CHAMPAIGN — Composer Stacy Garrop really enjoyed the experience she had several years ago as a composer-in-residence with the Albany (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra.
So after she discovered the latest Music Alive composer-in-residence program, she asked Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra conductor Stephen Alltop whether he would want to pair her with the orchestra to apply.
From 60 applications, Garrop/C-U Symphony and four other composer/orchestra pairs were selected, marking the first time the C-U Symphony will have a composer-in-residence.
Garrop will visit the community over the next two years and will be introduced at the C-U Symphony's March 17 concert at Krannert Center.
"I'm totally excited," the Evanston-based composer said. "The main focus of this is to get communities excited about having a living composer working in the community and having the audience understand what it is a composer does."
Toward that goal, the 47-year-old recipient of numerous awards and grants will, among other things, speak to general audiences and schoolchildren, lead workshops for student and young composers in central Illinois, and hear her music performed by the C-U Symphony in concert.
"To me, these are vital parts of our process to make sure the music keeps going on," she said. "We want audiences to keep coming in. What helps is demystifying what a composer does — how we start with notes on a page to working through the rehearsal process with the musicians to performing the music on stage."
Garrop's music is described as lyrical and dramatic and based on storytelling.
"My music shares stories by taking audiences on sonic journeys — some are simple and beautiful, while others are complicated and dark," she said.
Alltop calls her music engaging and compelling.
"I think the audiences will find it very exciting to hear her talk about her pieces and hear her music in Krannert Center.
"Stacy is a great teacher as well. She'll be doing a lot of instruction with young composers. She's a very personable artist. I think the community will enjoy her and get behind her."
The C-U Symphony will perform a number of her pieces over the next two seasons. One will be the 40-minute "Mythology" Symphony.
It has five movements based on Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus; Medusa; Pandora; and other female mythological characters.
The orchestra will spread the "Mythology" performance over two concert programs, Alltop said.
Garrop is fine with that: The five movements are published independently, as well as a symphony.
Alltop's plans for Garrop's residency also include collaborations with other musical groups. Those plans could take in a variety of ensembles: Garrop has written numerous works that run the gamut from instrumental to orchestral to wind ensemble to oratorio to string quartets to vocal and choir and art songs.
She's even written for saxophone and piano.
She began writing music when she was 15 and taking a music theory course at her high school in Danville, Calif.
The teacher, who was the school's jazz-band leader, one day told his students to go home and write a piece of music.
"If he hadn't said that, I don't think I would be a composer today," Garrop said. "It was so much fun. I never stopped after that. I started writing piece after piece."
Through her junior and senior years of high school, she studied privately with internationally known composer H. David Hogan, who died in 1996. By the end of her junior year, she knew she wanted music composition to be her life's work.
She earned her bachelor's degree in music composition at the University of Michigan, where she studied with Michael Daugherty; her master's at the University of Chicago; and her doctoral at Indiana University.
She taught composition for 16 years at Roosevelt University, but in May gave up her tenured position to become a freelance composer. She acknowledged it was a risk but said things are going well.
"It was the right choice for me. I wouldn't have been able to apply for Music Alive if I were still full-time teaching," she said. "It was scary to quit something stable for 16 years. But I was realizing that people my age and younger were getting these fabulous opportunities that I couldn't apply for.
"The Music Alive residency program is just incredible. It's been very life-affirming that the freelance route I took was definitely the right one."
A peer-review panel selected the five composer-orchestra pairs — they include the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, one of the country's so-called Big Five — for Music Alive, a program of the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to promoting new music.
"Music Alive is driven by a belief in the power of new work," said New Music USA president and CEO Ed Harsh. "These new residencies will demonstrate even more powerfully than ever before the role that collaboration with living artists can play in vitalizing orchestras' connections to their communities."
Another benefit of the Music Alive program, according to Alltop: Representatives of the five orchestras have already met and will meet again in February in Indianapolis to discuss their plans for their composer-residency programs.
"We get to learn from other organizations and confer with them as a cohort," he said. "That's really good for the Champaign-Urbana Symphony."
More about the composer
-- Stacy Garrop, 47, of Evanston.
-- Taught composition at Roosevelt University in Chicago from 2000 to 2016, when she gave up the tenured position to focus on composing.
-- Her catalog covers a wide range, with works for orchestra; wind ensemble; choir; art song; chamber ensembles including string quartet, piano trio and saxophone; and an evening-length oratorio.
-- She grew up playing piano and singing in choir; studied saxophone in high school; and in college continued to study piano and took semester-long courses on cello, French horn and percussion instruments.
-- A Cedille Records recording artist, she has pieces on nine CDs. Her works also are available on Blue Griffin Recording, Chanticleer, Chicago a cappella Records, Equilibrium, Innova, Peninsula Women's Chorus, Ravello Records, Saxophone Classics and Summit Records.
-- As a music educator, she's created innovative programs for young people. For her Albany Symphony Orchestra residency, she helped middle school students compose a semi-staged music production about the explorer Henry Hudson. With the Skeaneateles Festival, she designed a series of workshops in which elementary, middle and high school students learned and created musical works using Hyperscore, a computer program that allows people to write music without having to read music.
-- Her music has been commissioned and performed by the Albany Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Capitol Saxophone Quartet, Gaudete Brass Quintet, Chanticleer, Chicago a cappella, Piedmont East Bay Children's Chorus, San Francisco Choral Society and Volti.
-- Additional ensembles that have performed her music include: the Cabrillo and Grant Park Music Festival Orchestras; Amarillo, Charleston, Columbus, Illinois, Omaha and Santa Cruz symphony orchestras; by the Avalon, Biava, Cecilia, Chiara and Enso string quartets; Aspen Music Festival Contemporary Ensemble; Fifth House Ensemble; Lincoln Trio; New EAR; Red Clay Saxophone Quartet; Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players; Voices of Change; Clerestory; Grant Park Music Festival Chorus; and Voices of Ascension.
-- Awards and grants: a 2016 Meier Foundation Achievement Award; Fromm Music Foundation Grant; three Barlow Endowment commissions; Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award; Boston Choral Ensemble Commission Competition; Utah Arts Festival Composition Competition; Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble Composition Competition; Sackler Music Composition Prize; Sorel Medallion Choral Composition Competition; and competitions sponsored by the Chicago Symphony, Omaha Symphony and the New England Philharmonic.
Music Alive pairs
The Music Alive composer-in-residence pairs:
-- Stacy Garrop and the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra
-- Lembit Beecher and The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
-- Anna Clyne and the Berkeley Symphony
-- Hannibal Lokumbe and The Philadelphia Orchestra
-- Jerod Tate and the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra
The criteria for their selection:
-- The artistic merit of the composers' work and orchestras' performances.
-- The partnerships' potential for depth and innovation in residency work and in tackling the thematic priorities.
-- The ability of the orchestras and composers to adhere to two core commitments — having a centrally embedded composer and a cohort-based planning process.