Press Room

“Music Makes a City” wins 2012 Gramophone Award

Music Makes a City, a “tale of artistic vision” (Symphony) by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler, was today awarded the 2012 Gramophone Award for Best DVD Documentary. Gramophone announced the winners of its prestigious Classical Music Awards at a glamorous ceremony at London’s Dorchester Hotel. The feature-length documentary tells the story of the Louisville Symphony’s visionary commissioning project of the 1950s, which created an unprecedented number of new compositions by such composers as Elliott Carter, Lukas Foss, and Ned Rorem. A tale of civic aspiration and cultural ingenuity, the film inspired Sedgwick Clark of to observe: “Anyone interested in classical music should see this uplifting story of American ingenuity at its best.”
In addition to Music Makes a City, other nominees in the DVD Documentary category included Alfred Brendel on Music: Three Lectures – a film by Mark Kidel (C Major), and God’s Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz – a film by Peter Rosen (EuroArts).
In 1948, a small, struggling, semi-professional orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky began a novel project to commission new works from contemporary composers around the world. The project grew far beyond anyone’s expectations: in 1953, the orchestra received an unprecedented $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to commission 52 compositions a year for three years. The new works were to be performed in weekly concerts and recorded for sale by subscription. The architect of this ambitious artistic venture was Louisville Mayor Charles Farnsley, who had a deep love of cultural expressions of all kinds as well as boundless enthusiasm and an inexhaustible bank of new ideas. Farnsley, professing to be guided by the philosophical principles of the Chinese sage Confucius, found a willing partner for his plans in Robert Whitney, the young conductor who had arrived in Louisville in 1937 to lead the fledgling orchestra. Over the years, nearly every living composer of note would be commissioned and recorded by the Louisville Orchestra.
Music Makes a City is a wonderful weave of archival footage and anecdotes from veteran Louisville musicians and civic figures. The film features interviews with some of the project’s key participants: iconic American composers Ned Rorem, Lukas Foss, Chou Wen-chung, Harold Shapero, and Elliott Carter – the last of whom gave an extensive interview (at the age of 100) expressly for the documentary, recalling his experience of composing for Louisville a piece that remains one of his most popular: 1955’s Variations for Orchestra.
Accolades for Music Makes a City
“A singular harmonic convergence is recounted in Music Makes a City, Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler’s enlightening documentary about how Louisville, KY, became a locus for contemporary music in the mid-20th century. In striking synchronicity, a mayor, a conductor and a robust postwar generation of composers intersected to make the city a hub for visionary composition.” – New York Times, September 2010
“The film brings fascinating insights into the cultural life of an American city, and perhaps the most important lesson to take away from it is that through sheer conviction Whitney was able to carry his audience with him.” – The Rest is Noise, September 2010
“Illuminating … Evocative … captures a region and music engaged in harmonious, dynamic interplay” – Village Voice, September 2010
“As the film reminds us, this Kentucky city included a world-class philharmonic, one that
became the first to actively recruit new works from contemporary composers.” – Time Out New York, September 2010
“Watching the film in 2010, the biggest reason for fans of culture to run out and see it
might be the core suggestion it makes: that when times get tough, the talented get bold.” – New Music Box, September 2010
“And rare is the movie which interviews so many composers. Elliott Carter speaks of the
challenges where brass overwhelmed strings, in his Variations. Harold Shapero speaks
of the joy in writing here and Chou-wen Chung is influenced by his Chinese childhood
to write And the Petals Fall … A tale suitably tall, and implausibly engaging.” –, September 2010
Music Makes a City, the work of San Francisco filmmakers Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler, is a tale of artistic vision and civic commitment told through local voices, vintage photos, and interviews with key figures including current Music Director Jorge Mester and composers Elliott Carter, Lukas Foss, Gunther Schuller.”
– Symphony, May 2010
Directed by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler

Return to Press Room