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First Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions Go to Bay Area Nonprofits to Work with World-Class Artists on Major New Music Compositions

MENLO PARK, Calif. (November 14, 2017) – The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced today the first 10 recipients of its Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, an $8 million commissioning initiative that is the largest of its kind in the United States. Reflecting the foundation’s longstanding commitment to sustaining artistic expression and encouraging public engagement with the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area, 10 local nonprofit organizations will receive grants of $150,000 each to commission major new musical compositions from world-class artists in genres including chamber, electronic, jazz, opera, and hip hop.

“The Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions are a symbol of the foundation’s longstanding commitment to performing arts in the Bay Area,” said Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation. “We believe the awards will fund the creation of new musical works of lasting significance that are as dynamic and diverse as the Bay Area communities where they will premiere.”

This year’s commissioned projects have themes that speak directly to Bay Area communities, including the impact of technology on our culture, humanity’s relationship to the natural world, and the experiences of immigrants and women in our society.

Among the selected projects are: “At War with Ourselves,” an evening-length work exploring race relations in America by Grammy Award winners Kronos Quartet and Terence Blanchard; “Indra’s Net,” an immersive, multidisciplinary piece by MacArthur “genius” award winner Meredith Monk, commissioned by Mills College; “Angel Island Oratorio,” a new work for strings and chorus inspired by immigrant poetry from composer Huang Ruo and commissioned by Del Sol String Quartet; and a new work commissioned by Music at Kohl Mansion and composed by Guggenheim Fellow Jake Heggie for the Violins of Hope, a set of instruments played by musicians in concentration camps and ghettos during World War II and restored over the last 20 years by Israeli craftsmen.

All of this year’s recipients are described in greater detail below.

The nonprofits commissioning the new works include both well-established, large-budget organizations and smaller nonprofit organizations that are deeply rooted in their communities. The commissioned artists come from diverse backgrounds and bring unique experiences to their work, hailing from New Orleans, Florida, Puerto Rico, New York, China, Peru, and right here in the Bay Area, among other places. Some have long-established composing careers, and others are closer to the start of their musical journeys. What unites them is the quality of their artistry and their commitment to creating new compositions that will engage, challenge, and inspire Bay Area audiences.

“I want nothing less than to change hearts and souls,” said jazz composer Terence Blanchard, who will work with Kronos Quartet on “At War with Ourselves.” “Music is communal. Concerts bring people together to vibe in one place, for one night. That, to me, is the power of this art.”

Awardees were decided based on four selection criteria: artistic excellence, community engagement, collaboration and leadership, and financial capacity. A group of 23 finalists for the awards was nominated by a panel of outside experts whose members included:

  • Maribel Alvarez, Jim Griffith Public Folklore Chair, Southwest Center/University of Arizona
  • Mario Garcia Durham, President and CEO, Association of Performing Arts Presenters
  • Sandra Gibson, Principal and Chief Catalyst, Gibson and Associates, LLC
  • Ed Harsh, President and CEO, New Music USA
  • Benjamin Johnson, Director of Performing Arts, Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles
  • SojinKim, Curator, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
  • John Nuechterlein, President and CEO, American Composers Forum

The Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program staff selected this year’s 10 recipients from among the finalists.

“Without a doubt, this was the most competitive set of proposals I’ve seen in almost two decades of working in arts philanthropy,” said John McGuirk, director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program. “The works we ultimately selected are of the highest artistic quality and enduring value.”

Since 1967, the Hewlett Foundation has made more than $335 million in grants to arts organizations. Launched in January 2017 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions will award 10 grants to local nonprofits annually in each of five performing arts disciplines through 2021. Future years will focus on theater, dance, traditional arts, and film. The new works created with this year’s awards will premiere in Bay Area communities over the next three years.

2017 Hewlett 50 Arts Commission Awardees

Cal Performances at UC Berkeley “Dreamer” – Lead artist Jimmy López, in collaboration with artist Nilo Cruz, Alameda County community organizations, and the UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program. Peruvian composer Jimmy López will collaborate with Nilo Cruz to create an oratorio for orchestra, chorus, and soprano that focuses on sanctuary cities and immigration experiences, to be performed by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. A creative cohort of “Dreamers,” undocumented young people brought to the United States as children, will serve as members of the artistic team and their stories will help inspire the piece.

