New-music stalwart to step down

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Network for New Music artistic director Linda Reichert (left) with conductor Jan Krzywicki. (Photo by JJ Tiziou)

Longtime Network for New Music artistic director Linda Reichert is stepping down, the group has announced.

Reichert, who cofounded Network in 1984, will retire at the end of the 2017-18 season. A successor is being sought for the group, which leaders say will continue to exist, commissioning and performing new work as one of the city’s major forces for avant-garde music.

Reichert, 65, of Chester Springs, said it was simply time to move on.

“I’ve done it,” she said. “I’ve put my heart and soul and brain into it, and now it’s time for something else.”

In its 33 years, the Network for New Music ensemble, flexible in size and instrumental makeup, has performed more than 500 new works plus 138 commissioned by the organization itself – one of the few that maintains a dedicated commissioning fund.

Many works have gone on to become durable members of the repertoire. Passion Prayers by Augusta Read Thomas has been performed an estimated 60 to 70 times, Bernard Rands’ Concertino for solo oboe and chamber ensemble 25 to 30 times. Jennifer Higdon’s wissahickon poeTrees has received hundreds of performances.

Reichert, also a pianist, is sometimes referred to as Philadelphia’s den mother to composers, and she has occupied a place in the new-music community not unlike that of Claire Reis, cofounder of the League of Composers in New York, in the 1920s to the '40s. Reis worked with Copland, Barber, and Milhaud – Reichert and Network with Stephen Mackey, John Harbison, and George Tsontakis. She will be honored next April with a concert of − what else? − specially commissioned works.

She says she’s most proud of the Network ensemble musicians – “their dedication to finding the meaning in the music, and high level of expressive, virtuosic performances" plus "the huge commitment the organization has made to supporting top-notch composers with substantial commissioning fees," and "the young people we have assisted over the years in numerous high school and college-level ed programs, helping them create their own music, and then wowing them with great public performances.”

Reichert is considering her next steps. “I am very interested in hospice work and don’t know what that is going to look like, and also am really interested in working at a grassroots level with an environmental advocacy group.”

Music will remain. She continues to teach piano and will become vice president next year and president the year after of the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, which grants money to music institutions and to musicians for career assistance.

The Network for New Music will look for a successor, but the next leader doesn’t need to be in the same mold as Reichert. It could be a composer or a performer, or some other leader with a different set of musical skills.

Much has changed since Network started in 1984. Other new-music groups, like Orchestra 2001, have joined the scene, and both ensembles and individual performers have made the commissioning of new music core to what they do. The funding landscape has changed, too.

“New funding models need to be found,” Reichert says, “because traditional sources are drying up – some large foundations have left town, and a lot of foundations are becoming much more project-driven and are much less inclined to give money toward general operations.”

But even if many groups are now instigating the creation of new music, the commitment of the Network for New Music to commissioning remains critical.

“When I speak with composers, it seems like the fees are zero or going down, and Network is one of not that many groups that actually pays composers rates that are close to what New Music USA suggests for chamber works. Network is important for sustaining composers, their creation of new music, and the performance of it.”

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