For composer Lowell Liebermann, the director of the Composition Department, we are living in an "age of no rules," when what is most important for young composers is "exposure to new music" and genuine "genre openness," a time when a sense of imagination and discovery transform the role music can play in the world. Mannes offers a collaborative "downtown scene of performance, a world of new voices. Exciting times."
Exposure to contemporary music and living composers is at the core of the curriculum. There is also a primary focus on performance opportunities, the most important aspect of learning according to Liebermann, as this helps students to find their own voice and learn to critique their own work on their own terms. "A bit of experimentation and chaos leads to a full engagement. Getting students to where they can criticize their own work empowers them within their voice."
Every composition student at Mannes must write five major compositions, including one for orchestra. Students spend their time in weekly private lessons, a composer’s forum that meets eight times/semester, four annual composer concerts, and competitions for Mannes Orchestra, MACE, and chamber groups that perform new student works in concert, along with regular readings at rehearsals.
One of the strengths of the department is the diversity of viewpoints and great openness offered in terms of fashioning a curriculum for each student, a freshness buoyed by the energy and magnetism of its distinguished composing faculty, which includes David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli and Huang Ruo, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Moravec, Mario Davidovsky, and Mr. Liebermann himself, to name but a few. Such a wide range of active teaching voices and international achievement at the highest level form a healthy environment in which to develop a relatively small group of diverse student composers and give them the attention and opportunities they need to explore, experiment, and flourish.
"We are less corporate. We are not churning out products," Liebermann notes when asked to describe what distinguishes the Mannes composition program. In addition to experimentation, he notes the grounding each student receives within the Theory Department and its strong academic legacy in Schenkerian analysis. As a conservatory within a university, Mannes offers opportunities to shape and specialize goals — drawing on vast resources from across the New School. "Cross-pollination is encouraged, whether between schools, such as Parsons; on crossover projects, such as with Jazz at New School; or within Mannes itself, such as a workshop on opera for a composition student who wishes to focus more deeply on opera."
"It’s a fertile garden," he continues. "Empowering the student, we want each graduate to have found a robust sense of critical faculty within their voice. Success is to build confidence and wean the student of the need for a teacher."
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