When New Music New College founding artistic director Stephen Miles announced his impending retirement last January, it marked the end of an era for the 20-plus-year-old contemporary music series—and also a new beginning, under his successor, Mark Dancigers.
The 39-year-old Dancigers, an electric guitarist and composer with degrees from Yale and a Ph.D. from Princeton, may be new to this role, but he’s hardly “new” to the worlds of new music or of New College. He first became aware of the college’s music series when he performed here with the NOW Ensemble a decade ago. He was encouraged enough by that experience (“a great group of really enthusiastic students, a very receptive audience and an atmosphere of excitement,” he says), that, “When I saw there was an open position here in 2012, I thought I’d throw my hat in there.” He’s been teaching electronic music, digital media and composition here since, with a brief break spent in California.
“That was lovely,” he says, “but we found we really missed this particular place. We love heading to the beach in the evening when it’s cool and spending an hour letting the boys play in the water. It’s magical; once it gets in you, it stays.”
“We” includes not only two young sons but an infant daughter with wife Xiao-Xuan Yang, a dancer and choreographer with Sarasota Contemporary Dance. Dancigers has collaborated with that ensemble as he has with music and dance ensembles elsewhere, including a commission for the New York City Ballet (Bright, with choreographer Justin Peck), yMusic (the documentary film The Measurement of All Things) and, most recently, in the duo Grand Electric with pianist Aaron Wunsch.
“I enjoy working with other musicians, collaborating on projects, coming up with new combinations of instruments and finding new sounds,” says Dancigers. “I think there’s a hunger here for discovering what’s happening out there now in the arts. Sarasota is a place with a tremendous amount of culture, and it’s not just a lot of activity—people care about these art forms, whether that’s classical or jazz or ballet or contemporary dance. New College in particular has that kind of orientation towards the discovery of the new.”
All that said, Dancigers admits, “It’s a wild time to be planning a concert series,” with Covid-19 putting a halt to most live performances, including a planned presentation of the JACK Quartet last spring to honor Miles’ final season. Instead, Dancigers has been working on a livestream event to celebrate Miles’ tenure (one that may have already taken place by the time you read this).
Beyond that, Dancigers says the plan for the fall schedule is a virtual one, highlighting the work that some alumni of New College and the series have gone on to create, with in-person performances set to return in the winter and spring. Among the latter: flutist Claire Chase, presenting selections from her multi-year commissioning project Density 2036 in January; the yMusic ensemble, performing a new commission by composer Andrew Norman titled Difference in March; and pianist Vicky Chow (a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars), who has, Dancigers says, “significantly developed repertoire for her instrument.
“We’re really committed to live music, and as soon as we can get back to live, we want to do that,” he adds. “The bottom line is to present music we think will speak to our audiences’ experiences and their hearts and their ears. I believe that contemporary music of a broad range can be a powerful and meaningful force in people’s lives. We’re in an amazing position to share some of that with the community and the campus.
“I also think that we’re continuing to grow our students’ involvement in contemporary music, to have music be a powerful part of their lives in ways they might not have imagined before. It could be transformational for them. We aim for that—expanding what they know about the world and themselves and reality. For me, music is square in the center of all of that.”
For the latest on the coming season, visit newmusicnewcollege.org.