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March 14, 2005

Winner of Sackler Composition
Prize To Perform At UConn

Robert Whitlatch
Orianna Webb, winner of the Sackler Composition Prize, at Port-Saint-Louis-du- Rhône in France. The world premiere of Webb’s prize-winning composition, Ways the Sky Meets the Sea, will be held at UConn March 21.

Photo by Kevin Craft

A composition by pianist and composer Orianna Webb, selected as winner of the 2004 Sackler Composition Prize, will be performed at the University on March 20 and 21.

The world premiere of Ways the Sky Meets the Sea will be held at the von der Mehden Recital Hall on Sunday, March 20, at 8 p.m. A second performance will take place at the Ferguson Library on the Stamford Campus on Monday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Webb first learned about the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Music Composition Prize, organized by the School of Fine Arts, when she was a student at the Yale School of Music.

Her teacher there, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Joseph Schwantner, judged the competition in 2002, the first year it was held, and began encouraging his own students to apply for the prize in subsequent years, Webb says. The competition promotes composers and the performance of their new musical works.

The program for next week’s events includes piano performances of two of Webb’s previous compositions, though (2002) and Apparitions (2001), and a conversation with her, before the unveiling of her winning composition.

Ways the Sky Meets the Sea, the first piece Webb has written for a chamber orchestra, will be performed by the University of Connecticut Symphony, conducted by Jeffrey Renshaw, a professor of music and conductor of the University’s wind ensembles, who has conducted more than 50 world premieres.

Renshaw said that, by encouraging new compositions, the Sackler Prize is making a significant contribution to the future of music. “One of the responsibilities of any contemporary musician is to look toward the future,” he says. “One of the ways to do that is to commission new compositions.”

Webb will arrive on campus on March 16, in time for three rehearsals with Renshaw and the symphony.

Webb, who is currently acting head of the composition department at the Cleveland Institute for Music, holds degrees from the Yale School of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the University of Chicago, and began public performances 10 years ago. She composed Ways the Sky Meets the Sea during a three-month stay at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. A native of Ohio, Webb said being close to the Mediterranean Sea made an indelible impression on her.

“I got to see a different horizon every time I looked out my studio window, out my front door, looked up from coffee on the port,” wrote Webb in program notes on the piece. “It was the sea and the stars at night – both the way they looked and the feeling I got from them – that inspired much of this piece.”

She said she knows of no other opportunities like the Sackler competition for emerging composers.

The $20,000 prize was established at UConn through a gift from Raymond and Beverly Sackler, major philanthropists and frequent donors to the University. The Sacklers fund several initiatives in the School of Fine Arts, including an artist-in-residence program, the Master Artists and Scholars Institute, and the Art and Archaeology Lecture Series. They were also instrumental in forging an academic partnership between the Metropolitan Opera and UConn, the only collaboration of its kind between the opera company and an institution of higher learning.

Each year, entrants in the Sackler Music Composition Prize are asked to compose a piece for a specific area of the musical arts, pre-selected by the head of the faculty of the music department, such as jazz ensemble, choir, opera, wind ensemble, children’s choir, or solo instrument.

Three nationally known and respected musicians judged the compositions entered for this year’s competition: Joan Tower, hailed by The New Yorker as one of the most successful female composers of all time; Gerard Schwartz, music director of the Seattle Symphony since 1985 and of the New York Chamber Symphony since 1976; and Libby Larsen, who has received numerous awards and accolades, including a 1994 Grammy as producer of the CD The Art of Arleen Augér.