What are the Gerbode and Hewlett Foundations Looking for in Bay Area Music Nonprofits?

It's easy to forget that while the Bay Area is a global technology Mecca, it's also one of the most innovative regions in the country for the performing arts. Fortunately, we have the Alexander Gerbode Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to remind us. The foundations recently awarded $300,000 to six Bay Area nonprofits to support the creation and production of new music by California composers. So why were the foundations so enraptured by these six recipients? And what can other Bay Area nonprofits learn from them?

First, let's step back and review the basics. Each of the six organizations will receive $50,000, with strings attached. $12,500 will be a commission for the composition of the work and the remaining funding will go towards expenses related to the creation and world premiere of the commissioned compositions, which will take place in the Bay Area from December 2014 through June 2016.

The intentions of the Wallace Alexander Gerbode and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are clear: They want to put California composers on the map. They are particularly interested in "innovative California composers who represent a wide spectrum of cultural and aesthetic perspectives." But diversity is a relative concept. What the foundations deemed as a unique "cultural and aesthetic perspective" may be considered uninteresting to a foundation in, say, Texas. So the big question for Bay Area nonprofits is, what constitutes a wide spectrum? What did these six recipient organizations bring to the tables that others did not?

Analysis of the winning commissions suggests two distinct answers. One, a subset of recipient organizations proposed unique approaches towards alternative forms of music. For example, the Circuit Network's proposal embraces electronic music. They aim to "create a new five-movement work inspired by the history, architecture, engineering, and cultural impact of bridges and scored for a chamber ensemble with real-time live electronic processing, text, and sampled sounds." The fact that electronic music has a rich history in the Bay Area was also a huge bonus.

The second trend is, in a way, an inverted form of the first. Other recipients proposed unique interpretations of traditional forms of music. The Kronos Quarter, for example, integrates classical, jazz, rock, and world music. Composer Jonathan Berger will create My Lai, an opera monodrama scored for tenor, string quartet, traditional Vietnamese percussion instruments, and digitally processed sounds, which will explore first-hand reflections on the My Lai tragedy.

Taken as a whole, these recipient organizations encapsulate the artistic risk-taking, bold thinking, and cultural diversity that exemplifies the Bay Area. For more information on funding trends in the Bay Area, check out IP's guide here.