Music Makes a City

Updated Fri, Jan 17, 2014 5:02 pm

Music Makes a City – Documentary Chronicling Largest Classical Music Commissioning Project in American History
January 24, 2014, 10:00-11:00 p.m.

“A singular harmonic convergence is recounted in Music Makes A City, Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler’s enlightening documentary about how Louisville, KY., became a locus for contemporary music in the mid-20th century. In striking synchronicity, a mayor, a conductor, and a robust postwar generation of composers intersected to make the city a hub for visionary composition” – New York Times

Music Makes a City, a “tale of artistic vision” (Symphony), will air Friday, January 24, on WOUB. The Gramophone Award-winning documentary film tells a tale of civic aspiration, cultural ingenuity, and how Louisville, Kentucky became the world's unlikely capital of new music in the 1950s. According to Sedgwick Clark, of, “anyone interested in classical music should see this uplifting story of American ingenuity at its best.”

In 1948, a small, struggling, semi-professional orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky began a novel project to commission new works from contemporary composers around the world. The project grew far beyond anyone's expectations. In 1953, the orchestra received an unprecedented $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to commission 52 compositions a year for three years, including a new work for the legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. The new works were to be performed in weekly concerts and recorded for sale by subscription. The architect of this ambitious artistic venture was Louisville Mayor Charles Farnsley who had a deep love of cultural expressions of all kinds as well as boundless enthusiasm and an inexhaustible bank of new ideas. Farnsley, professing to be guided by the philosophical principles of the Chinese sage Confucius, found a willing partner for his plans in Robert Whitney, the young conductor who had arrived in Louisville in 1937 to lead the fledgling orchestra. Over the years, nearly every living composer of note would be commissioned and recorded by the Louisville Orchestra.
Music Makes a City is a wonderful weave of archival footage and anecdotes from veteran Louisville musicians and civic figures. The film features interviews with some of the project’s key participants: iconic American composers Lukas Foss, Chou Wen-chung, Gunther Schuller, and Elliot Carter – the last of whom gave an extensive interview (at the age of 100) expressly for the documentary, recalling his experience of composing for Louisville a piece that remains one of his most popular: 1955's Variations for Orchestra.