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8 Larsen and the Collaborators, Larsen and the Critics In March 1979, at the ripe age of twenty-eight and just a year after receiving her doctorate, Libby Larsen was the subject of a thirty-minute film, part of the series Encounters with Minnesota Artists broadcast on KTCA, the Twin Cities public television station.1 It had to have been a heady experience for the young composer. In footage that captures Larsen composing, conversing , and attending rehearsals, viewers see her reflect on the act of “arranging sound in time.” They learn of her concerns regarding the “segmented” woman composer and hear her thoughts about living a balanced life.2 The collaborative spirit that had propelled student opera projects and the creation of the Minnesota Composers Forum is on full display. More than thirty-five years later, that same spirit remains integral to Larsen and to her lifelong creative project, and this is affirmed by those who have worked closely with her over the decades. As a group Larsen’s collaborators have applauded her eclecticism, her productivity , her music’s appeal, her desire and ability to write for a range of performers and situations, her choice to live and work outside consecrated cultural centers, her independence from any single aesthetic ideology, her rejection of the myth of the isolated, genius composer separated from society , and her willingness to do the grunt work promoting American music culture. All agree on Larsen’s gifts for rhythm and setting American English in natural-sounding lyrical lines. They also regularly cite her energy, determination, fearlessness, and creativity , essential qualities for a successful, freelance art-music composer. In a September 2014 interview, John Duffy, composer, and founder and director of Meet the Composer, went beyond the usual string of descriptors and singled out Larsen’s curiosity and resoluteness as defining qualities. Having chosen to tack a course different from those charted for women born in the mid-twentieth century, Larsen often had to “man the tuits” on her own, and resoluteness served her well.3 Larsen and Collaborators, Critics 223 Duffy and Larsen had much in common, not least a passion for fostering American music. In 1974, a year after Larsen and Paulus created the Minnesota Composers Forum, Duffy founded Meet the Composer, a joint project of the New York State Council on the Arts and the American Music Center. From the start, it operated without any academic affiliation and provided grants, commissions , and residencies and underwrote educational programs that brought composers and audiences together. At its core was Duffy’s belief in music’s role in society and the need for the composer to be in the middle of it. In the early 1980s Meet the Composer chose the Minnesota Orchestra to be a part of its orchestra residency program; and it was Duffy’s program that funded Neville Marriner’s selection of Larsen and Paulus as Composers-in-Residence starting in 1983. Duffy and Larsen met at the beginning of her residency. He explains: “Her music delighted me; I found her to be a unique person. . . . She goes deeper than most composers.” Observing her high energy, he “cautioned her not to cover so many bases; not to wear herself out.”4 Duffy and Larsen took a liking to each other immediately but soon discovered they had crossed paths years earlier, unknowingly. Duffy had composed the score for a 1960s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and a teenaged Larsen had been there. As Duffy characterizes that occurrence: “We had a mystical, mysterious experience quite early on, so our roots, in a certain sense, go way back to the sixties.”5 When they met (again) in the 1980s, they started as if they’d been old friends. Over the years Duffy and Larsen collaborated closely through her participation on the board of Meet the Composers and via the John Duffy Composers Institute, which partners with the Virginia Arts Festival. In 2014 Duffy announced that he had handed over the administration of the institute to Larsen, whom he describes as “a person I trust, have faith in, honor, and love.”6 In 2012 Larsen and Duffy, along with fellow institute faculty members Tania Leon, Fred Ho, Michael Colgrass, and Frank J. Oteri, worked with seven young fellows—all aspiring opera composers—numerous singers, and musicians of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra to share their insights, expertise, and passion for writing opera; they mounted concert versions of the fellows’ works in...


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