Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s tribute required innovative donations


The upcoming world premiere of a piece of classical music inspired by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra likely would have been impossible if it weren’t for a bunch of Chicago area lawyers, a Long Island Fine Arts Foundation, and an award would have been an award-winning pianist and composer who put the deal together.

This is the art of financing new musical works in the midst of a pandemic.

Even in the best economic times, it is usually difficult to find sponsors for new orchestral works.

“You’re looking for support for something that doesn’t exist,” says Jeffrey Biegel, a faculty pianist and composer at Brooklyn College who has managed to bring together donors and composers to create more than a dozen musical works since 1999. “We have no idea what the first few notes will sound like until we have enough money to pay for it.”

Biegel estimates that he raised a total of $ 600,000 from commissioning previous music projects. But with many nonprofit arts and entertainment companies now weakened by COVID-19 and donations declining along with revenue from the events, it has become more difficult to raise the $ 25,000-100,000 to commission a new work. The sector is still recovering from a loss of about 35% of its jobs last September, according to the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Biegel, 60, from Lynbrook, New York, realized that he had to approach the matter differently so that “Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich could become a reality.

“This piece marks a moment when a very important historical figure lived and left her legacy in so many ways,” he said. “I thought a piece of music to honor and commemorate her legacy would be fine, and donors came to help.”

Kim Noltemy, President and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, said she took the chance to be part of the new Ginsburg piece, which premieres Thursday in Dallas, with one of Justice’s favorite singers, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves in the orchestra its performance.

Ginsburg’s love for Graves’ work and for opera in general is well known. An evening at the opera, she told interviewers, was a rare break from thinking about the law.

“I feel that paying her musical homage is a wonderful way to recognize her love of music and art,” said Noltemy.

“We had to find a way to move forward,” said Noltemy, who was praised for quickly restoring live performances by the orchestra, although this made the concerts unprofitable when the capacity was low. “It’s my job and my team’s job to find a safe way. But we have to keep this music going. “

“Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg” was commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and supported by the American Composers Forum and the Norma and Don Stone New Music Fund. Even so, the project still lacked sufficient funds to be completed.

Biegel reached out to the Long Island-based Billy Rose Foundation, with whom he had previously worked.

“It was about to fail and it seemed like something should be out there,” said John Wohlstetter, president of the foundation, who said his organization had offered a “modest amount” to keep the project alive. “It’s art in general. We live, frankly, in a time when a lot of culture ends up in the sewers. I don’t think any of us are any better. It’s good to have some new modern work. “

But in the end, so Biegel, a group of enthusiastic lawyers appropriately pulled the Ginsberg project over the finish line.

“It’s the greatest topic with the greatest team behind it,” said one of them, Todd Wiener from Evanston, Illinois.

“I just want to help them get started,” said Wiener. “I would turn my arms around a lot of people I know in the legal world to make donations to make sure everything is there for them.”

Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg was written by Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music Composition. Graves, who won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording as a soloist in Gershwin: Porgy and Bess in 2020, performed during the Ginsburg memorial service. And in 2019 Biegel was the pianist for Kenneth Fuchs’ Grammy-winning piano concerto “Spiritualist”.

Sunil Iyengar, director of research for the National Endowment for the Arts, noted that the complications of dealing with COVID-19 can be overwhelming for some art groups and require innovative solutions.

“There is a real need to find other, new sources of income and some social change,” said Iyengar. “When there is no substantial support for art recovery, we talk about robbing generations of artists, creators, art audiences and art learners – and then we impoverish the cultural, emotional and intellectual life of our nation.”

Biegel said the Ginsburg project benefited from a wide range of philanthropic support – and not just financial aid. Numerous artists have contributed their Ginsburg-inspired art to raise awareness of the piece. He asked Harrison Sheckler, one of his Brooklyn College students, to orchestrate Biegel’s own Ginsburg-inspired piece.

“I told him, ‘I have no money to offer, but if you do, any rents or purchases of this arrangement will be shared with you.’ ”

Biegel, who will also perform his own composition “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg” as part of the Dallas program, is pleased that the world will soon hear “Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg”.

It is not just a collaboration between artists, but also donors, he said.

“It’s a lot of work,” says Biegel. “I’m not getting paid for it. I tell everyone – and I don’t mean that disrespectfully, I mean it very positively and productively – this is not about you. “

“This piece can do it, it can’t be,” he said. “It could become popular in 50 years. That’s the way it is. This is about the future. “


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