Johnstown Symphony Orchestra announces winner of composition competition, a collaboration with Laurel Arts

Composition competition winner Thomas Dougherty meets with JSO Music Director James Blachly.

In preparation for the 20th commemoration of the events of Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and Laurel Arts have come together to commission Thomas Dougherty to compose a piece of music for three JSO players that speaks to the experience and response of the Somerset community during the period surrounding 9/11.

Mark Addleman, president of the board of trustees of the JSO and treasurer of the board of Laurel Arts, said, “I wanted to bring these two great arts organizations together to create something lasting and meaningful to speak to the experience of this community on 9/11.”

The exhibit “Reflections of the Human Spirit: America’s County Responds to the Tragic Events of Sept. 11” will be free and open to the public from Sept. 6-30. It will open in a special memorial event from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11. The work will be composed for oboe, viola and harp and will be premiered at the exhibit at the Laurel Arts – Phillip Dressler Center for the Arts on 9/11 by JSO Principal Oboe Stephanie Caulder, Principal Viola Stephen Weiss and Principal Harp Christine Mazza.

JSO Music Director James Blachly noted, “The Johnstown Symphony is honored to have been invited to perform two concerts at the Flight 93 Memorial on Sept. 10 and Sept. 11. This commission will form a part of that programming, and allow us to express in music what words cannot contain, and to have this music speak directly to the Somerset community. We selected a panel of three highly qualified and preeminent composers to judge the competition in Nancy Galbraith, John Levey and Baljinder Sekhon, chairs of the composition departments of Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University, respectively.”

Blachly added, “In reviewing the 27 highly qualified composers who applied from all over the country with strong ties to western Pennsylvania, this esteemed panel unanimously selected Thomas Dougherty.”

The panel who chose the composer in a competitive process said in a statement, “Thomas Dougherty’s compelling background as a composer, violinist and oboist, combined with his strong connection to western Pennsylvania and professional portfolio of works, makes him an excellent choice for this commission.”

Currently acting section violin with the San Diego Symphony, Dougherty said, “As a native of western Pennsylvania, this is a particularly meaningful opportunity to write for musicians of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra while also honoring the brave men and women of Flight 93 through music. It is my hope that our orchestras across the country prioritize commissioning composers with ties to their communities. This essential practice ensures the countless diverse, compositional voices of our country are represented, strengthens the relevance of the institutions, and allows composers to foster their region’s legacy through music.”

Jaclyn McCusker, executive director of Laurel Arts, said, “The exhibit will serve as a moment of reflection not only for the events surrounding a tragic moment in American history, but also the nature in which our county, America’s County, responded and provided hope and perseverance in even the darkest of times. Additional events, guest speakers, and related films will be hosted at Laurel Arts during the month of September. The exhibit will be free and open to the public.”

The panel also listed several “finalists/honorary mentions,” including Marina Lopez, Charles Corey, Chris Massa, Jonathan Howard Katz, Joshua Brown, Todd Goodman and Ryan Lindveit.

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