dominated society.
We stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and pledge to develop and execute an action plan that embraces and normalizes inclusion of Black composers and musicians to the contemporary art music canon. With guidance from resources such as the Institute for Composer Diversity, we will work to widen the diversity of all of our concert programming now and into the future.
As we develop this initiative, we welcome feedback from our community of performers, composers, and supporters. Only through challenging our established norms and being held accountable by our community can we truly ensure that this initiative is not fleeting but the first step in establishing a framework for lasting and meaningful change.
Last night, nienteForte would have been hosting the concert that closed out our tenth season.
On the surface, the nienteForte community has been largely unaffected by COVID-19. None of the nF staff rely upon revenue to sustain their livelihood – this is a passion project of which we all volunteer our own time and energy with no profit, no benefits that can be written down on a financial ledger. Sure, it’s sad that we had to cut our tenth season short, but the postponement of this final concert follows three events that were incredibly successful. Given that two of these were mere weeks before New Orleans started to enforce social distancing, I look back on what nienteForte was able to do versus what could have been, and I place a tick firmly in the “win” column.
That said, the truly dangerous potential of this pandemic on nienteForte and the contemporary music and art community cannot be ignored.
I think it was my junior year in high school that I declared to my parents that I wanted to go to college for music, a declaration that was met with pretty heavy resistance. Not that they weren’t supportive of my musical side as they were pretty musical themselves (my mom got her degree in music), but given the increasing and promising careers in computer science at the time and my early affinity for computer programming (I started programming code in middle school, an abnormality at the time), my dad in particular was giving me the Talk about the stable career versus the dream career, pushing me to consider a life path similar to theirs with a simple message – a career in music is a tough road. Keep music as a hobby, earn the consistent paycheck with a regular job.
I’ll never know what sort of life I’d have now if I ended up pursuing computer science. I do know that the choice to chase that music career nurtured the part of me that even to this day consistently celebrates exploration and discovery regardless of if I succeed or fail. I have always been and will always be the best version of myself as a dreamer and explorer, and I’m grateful that my parents ultimately supported me in that choice despite their initial resistance.
This is the biggest fight we have to face in a post-COVID world – the squashing of future dreamers and explorers. I can imagine parents of high schoolers having the Talk with their exploratory kids now. “Look at what COVID has done to the artists, the freelancers, the small business entrepreneurs. Is that really worth the risk?”
I have no doubt that the ripple effect of this pandemic will tip the scales more heavily towards the practical. As everyone reevaluates their own life pursuits and those of their children in the aftermath of this pandemic, contemporary music and art as a niche within a niche buried inside of another niche will be viewed to many as expendable. While I acknowledge that that is probably true for those masses, all that does is invigorate me to find, expose, and breathe life into those who view it the creative oxygen that they never knew they needed until they found it. As a dreamer and optimist in the strength and momentum of the unique and unusual, I believe that while the scales will tip against these niche freelance and creative fields and make them suffer, they will never completely die and will come back stronger than ever. There will always exist individuals that are willing to break that norm, chase that far away cloud, throw themselves headfirst into an unknown depth with open eyes and laughter refusing to be suppressed.
It’s been so uplifting to see so many individuals and organizations of all shapes and sizes rise up to make their voices heard and keep those dreams and inspirations alive. The passion and compassion shown by so many invested in contemporary music and art during this crisis shows me that it is more important than ever that we come together as a community to be a beacon that proves our relevance, resilience, and vigilance. The path to our stability will not be easy, but the work that’s been done to this day and the work we continue to do together will go a long way to prove that the answer to the question of “Is that really worth the risk?” is a confident and unwavering yes.
See you all in Season 11.
Mendel Lee Co-Director/Founder nienteForte Contemporary Music
pictured (left to right): Mark Lighthiser, David Constantine, Mendel Lee
When I started nienteForte ten seasons ago, it was a personal passion project. I had been commissioned by my good friend David Constantine to write him a solo timpani work, my first serious piece of post-graduate chamber music, and I decided to curate a concert around it so that my students could be exposed to and potentially inspired by contemporary music in the same way that I had been during my formative undergraduate years.
I paid David by buying him dinner. I wrangled the rest of the concert by using my own money to buy and rent music that I knew and liked, and I asked my colleague Mark Lighthiser and some of my more talented students if they were interested in volunteering their time and energy to play. All said and done, the concert was essentially thrown together in the span of 3-4 months.
Today, I’m sitting here ready to drop an official announcement of our four-concert season that features professional contemporary musicians from around the globe. The nienteForte staff are collectively working on several grants and crowdfunding campaigns to help fund both this season and an ambitious cross-organizational concert that will act as the premiere of season 11 in October of 2020. I’m already starting to screen some interested ensembles for season 12 two years from now.
Nowhere in my dreams did I think this would evolve to such a staggering degree.
When I reflect on the journey that brought us to this point, I can’t help but feel grateful and humbled. nienteForte has transformed into something far beyond my initial vision, in no small part due to the addition of Max and Stephen to the organization’s staff. While the shift from a solo operation to a collaborative team steered nienteForte differently than I would have done on my own, the core mission and values that are most important to me have never wavered nor felt compromised. On the contrary, our diverse strengths and talents have really solidified what lies at the heart of nienteForte, and that collaborative energy and passion has made us grow stronger both in our roles within the organization and as individual people.
nienteForte’s growth comes to me as memory flashes: truly groundbreaking performances with standing ovations; lively post-concert discussion with composers and performers; world premieres that have helped lay the foundation for aspiring composers’ budding careers. All of these and more serve as a personal reminder to why I have and will continue to pour so much of my energy into this: a random contemporary music concert during my undergraduate years changed and shaped my life and made me who I am today not just as a composer but as a person. That is a gift that I feel obligated to pay forward and give to anyone willing to receive it.
I don’t know what to expect out of nienteForte’s future. The staff is in constant discussion about it, analyzing our past as a means to consider a spectrum of small tweaks to radical changes with each new season. I imagine that that degree of uncertainty and potential change could make some incredibly nervous, but I wouldn’t be a contemporary music composer and advocate if that uncertain future didn’t excite me. Ten seasons ago I couldn’t have imagined that a single concert born of favors and restaurant tabs could lead to this. Ten seasons from now? All I know for sure is that whatever nienteForte becomes, it will be fantastic.
So to all of you who have been a part of the nienteForte community through the years, whether composer, performer, presenter, or supporter: thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you’re as excited as I am to see what comes next.