Without a Flinch, Composer Ted Hearne Confronts Social Issues
by Emily Szerdy, SFCA Intern
We start our series of New Voices Project winner profiles with Ted Hearne, who was among our first winners, and whose recent theatrical song cycle In Your Mouth (2019) is scheduled to be performed at Carnegie Hall in 2021.
In the time since his New Voices Project participation in 2005, Ted has carved a reputation for what The New York Times has called “topical, politically sharp-edged works.” Throughout his career, he has focused on composing music that serves as direct commentary on current events, from Sound From the Bench, a 40-minute cantata addressing corporate “personhood”, to The Source, a “modern-day oratorio” about former U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning, with a libretto based on classified government documents. Today, this passion to respond to current events through his art has translated to actively learning and working against discriminatory systems in the world of music.
Ted has had numerous other commissions and premieres, as well as multiple fellowships, residencies, and awards. Katrina Ballads, premiered in 2007 at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival and won the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize, and Sound from the Bench was a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist. He has also received the 2010 Choral Arts Lab Fellowship from San Francisco’s Volti, as well as MacDowell Fellowships for 2009, 2012, and 2017, and the 2020 UCross Fellowship.
He is currently serving on the Composition faculty at the University of Southern California.
How have you changed as a composer since winning the NVP prize?
The NVP prize was one of the first opportunities I had as a young composer for an outside group to perform my work. I’m grateful to Magen and the SFCA singers for their willingness to perform the music of emerging composers, and to offer guidance and valuable musical experience.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve been working on several video projects recently, learning about video editing and working towards ways to creatively integrate that medium into my practice. I’m working on a new serial opera/collection of music videos with Chana Porter called Agnes in the Graveyard, and am collaborating with poet Dorothea Lasky on a new piece for Carnegie Hall and the Walker Art Center called In Your Mouth.
How is the current pandemic situation affecting your life and career?
Luckily, my kids and other loved ones have all remained healthy and safe during this pandemic and uprising, although it’s certainly a bracing time to be living in the US. The ongoing pandemic, as well as the murder of George Floyd and subsequent police violence we saw at protests across the country, have obviously reverberated in many ways throughout the social fabric, but one impact in the arts world has been to shine a spotlight on inequality and racism in our own field.
Performed by The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor
Place: Quarantine Edition
Premiered on WNYC’s The Greene Space via live stream in June, 2020
It has been sobering but necessary work to look at the ways discriminatory and exclusionary practices have been a part of codifying and defining the musical communities we call home. With the help of the youngest (and, I think, smartest yet) generation, along with some fierce advocates for change in the arts community, we can use the setbacks and tragedies of 2020 to work toward a more equitable future reality.