The Georgina Joshi Commission

I am happy to announce that I have been awarded my first real commission from the Indiana University New Music Ensemble! The commission is one of two given by the composition department as part of the annual Dean’s Prizes. It is a great honor to be recognized among so many talented and amazing composer colleagues.  The piece that I submitted for the prize was Wanderer Moon for soprano and mixed ensemble, which will be performed at the Melos concert in San Francisco in August.

The official name for the award is the Georgina Joshi Composition Commission Prize. It is sponsored by a foundation of the same name. So naturally, I wondered, “who was Georgina Joshi?”

After a quick search of the IU website, I realized that this was not the first time I had encountered the name. In early March, I attended a wonderful performance of Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus by the Early Music Institute. [Fellow Melos member Dan Tempkin was there with me!] In the program was a brief description of how the Georgina Joshi Handel Underwrting “was established to encourage and support the student performance of Handel’s operas and oratorios”.  I was particularly excited to learn that in 2009, they had produced Giulio Cesare, one my favorite operas. At that point, I thought that Ms. Joshi was a rich old lady who loved Handel, and left a nice amount of money to perpetuate the performance of his works at the Jacobs School of Music. To my surprise, it turns out that Ms. Joshi was better known as “Georgie” around the school, and that she was not much older than me when she died.

Georgina Joshi was one of the top sopranos at IU and was pursuing a Master’s degree in voice. She was not only beautiful and talented; from what one friend said, “She had an amazing zest for life and an equally amazing postive attitude. Her personality gave me a better outlook on each day I spoke with her.” In all, she seemed like someone I could have been friends with. Georgina was also a certified pilot—she died tragically in 2006 when her twin-engine plane went down. Four other choral conducting and voice students died with her as they were returning to Bloomington from a rehearsal in Carmel, IN. The commission prize was established in honor of her dedication to new music. In fact, one of her last performances was with the New Music Ensemble.

So, in light of all this, I am to write a ten-minute piece for voice and ensemble, to be performed next April. The task seems so incredibly daunting, especially following the three wonderful pieces that were done by previous winners of the prize.  One of my worries is that unlike the other prizewinners, I have not been at IU for several years and did not know Georgina in any way. However, I am very excited and honored to contribute something to her memory.

There are so many elements to think about when starting a piece! I wonder if I should incorporate something “Handel” into the composition. And as I try to find a text for this new work, I am also attempting to make preliminary decisions about instrumentation. I have the resources of the entire IU New Music Ensemble available to me, which is a sinfonietta-sized ensemble with percussion.  Although it would maximize color possibilities to compose for full ensemble, I want the ensemble itself to have personality. Right now, I am toying with the idea of a ten-piece, mixed subset . . . with a keyboard instrument being only celesta, or only harpsichord. I can write for any voice part as well, but perhaps I will write for male voice. This would not only be a new challenge for me, but I would also be able to honor the four men who died with Georgina on that tragic day.

I will update on the progress of the piece on my next entry. It would be really interesting to see if I stick to any of these early musings!

-Tonia Ko

Official IU Press Release:

To learn more about the foundation:

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