Chamber Music
June 1996

Everybody Plays It First
By Janet Tassel

A variation on the consortium theme emanates from the Boston area, where saxophonist Kenneth Radnofsky has created a mouthful called World-Wide Concurrant Premieres and Commissioning Fund, Inc.

WWCP (as we shall call it), though essentially a one-man nonprofit operation, is succeeding with a unique yet refreshingly simple concept: a number of musicians each contributes a sum, usually about $250, to commission a piece of music, which in a year or two is given its first performance more or less simultaneously all over the world.

There are no hidden fees or agendas. An entirely collegial undertaking, WWCP takes care of everything…administration, registration, contracts, publishers… and even provides performances with limited-edition scores hand-numbered and signed by the composer.

"We call it a win-win-win situation," says the amiable forty-two-year-old Radnofsky. "The composer wins, the performers win, the publisher wins. Oh, and add another win for the public."

The most recent of these wins was the synchronized premiere on December 3, 1995, of John Harbison"s San Antonio, a sonata for alto saxophone and piano. Forty-three commissioning saxophonists took part in the world premiere, and twenty-eight more are scheduled to play it in the near future.

Radnofsky says he devoted three years to shepherding the Harbison sonata along, including, of course, the inevitable networking. "A couple of years ago," he recalls, John and I went to the North American Saxophone Alliance convention. We had sweatshirts made up with a couple of measures of the piece across the chest. People could look at our chests and sign up!"

And because the fee was so affordable, it was not only professional saxophonists who contributed. A Harvard sophomore, Ian Carroll, signed on. "And I'll be darned," says Radnofsky, "he ended up doing a terrific performance at Harvard with a brilliant pianist and mathematics professor, Noam Elkies. It was reviewed in the Boston Globe."

"The Harbison piece," he continues, "will end up with seventy-one performances or more in a very short space of time. Without this vehicle, a performer would have to raise a five-figure fee for the composer, and how often would the piece get played in one year?"

Current plans include a November premiere of a trio for saxophone, cello, and piano by Larry Bell, with more than a dozen performances already committed. One of the performing groups will be Radnofsky, Bell and cellist Pamela Frame, who call themselves the Blue Light Trio.

Despite Radnofsky's understandable predisposition toward saxophone literature, he and his board of directors are searching for diversity, he says. Thus, on April 1, twenty-six groups across the country premiered a large piece for wind ensemble by Frank Ticheli, a composer at the University of Southern California.

Then, too, next season's schedule will feature a trio for horn, violin, and piano by Yehudi Wyner, with ten groups already pledged, including hornists David Jolley, Jean Rife, and principals from leading orchestras.

Radnofsky, who is a professor at the New England Conservatory, has a busy career as a saxophone soloist with such orchestras as the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, with which he played and recorded the Debussy Rhapsodie last January. But in discussing his WWCP< all traces of the soloist vanish. "The whole idea behind consortium commissioning in the past," he says, "has been the ego question of who plays it first. Well, our answer is simple: everybody plays it first. There comes a time in our careers when we have to say that it just doesn't matter, let's just do it. I prefer to view all musicians as my friends, and hey, we're all working for the same thing aren't we?"

Janet Tassel is a Boston-based writer.