"I’m so blessed to be at Iowa."
When University of Iowa faculty member David Gompper accepted a prestigious Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, the honor was a milestone in his ongoing career as a composer, performer, conductor, and teacher—and it was a testament to the UI’s longstanding reputation as a pioneer in the arts.
The occasion also was a demonstration of the enduring power of philanthropy in advancing the arts at an institution like the UI. Gompper is the director of the Center for New Music (CNM)—a performance organization devoted to the late 20th- and early 21st-century repertoire—in the School of Music, which is part of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The CNM was initially established by a pair of matching grants from The Rockefeller Foundation in the 1960s and has been Gompper’s creative home since 1991. As the trailblazing accomplishments of Gompper and the CNM continually prove, those far-sighted gifts have been paying dividends to the university, and to music, for more than four decades.
Here’s how The Rockefeller Foundation explained its motivation for supporting music at the UI in its 1965 annual report: “Of special interest to The Rockefeller Foundation are the possibilities inherent in working with colleges and universities which are genuinely hospitable to the arts of the present, especially those institutions which are willing to innovate on their own campuses . . . There is today a growing sense of awareness in many of our universities that the creative arts should be included in the regular academic curriculum on the same footing as the recognized disciplines of knowledge.” Because the UI was the world’s first university to accept creative work in music, theatre, writing, and art on an equal basis with academic research—as far back as the 1920s—Iowa was a natural fit for The Rockefeller Foundation’s support. The report continued, “Several universities—notably Buffalo, Chicago, Rutgers, and Iowa—have, with the help of The Rockefeller Foundation, established creative centers in music, bringing together composers and performers to vitalize the musical life of the university campus, but even more to stimulate the musical thinking of the entire region.”
The CNM has lived up to the potential that the foundation saw for musical stimulation, thanks in large part to Gompper’s impassioned dedication to the CNM’s mission.
As UI President Sally Mason says, “The School of Music has a legacy of innovation, and the Center for New Music has played a critical role in that tradition for over 40 years.”
Gompper, building upon the work of the CNM’s founders, Richard Hervig and William Hibbard, and the subsequent leadership of D. Martin Jenni, sustains a fertile creative environment at the CNM. Through the center, graduate composition students, working with musicians from throughout the School of Music, develop their talent and present their work locally, nationally, and internationally. Students have accompanied Gompper—who taught at the Moscow Conservatory as a Fulbright Scholar in 2002 and 2003—on performance tours around the U.S. and in Europe.
The CNM also provides a venue for music students to gain firsthand exposure to contemporary music, an element often lacking in the training of classical musicians. “Our students are really great musicians,” Gompper says, “but outside of the center, there are few opportunities for them to play recent and challenging contemporary music. So the center is a magnet for these students who need to have these kinds of experiences and show aptitude for this kind of work.”
Composers from around the world have brought their work to the CNM to have it performed as well. A short list of visiting composers of note—some of whom have premiered works at the UI—includes George Crumb, Charles Wuorinen, Morton Feldman, Gunther Schuller, Lukas Foss, and Libby Larson.
The CNM, under Gompper’s direction, has organized important festivals and programs that have captured the music world’s attention, such as the Russian Contemporary Music Festival in 2000 that was reviewed on the front arts page of The New York Times.
And on top of all those CNM activities, Gompper is an extraordinary performing pianist, regularly playing around the world, from communities in Iowa and the Midwest to Vienna, Moscow, Prague, and Ecuador.
It all adds up to a recognition throughout the contemporary music world that the UI is among the leaders of 21st-century innovation in new-music education and creation. Essentially, The Rockefeller Foundation’s gifts long ago created the conditions where a renowned artist such as Gompper—and the students he teaches—can find a creative home and advance Iowa’s reputation in valuable ways, and Gompper is thankful for the opportunity that the CNM has given him. “I’m so blessed to be at Iowa. I’m a very fortunate person,” says Gompper, whom the UI awarded a major Arts and Humanities Initiative grant, which he used to have four of his works recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.
Now, as the UI rebuilds its arts campus after the 2008 flood that destroyed much of the arts campus—including the Voxman Music Building, which housed the School of Music—more such visionary philanthropic support will be crucial to ensure that the UI’s flagship arts programs can continue to excel. “As we rebuild our arts campus for the 21st century, we are dedicated to infusing our plans with the spirit of originality and vision that has long characterized the Center for New Music, the School of Music, and all of our fine-arts programs,” says President Mason.
It will be up to all of us to pull together for the future of the arts at Iowa, through support for new facilities and the faculty and students who will work there. And—as with the gift that created the UI’s Center for New Music—today’s investments will resonate in future decades throughout the university and the global arts community.
The Center for New Music and its director, David Gompper, have released a steady stream of recordings and regularly perform concerts at the UI, across the U.S., and around the world. For concert schedules, discographies, biographies, reviews, and other information, visit these websites: http://www.uiowa.edu/~cnm/ and http://www.davidgompper.com/.