This could be a record year for Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composers Project: Thirty-four new compositions by young Tucson composers will be performed in three so-called reading sessions this weekend.
In a trio of public performances by TSO musicians — the string quintet on Friday, May 13; the full orchestra Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15 — family, friends and music lovers will bear witness to the fruits of the creative labors by the project’s 33 participants.
“It’s a very good class,” said Ilona Vukovic-Gay, the TSO assistant principal violist who leads the composers project.
The 33 young composers range from middle-schoolers to high school seniors, hailing mostly from the greater Tucson area. The project also expanded its reach to younger students ages 9 to 11 who are enrolled in the pre-composing program.
“I feel like we’ve now got a feeder program where the kids come in more prepared and able to handle it and as a result be more creative,” said Vukovic-Gay. “They know what they can do. They know how the instruments work, and I have them start writing from the beginning.”
There were a dozen kids 11 years old and younger in that program this year. The project’s other participants included 11 writing string quartets and 22 composing for full orchestra.
“I haven’t had as many juniors and seniors, but (they are) very creative,” Vukovic-Gay said. “Each student develops their own individual voice in their writing. ... Each piece is remarkably different. Even though they sit in the class, they exchange ideas. Yet when they are out on their own, they come up with something that is totally different.”
The TSO Young Composers Project has been around 22 years and is largely regarded as the country’s longest-running and most comprehensive orchestra composition program for youths ages 9 to 18.
Students spend the school year studying music theory and composition and writing new works, culminating in the annual reading sessions. In addition to hearing their compositions performed, the students leave with a recording of their work.
The Young Composers Project has produced more than 325 new works, which have been performed at the orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts and have been programmed on the TSO’s subscription concerts.