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Composer-Trumpeter Sarah Wilson Wins Gerbode Composer's Grant For Music Production With Aerial Dance At SF's De Young Museum

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Wilson's recent CD “Trapeze Project" Earns Critical Acclaim

Composer/trumpeter Sarah Wilson is one of 6 California composers awarded a prestigious Composers Collaborative grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The grants of $75,000 each will fund the creation and world premiere of new works by gifted California composers, created in collaboration with another California artist of their choice.

Sarah Wilson will compose new music, Off the Walls, for a world premiere music production combined with aerial dance at San Francisco's de Young Museum in 2013. Inspired by the Museum's distinguished architecture, landscape, and visual arts collection, the music with dance will be performed at varied locations outside, inside, and on the sides of the museum. This evening-length, site-specific work will feature composer Sarah Wilson, aerial dance company Catch Me Bird, and an ensemble of twelve to eighteen Bay Area musicians and dancers.

Wilson has emerged as “one of the most intriguing and promising composers and trumpeters on the contemporary music scene" (Derk Richardson, San Francisco Chronicle). Her original work has earned numerous commissions including the highly acclaimed 2010 Center for Cultural Innovation Artistic Innovation award. Her music has premiered nationally and internationally and she earned wide acclaim for her 2010 Brass Tonic Records release, Trapeze Project. This CD features herself on trumpet and vocals with clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Jerome Harris, and drummer Scott Amendola and showcases her danceable, visually evocative, and melodic music that is both sophisticated and accessible. Trapeze Project garnered multiple Best of 2010 picks; music critics speak highly of her work:

“Few contemporary jazz musicians can have paid their dues in the esoteric environment of a puppet theater, but for Sarah Wilson the Bread and Puppet Theater proved to be an invaluable part of her musical education. Trapeze Project, the trumpeter's second album, is such an engaging and evocative recording that maybe more jazz players should spend their apprenticeships with puppets... A small gem of delight."- Bruce Lindsay, All About Jazz

“A very individual voice...She makes music her own way." —Frank Alkyer, DownBeat Magazine

..."her vocal on Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart,' is the year's most inspired cover." — Francis Davis, Village Voice

“From the jubilant, Ghanaian Highlife-flavored opener ("Blessing") to a roadhouse-meets- klezmer romp ("At Zebulon") and blues-tinged Crescent City stroll ("To New Orleans"), Wilson and crew cover a lot of stylistic ground." —Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times

“Her new CD Trapeze Project showcases her danceable, visually evocative and melodic music that is both sophisticated and accessible." —Jazziz

..."the music she produces is striking in its broad nature and sense of melody... the album is filled with great songs." —Bob Karlovits, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

About Sarah Wilson

Wilson didn't come to music through the usual channels. As an undergraduate anthropology major at the University of California, Berkeley, Wilson, a lapsed high school trumpet player, took a strong interest in theater. A visiting artist from Vermont's globe-trotting Bread and Puppet Theater inspired her to move east to work on their spectacular giant-puppet productions after graduation. She spent two years as a member of the troupe, increasingly conducting, arranging and performing music for their shows.

In 1993, she moved to New York to concentrate on music, studying with trumpeters John McNeil and Laurie Frink. Through her affiliation with Bread and Puppet Theater, she soon found herself musical director and composer of Lincoln Center's Out of Doors Festival's annual puppet program. “At the time, I didn't really have any formal training or experience composing," Wilson says. “I didn't know much harmony, so I would just write these melodic bass lines and layer contrapuntal melodies on top of them. I was really into Afro-Cuban music and Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman, so everything had a really strong rhythmic base, sometimes with odd meters. I've formally studied music since then, but my basic composing approach hasn't changed much."

“Because I started writing for puppet theater, there is a strong visual reference to my music, a kind of music to image to movement concept," she continues. “When I compose I imagine myself in the music, picturing the image it evokes. It is also a visceral, physical feeling. Composing can be a kind of ecstatic experience for me, it's like finding the right movement for a puppet on stage, and by puppet I don't mean hand puppet, but the kind of big puppet we used in Bread and Puppet Theater, that requires use of your entire body. On a basic level, it's music you can dance to. That kind of a pulse is always there because that's where I get my inspiration."

Wilson absorbed other sources of inspiration from the eclectic downtown New York new music scene of the 1990s into her compositions, and found plenty of open-minded musicians willing to play them. “I was fortunate to find these amazing musicians, like Kenny Wollesen, and Peck Allmond, Tony Scherr, and others," she says, “who liked my work precisely because it was different and original."

About The Gerbode Foundation

For over twenty years, the Gerbode Foundation has made innovative grants through its Special Awards Program to San Francisco Bay Area arts institutions to commission new works from gifted individual artists: playwrights (including Tony Kushner, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning “Angels in America"), choreographers (such as Erika Chong Shuch and Sean Dorsey), composers (including Carla Kihlstedt, John Adams, Paul Dresher, and Tony Williams), as well as visual artists, poets, and multimedia artists. “The Gerbode Foundation is excited to support adventuresome, gifted California composers in their collaborations to create singular new works to pique our curiosity and through which to experience our world," said Thomas C. Layton, president of the Gerbode Foundation.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been making grants since 1967 to help solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development, performing arts, philanthropy, and population, and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This story appears courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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