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Ravinia launches "Bridges" competition fusing jazz, classical music

This article shared 738 times since Mon Oct 15, 2018
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In celebration of the 30th anniversary of Ravinia's Steans Music Institute ( RSMI ) last summer, Ravinia launched a competition for composers who could fuse the worlds of jazz and classical music. Due to its success, Ravinia, with the support of DownBeat magazine, is now calling for submissions to the second annual "Bridges" international jazz and classical fusion composition competition, overseen by legendary pianist Billy Childs and double-bassist Rufus Reid, who co-direct the RSMI Jazz Program. Up to three winners will receive the David Baker Prize, named in recognition of the first RSMI Jazz director. The prize includes $2,500 in cash plus the world-premiere performance of the winning piece during Ravinia's 2019 season.

Submissions should be a new and original piece of music about 10 minutes long and must be scored for string quartet ( two violins, viola, and cello ) and jazz rhythm section ( piano, bass, and drums ); an additional instrumental melodic part may be included but is not required. The competition is open to composers who will be between 18 and 30 years old as of June 1, 2019. Entries should be submitted as a score with parts legibly written. Recordings are not required. Entries must be submitted through the official portal at by 11:59 p.m. Feb. 1. Winners will be contacted in early March. Complete guidelines are available at

In his glowing review in the Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich said the project "accomplished two vital tasks: launching freshly created jazz/classical works ( often referred to as Third Stream ) and providing a new platform for emerging composers. In coming years, Bridges could serve to generate an ever-expanding repertoire of music for jazz trio and string quartet, a cause that both jazz and classical listeners can applaud."

Originally the competition was to recognize a single winner, but the submissions were so strong that the judges decided to award three prizes, and that's where the competition will begin in its second year, with three prizes offered.

"We were so impressed by the quality of all the submissions," said multiple Grammy Award winner Childs. "When it came down to it, we picked three winning works that will not only help us celebrate RSMI and entertain our audiences, but that can also live on beyond this 30th anniversary year."

In the past, such composers as Ned Rorem, Ramsey Lewis, Aaron Jay Kernis, Jake Heggie, Stephen Paulus, and Augusta Read Thomas have been commissioned to write world-premiere pieces for RSMI. Bridges continues the genre-blending tradition of the past century, from the music of George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, and Darius Milhaud to new pieces Seiji Ozawa brought to Ravinia in the 1960s and, especially, the work of Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial Ravinia is continuing to recognize over a multi-season celebration.


Concert halls, opera houses, orchestras, chamber ensembles, and headlines are filled with alumni of Ravinia's Steans Music Institute, the summer conservatory at America's oldest summer music festival. Each season, talented young musicians from around the world come together at RSMI to make music with an internationally renowned performing faculty. Through the institute's three programs—Jazz, Piano and Strings, and Singers—these young artists give performances as part of Ravinia's summer main-stage programming as well as participate in master classes led by musical luminaries and daily solo and ensemble coaching with the faculty in Ravinia's state-of-the-art Bennett Gordon Hall.


DownBeat is the granddaddy of American music publications. It has been called "the Bible of jazz," but it covers a broad spectrum of jazz, blues, and other great music from around the globe. Through nearly 85 years of uninterrupted publishing, DownBeat has developed into one of the world's most respected music publications, written with musicians in mind and focusing on the heart of the music.


Billy Childs: Billy Childs has emerged as one of the foremost American composers of his era, perhaps the most distinctly American composer since Aaron Copland. Like Copland, he has successfully married the musical products of his heritage with the Western neoclassical traditions of the 20th century in a powerful symbiosis of style, range, and dynamism. Childs has garnered 13 Grammy nominations and five awards: two for Best Instrumental Composition ( "Into the Light" from Lyric and "The Path Among the Trees" from Autumn: In Moving Pictures ), two for Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist ( "New York Tendaberry" from Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro and "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" from To Love Again ), and most recently for Best Jazz Instrumental Album ( Rebirth ). In 2006, Childs was awarded a Chamber Music America Composer's Grant, and in 2009 he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was also awarded the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in 2013 and the music award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2015.