Community School of Music & Arts “Imagine Our Future” – Lead artist Taylor Eigsti. Grammy-winning jazz pianist and composer Taylor Eigsti will create a 45-minute work for piano and ensemble. Eigsti will crowdsource ideas from nearly 100 local elementary and high schools, and use their ideas to develop a musical storyline. The process will be filmed and turned into a documentary about the project, set to premiere in April 2020.

Del Sol String Quartet “Angel Island Oratorio” – Lead artist Huang Ruo, in collaboration with Volti and Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, the Chinese Historical Society of America, and the Asian Art Museum. Songs and spoken word are inspired by the poetry inscribed on the walls of the Angel Island barracks between 1910 and 1940 by Chinese immigrants detained under the Chinese Exclusion Act. The poems, providing the basis for the work, will be sung in Chinese by Volti, a contemporary chamber choir, and a narrative in English will weave in universal themes of immigration and discrimination. The work will premiere at Angel Island State Park in 2020, with potential additional performances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York/Ellis Island.

The Internet Archive “Sonic Web” – Lead artist Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, in collaobration with artist Greg Niemeyer, Berkeley Center for New Media, and Stanford Live. Electronic musician and experimental composer DJ Spooky will create an 11-movement multimedia production for string quartet, vocalist, and an original electronic instrument. The composition will be about the origins of the internet and what needs to happen to keep it accessible, neutral, and free. Greg Niemeyer will create an original Sonic Web Instrument – a large touchscreen with a software tool to draw network diagrams. DJ Spooky will use this to build and take apart simple networks using sampled sounds, further layered by the vocalist and string quartet. “Artists need support now more than ever! Given that we are shifting further into the ‘creative economy,’ it’s not just about tech or what software you are using to make music,” said Miller. “It’s about ideas. With the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission Award I can take time to really dig into all that a digital artist can be.”

The Internet Archive and its partners will host music and technology workshops, and premiere the work at the Internet Archive Great Room. A downloadable album with music videos and a livestream of the premiere will be hosted by Internet Archive.

Kronos Quartet “At War With Ourselves” – Lead artist Terence Blanchard, in collaboration with artist Nikky Finney, Youth Speaks, San Francisco Girls Chorus, 826 Valencia, and Sunset Youth Services. This evening-length work by Grammy-winning jazz artist Terence Blanchard explores race relations. Blanchard will collaborate with poet Nikky Finney for the sung/spoken word libretto that explores race relations, social justice, civil rights, and resistance movements, layering musical elements to produce a rich, complex work in keeping with the gravity of the subject matter. David Harrington, artistic director, founder, and violinist of Kronos Quartet, said of the new work, “Increasingly I feel my role as an artist is to point in constructive musical and cultural directions as we attempt to help repair the torn fabric of our society.” Kronos Quartet will host a series of workshops with community partners to ensure that the perspective and music of youth is integrated into the work. The piece will premiere in 2020, on the West Coast at SF Jazz and on the East Coast at the University of South Carolina.

Mills College “Indra’s Net” – Lead artist Meredith Monk, in collaboration with the Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble, chamber musicians from San Francisco Symphony, and The House Foundation for the Arts. Award-winning musician Meredith Monk is creating an immersive performance piece inspired by “Indra’s net,” a metaphor used to illustrate the concepts of Śūnyatā (emptiness) and pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination) in Buddhist philosophy. Instrumentalists and members of Monk’s acclaimed Vocal Ensemble will be dispersed throughout the theater, like the vertexes of Indra’s Net, while the audience moves independently around them. The local community will be invited to participate in open rehearsals, workshops, lectures on composition technique for students, and public dialogues throughout the Bay Area. The work will premiere in the newly renovated Lisser Hall at Mills College in Fall 2019. Future touring may include New York, Miami, and Minneapolis.

Music at Kohl Mansion “Violins of Hope Bay Area Project” – Lead artist Jake Heggie, in collaboration with artist Gene Scheer and Violins of Hope Israel. Guggenheim Fellow Jake Heggie will collaborate with librettist Gene Scheer to create a chamber work for the West Coast premiere appearance of the Violins of Hope (VOH), at the Kohl Mansion in Burlingame, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. VOH are a set of more than 60 instruments that were originally played by prisoners in WWII concentration camps and ghettos. They’ve been restored and maintained for the past 20 years by Israeli violin-makers. “This is easily one of the most challenging projects of my career and I have no doubt it will be one of the most rewarding,” said Heggie. “It will certainly push me creatively to find a deeper level of expression in my work.” The premiere will include community conversations exploring historical, religious, and social justice issues. The piece will also be recorded at Skywalker Sound for a release in late 2020.

