For New Orleans-born composer Morris Rosenzweig, who has spent much of his music career away from home, having an allegiance to the Crescent City stems from more than just nostalgia. Growing up in the Broadmoor neighborhood, the University of Utah music professor, conductor, and prolific composer explained how the city’s public school system played a pivotal role in his vocation.
“I was basically kidnapped by music in 5th or 6th grade, and it hasn’t really let me go,” said Rosenzweig. “When I was growing up Orleans Parish public schools had some really great music programs, which allowed me the opportunity to learn several instruments. And writing eventually grew out of playing.”
Specializing in composing, conducting and teaching New Music, Rosenzweig discovered there were more opportunities to develop his career away from home. But he never forgot his roots. Recently, Rosenweig founded the Louis Moreau Institute, a not-for-profit organization committed to the performance of contemporary classical music in New Orleans, which launches its debut season Saturday and Monday.
Six musicians will perform Saturday at the Marigny Opera House and Monday at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, with both concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m. The programs will include repertory works by 20th century composers Schoenberg, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Carter, and Ligeti, as well as works by living composers Arthur Kreiger, Joan Tower, and New Orleans native Dennis H. Miller.
“The Institute is about a number of things,” Rosenweig said. “But mostly I’m hoping to increase the menu of musical choices available to the city. We’re playing some really interesting pieces. Some of it, like Schoenberg’s String Trio, is standard reparatory, and I don’t know how often it has been played in New Orleans.”
The six performing musicians, chosen from a pool of 50-60 applicants, were elected based on their abilities and Skype interviews with the organization. The ensemble’s residency began yesterday at the Marigny Opera House. Included in the group are flutist Laura Cocks, clarinetist Tiffany Valvo, violinist Marina Kifferstein, violinist and violist Arnaud Ghillebaert, cellist Liam Veuve and pianst Richard Valitutto. All are champions of New Music and hail from across the country.
“We’re trying this out,” Rosenweig explained. “It’s come about because of the good will of a number of people. Tastes in New Orleans have opened up now so that people are looking for something different.”
Looking at the increasing enthusiasm for modern and contemporary programming by the LPO, Birdfoot Festival, Marigny Opera House, and New Resonance Orchestra, to name a few, the Institute appears to be kicking off in the city at a promising time. When asked if how large of an audience he was hoping to draw, Rosenweig was optimistic, though admittedly uncertain.
“Will we get 10 people? 200 people? I’m not sure. It’s not going to be Jazz Fest, but if it’s going to happen, it’s got to start somewhere. All I know is we have to try.”
The Louis Moreau Institute performs Saturday at the Marigny Opera House and Monday at Zeitgeist. Both concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for Saturday’s concert are $15 with $5 for students. Admission for Monday’s concert is $10. For more information visit the official site.