Rufus Reid: Rufus Reid was raised in Sacramento, CA, where he played the trumpet through junior high and high school. Upon graduation from Sacramento High School, he entered the United States Air Force as a trumpet player. During that period, he began to become seriously interested in the bass. After fulfilling his duties in the military, Reid decided to pursue a career as a professional bassist. He continued his education at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he studied with Chicago Symphony Orchestra bassists Warren Benfield and Joseph Guastafeste, the orchestra's principal. He graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Music in Double Bass Performance. Reid created the Jazz Studies & Performance program at William Paterson University, and in 1974 he wrote and published The Evolving Bassist, which continues to be recognized as the industry standard in definitive bass method.


Three composers from across the nation were awarded the David Baker Prize through the inaugural Bridges competition: Sam Blakeslee of Columbus, OH; Zach Bornheimer of Tampa, FL; and Gene Knific of Kalamazoo, MI. Each winner received a prize of $2,500, and the works were given their world premieres in Ravinia's Martin Theatre on June 9, 2018.

Sam Blakeslee: Originally from Columbus, OH, Sam Blakeslee is a New York City—based trombonist and composer. Sam holds a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from Youngstown State as well as a Master of Music in Classical Performance from the University of Akron. As a former resident of the Cleveland and Akron, OH, area from 2013 to 2017, he worked extensively in jazz education and served as the instructor of jazz trombone at Youngstown State University from 2013 to 2014, director of the Jazz Prep Program at Cuyahoga Community College from 2014 to 2017, as well as instructor of improvisation at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Blakeslee has performed at multiple jazz festivals around the world, such as the Fano Jazz Festival, Mosciano San Angelo Jazz Festival, and Parma Jazz Festival in Italy, as well as the Deutsche Musikfest in Chemnitz, Germany. While at Youngstown State in 2010, Blakeslee was one of 15 people selected nationwide to attend Ravinia's Steans Music Institute, where he studied with Curtis Fuller, Rufus Reid, Nathan Davis, and David Baker. He has played with artists Joe Lovano, Sean Jones, Jiggs Whigham, Aretha Franklin, Dominick Farinacci, Bernard Purdie, Wessell "Warmdaddy" Anderson, and Derrick Gardner.

Zach Bornheimer: Jazz saxophonist and composer Zach Bornheimer has already built a national and international reputation having performed in Florida, New York, Chicago, Italy, France, and England. Studying jazz composition with Chuck Owen on a fellowship at the University of South Florida, Bornheimer has had works performed by several USF ensembles, including the USF Jazztet in Europe and USF Jazz Ensemble 1 with guest artists. He recently was appointed instructor of saxophone at Eckerd College. Bornheimer was the first two-time winner of the Owen Prize in Jazz Composition: awarded the 2016 prize for Henry ( composed and premiered by Donny McCaslin and USF Jazz Ensemble 1 ), and the 2017 prize for his composition Elegy. His piece Color Shift was among the finalists for the 2015 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award and was featured during the New Music Workshops for the 2017 International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers Symposium. Bornheimer was selected as a Ravinia's Steans Music Institute fellow for the 2017 Jazz Program by Rufus Reid. He returned to Ravinia in late 2017 to perform as a part of the Ravinia All Star Quintet.

Gene Knific: Gene Knific of Kalamazoo, MI, is a pianist, composer, and producer now based in Chicago. Knific has performed worldwide presenting an extensive and diverse repertoire with a wide array of artists. Recent highlights include performances with saxophone legend Joe Lovano in 2014, Macarthur Genius Grant recipient Miguel ZenÃ"n in 2015, and three performances at the Kennedy Center with the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program. His talents have brought him on tours to Russia at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and Jazz Philharmonic, the Copenhagen Opera House and Montmartre Jazzhus in Denmark, the Xiquitsi International Music Festival in Mozambique, and the Schlern International Music Festival in Italy. Knific is the recipient of eight DownBeat Music Awards for his performances and compositions in jazz and contemporary categories, two ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Awards, and the University of Miami's Patricia Frost Top Graduate award in 2014. Knific also has been awarded numerous grants, including funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for his documentary Mitten, which premiered in spring 2016.

—From a press release

This article shared 738 times since Mon Oct 15, 2018
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