Opera Parallèle “Today it Rains” – Lead artist Laura Kaminsky, in collaboration with artists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, American Opera Projects, UC Santa Cruz, Kuumbwa Jazz, and Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. “Today it Rains” is a chamber opera composed by Laura Kaminsky based on an event in the life of artist Georgia O’Keeffe as she left her marriage to move to Santa Fe and pursue her art. The 80-minute piece will be performed by a cast of eight singers and an instrumental ensemble of 11, along with a sophisticated projection design by Reed that explores O’Keeffe’s inner life. “With ‘Today it Rains,’ we are using an event in the life of iconic American artist Georgia O’Keeffe as the point of departure to reflect on several universal issues: the human need for self-expression and the struggle for creative freedom; imbalance of power in relationships; the desire to seek — and make — beauty; the fragility and fierceness both of the natural environment; and more,” said Kaminsky. The piece will be presented in workshop in May 2018, in addition to in-depth music workshops, art-making, and panel discussions in local communities. Opera Parallèle will partner with American Opera Projects to premiere the work at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in March 2019.

Peralta Hacienda “MU巫: 9 Goddesses” – Lead artist Dohee Lee, in collaboration with artist Donald Swearingen, Bay Area Bhutanese Youth, and CoRazOn. This 90-minute musical composition, in which ancestral traditions are transmitted through singing and drumming, will be accompanied by a 3-D motion-tracking, wearable sound-controller system. Inspired by the traditional Korean shamanic healing ritual, Dohee Lee will transform into goddess characters from Korean mythology. The electronic soundscape will be manipulated by Donald Swearingen, enabling Dohee’s body to become a musical instrument during the performance. Holly Alonso, the executive director of Peralta Hacienda, sees the work as critical to engaging the communities surrounding the historical park. “Diversity is a challenge because often people keep to themselves, preferring the comfort of their own families and cultures, even though they feel isolated,” she said. “Immigrants may be unsure of the ways of other cultures, and the dominant culture. Music and performance will bridge these gaps, helping people to understand each other through shared spectacle and through Dohee’s method of creating the work with the community itself.” The contemporary work will be presented in July 2020 at Peralta Hacienda in Oakland with subsequent performances in the Bay Area and around the world.

SFJAZZ “Golden City Suite” – Lead artist Miguel Zenón, in collaboration with multiple jazz musicans, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, and Acción Latina. Multiple Grammy nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón will create a jazz composition for a large ensemble. In partnership with organizations deeply rooted in the history and cultures that created San Francisco, Zenón will conduct interviews as the source material for Golden City Suite, an hour-long work scored for 15 to 20 musicians. “Jazz is a constantly evolving tradition that is endlessly in dialogue with the community that creates, attends, and responds to the music,” said Randall Kline, founder and artistic director of SFJAZZ. “The concerns of that community are necessarily present in the music and how it develops and changes over time.” SFJAZZ and Zenón will seek to include a multitude of populations that have impacted the development of San Francisco, including the Ohlone, Spanish, Mexican, French, Russian, Japanese, African American, Italian, Irish, Chinese, and Filipino communities – and explore the vital role that immigrant communities play in the Bay Area. The work will premiere at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco in May 2020. The project will also be documented for a film.

While the 2017 commissions support music composition, 2018 will focus on theater, spoken word, and musical theater; 2019 will focus on dance and multi-discipline performance art; 2020 will focus on folk and traditional arts; and 2021 will focus on film and media.

For more information about the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, please visit For information about the 2018 grant application process, please visit

About the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that advances ideas and supports institutions to promote a better world.

For more than 50 years, the foundation has supported efforts to advance education for all, preserve the environment, improve lives and livelihoods in developing countries, promote the health and economic well-being of women, support vibrant performing arts, strengthen Bay Area communities, and make the philanthropy sector more effective.

The foundation’s Performing Arts Program makes grants to sustain artistic expression and encourage public engagement in the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area, to give California students equal access to an education rich in the arts, and to provide necessary resources to help organizations and artists be effective in their work.