Reflecting on 10 seasons

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.

With humble gratitude,

Mendel Lee, founder and co-director
nienteForte Contemporary Music

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