The Joy of Commissioning

Doug and Brad Balliett have wanted to create a musical piece based on the Oedipus story for a very long time. The commission of Oedipus the King by The Cecilia Chorus of New York was initiated and guided by Music Director Mark Shapiro, one of a handful of artistic leaders in North America to have won a prestigious ASCAP Programming Award five times in recognition of his programming of new and developing musical genres, thus helping shape the future of music.   

Mark Shapiro

Mark Shapiro

As a music director, conductor and teacher, I am profoundly committed to commissioning new works for every ensemble and situation…till the end of time! The value of commissioning is multi-pronged. Most obviously, commissioning new works ensures the growth and refreshment of the repertoire. More subtly, commissioning, which brings us into living contact with that unique entity that is a composer’s mind, heightens the alertness of performing musicians, enhancing our ability to hear and transmit the musical thought of any composer from any era. The Ballietts came onto my radar several years ago when Brad was a composition student at the European American Musical Alliance, a summer institute in Paris where I am on the faculty. I was immediately struck by the uniqueness of Brad’s talent: his keen intellect and wry wit; his tartly sweet sensibility. I have since worked with both Brad and his brother Doug several times. Each project has confirmed my original judgement, and I’m delighted to be collaborating again!
— Mark Shapiro

For the composers, receiving a commission to create a musical work is vital to giving meaning to the art form. “A musical score is a little like a cookbook,” Brad says. “Having a recipe on paper is nice, but unless you can actually cook the dish, it stays in the head of the cook, not on the plate of the person meant to eat it. A musical score that isn’t orchestrated and performed is just an idea in the head of the composer. It needs to be experienced by an audience.”

Doug pulls a small black Moleskine notebook lined with musical staffs out of his backpack. It is full of musical notes, scribbled in pencil. “These are notes for Oedipus the King, jotted down in trains, in waiting rooms. We have been thinking about this project for a full year now - that’s how long it’s taken to come to fruition. We could never devote the time needed for this without it being supported with a commission.” 

Brad: “Commissioning works of art is a noble thing to do. Think of Beethoven’s patron, Archduke Rudolph. And Haydn’s last patron, Prince Esterhazy. They are in the history books because they sponsored these composers and made it possible for them to create music for the generations. It is an investment in the spiritual legacy of the art.”


During this 2016-2017 season, The Cecilia Chorus of New York has commissioned three new works by some of the most exciting new composers of our times: Brad and Doug Balliett (Oedipus the King), Jonathan Breit (Der Zippelfagottist), and Zaid Jabri (A Garden Among the Flames). Please donate to our Composers Fund and, in so doing, help these and other composers create the classics of the future.