Columbus Composer Adam Roberts Receives Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

Apr 27, 2016

Like almost anything in life, developing a successful career as a composer takes talent, good timing and more than a few drams of luck. The stars aligned in a big way recently for composer and Columbus native Adam Roberts, who has been named a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow.

As a Guggenheim Fellow, Roberts, a Columbus native and a graduate of the Columbus Academy, the Eastman School of Music and Harvard University, joins the elite ranks of past fellows, including composers Samuel Barber, George Antheil, Dominick Argento, and William Bolcom, Chris Theofanidis and Mason Bates among others. The 2016 class of music composition Guggenheim Fellows is no less select.

“There are 12 composition Guggenheim Fellows this year, and many of them are peers who I have a huge amount of respect for, so it’s wonderful company to be in. And many of my former teachers have won them in the past, so it feels really amazing to be in that company,” Roberts, who now lives in New York City, said in a recent phone interview. 

A New Orchestral Work

Roberts, 35, says he plans to use the financial support of the fellowship to compose an extended, multi-movement work for orchestra, along the lines of a symphony.

“it’s one of those projects that I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while, and in fact, I have sketches of what I think is going to be the second movement lying on my drafting table,” Roberts said. “But it’s one of those projects that keeps getting put aside due to real-world deadlines, because most of the pieces that I actually get asked to write by performers that have deadlines are pieces for smaller forces than symphony orchestra. And I find very often that the commissions that come my way are for chamber music. It’s more practical for young musicians to get together in small groups to play new works.”

The labor-intensive process of preparing the individual printed parts of an orchestral work for the musicians to play from, and the large expense involved in having orchestral music performed have also deterred Roberts from writing for full orchestra – until now.

“So I’ve been dreaming of orchestral music for a while. And I don’t have an orchestral commission on the table at the moment, so I decided to use the money and the time that results from the money to work on a project that is a little bit less practical,” Roberts said.

“A Love Letter”

Despite daunting practical considerations, Roberts says it is orchestral music’s unique ability to bring people together for shared experiences that inspires him to move forward on his new work.

“It’s one of the profound group experiences we can still have where we get together and quote-unquote go to church or go to synagogue as a group and experience something that I think is still incredibly powerful and moving. There’s something to me that I find very profound about experiencing a powerful musical experience with a lot of people around me. So in a way, if my project is about anything, it’s like a love letter to the big canvas and paint brush that orchestral music affords,” Roberts said.

And because no particular orchestra has commissioned Roberts’ new work, Roberts says that, even as he composes the piece, he will be searching for the right performers to bring the finished product to life.

And at this point, he still has plenty of time. Roberts will be spending the summer months completing a commission for an oboe quartet for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Society for Chamber Music in Rochester (NY). Then he will roll up his sleeves in earnest on his orchestral work, a piece that will not only enable him to contribute to the rich tradition of orchestral music but, he hopes, will also help keep orchestral music relevant for the present and for the future.

“It’s something that I still very much care about and fantasize about writing and believe that beyond my own project it should be a part of our culture,” Roberts said. “I would like it to be a part of our culture, and I hope it remains a vital and alive part of our culture.”