He’s got a wonderful pitch line—an unusual combination of charming confession and heartfelt sincerity: “Contemporary music may or may not be your cup of tea. Most of the time it isn’t mine.” It’s not just the “But” that follows, explaining why Alan Oser, music lover, long-time chamber music player (violin), and retired columnist and editor of the Real Estate Section of The New York Times, is sending out letters about a new not-for-profit music organization he founded and now chairs—New Paths in Music—it’s his infectious enthusiasm for the project—his sense of its uniqueness and potential and his delight in its debut concert a few years ago.
The fact that the person who sparked his interest in wanting to provide American audiences with an opportunity to hear contemporary music from composers around the world was his son-in-law, David Alan Miller, the Music Director and Conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, certainly gave Alan Oser added incentive to go ahead. He beams, recalling David’s encouraging but somewhat dubious response, “Lots of luck.”
Luck, of course, has little to do with setting up a nonprofit 501-C3 and having it succeed. Maestro Miller’s connections – as well as the former editor’s administrative and PR experience—were critical. But does the world really need another organization devoted to music, contemporary music, at that, much of which strikes audiences as too far out and composed for precious or specialized instruments, live and electronic?
Obviously Alan Oser, the Board of Directors of New Paths in Music, and David Miller, who enjoys a worldwide reputation as a champion of contemporary American music, think the answer is yes, for the very reason that they are going down a road not usually taken: showcasing works of living foreign composers who are little known, even to other professional musicians, often because the countries from which these composers hail cannot afford to support them. The philanthropic motive, however, plays second fiddle so to speak, to the aesthetic one: introducing American audiences to spectacular music they would ordinarily never have a chance to know or hear played other than, perhaps, on recordings.
Significantly, the three countries represented on the opening program in June feature composers whose names many followers of classical music would be hard pressed to recognize—artists from Australia (Carl Vine and Ross Edwards), Portugal (Carlos Marecos, Luis Tinoco and Nuno Corte-Real) and Lithuania (Osvaldas Balakauskas, Algirdas Martinaitis, and Raminta Serksnyte). David Miller became acquainted with some of the composers when he was on tour a couple of years ago in Australia and Portugal. The Lithuanians’ music was sent on a CD sampler by the Lithuanian Composers’ Union, but when he heard it, Alas Oser says, he “liked the stuff.”
He also liked the idea of assisting artists who typically have no access to foundation money but who come from countries with long and rich cultural traditions in musical composition and performance. Serious contemporary music, he continues, need not be off-putting minimalist. Indeed the “plain vanilla” name, New Paths in Music, was chosen after much deliberation to avoid sounding avant-garde contrived and to signal that new paths need not mean shunning conventions. The group will strive for “broad appeal and varied programming,” for example, and audiences will see and hear a standard chamber orchestra, in addition to fine instrumentalists playing solo and in quartet.
Indeed, on June 18th, audiences will also get more than music if they attend a 1:00 p.m. pre-concert discussion led by David Miller. Then, at 2:00, New Paths will feature Lisa Moore (piano), Ieva Jokubaviciute (piano) and Liam Viney (piano), followed by Nicole Johnson (cello), The Cassatt String Quartet, and Tawnya Popoff (viola). After a dinner break, David Miller will conduct the New Paths Chamber Orchestra in pieces representative of contemporary Lithuanian and Portuguese compositions. All this and in a hall with great acoustics, a smiling Alan Oser adds. And that’s at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 346 W. 20th Street.