Investing in the musical life and legacy of Philadelphia

The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia celebrates its Bicentennial at the Kimmel Center

February 13, 2020

PHILADELPHIA, PA — The Musical Fund Society will celebrate its 200th  anniversary in 2020 by doing what it does best: supporting the creation and dissemination of important music by eminent artists.  The Society is commissioning four new works by significant American composers and presenting their world premieres with leading Philadelphia ensembles. 

The Society’s Edwin G. McCollin Fund competition selected four nationally recognized composers, each commissioned to write a new chamber work based in some way on the rich history of Philadelphia, for one of four participating performing organizations: the 20/21 Ensemble from the Curtis Institute of Music, Network for New Music Ensemble, the Rolston String Quartet from Astral Artists, and Prism Quartet. 

Fifty applications were submitted anonymously by nationally known American composers and were reviewed by a panel of Philadelphia-area musicians, composers, and arts administrators. 

The winning composers are: 

  • Roberto Sierra: Graffiti II w/ Prism Quartet
  • Tania León: Wheat in the Fields, un ciclo de canciones (a song cycle),  w/ Curtis 20/21 Ensemble and mezzo-soprano Sarah Fleiss
  • Augusta Read Thomas: Magic Gardens w/ Rolston String Quartet (Astral Artists) 
  • Stephen Jaffe: Three Arcs (Chamber Concerto #5) for Strings, Harp, & Guitar w/ Network for New Music Ensemble, Pennsylvania Girlchoir

This once-in-a-lifetime performance, presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, will take place on April 26, 2020 at 3 PM, Perelman Theater, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.  

The concert goes hand-in-hand with a special year-long exhibit of historic Musical Fund Society memorabilia—including the manuscript of the Bartok third string quartet and a lock of hair from Niccolo Paganini—at the Kislak Center in the University of Pennsylvania Library, and a display of Musical Fund Society-related manuscripts at the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of The Free Library of Philadelphia. There also are plans for a bicentennial program book. 

These exciting events will celebrate music in Philadelphia, from the Society’s inception in 1820 through the present time. The bicentennial celebration will call attention to the Society’s unique role in promoting, supporting and encouraging this rich musical legacy by providing vital opportunities to deserving composers, outstanding performing artists, and regional audiences.

“I am very excited about the Musical Fund Society’s upcoming Bicentennial celebration, especially the April 2020 concert featuring new chamber works by some of America’s finest living composers,” said Linda Reichert, President of the Musical Fund Society. “The Society and its activities have quietly thrived under the radar in Philadelphia for many years. These Bicentennial events—presented in partnership with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, The Free Library of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania Library archives, and the four excellent participating Philadelphia music ensembles—will spotlight the important activities of our organization, and connect Philadelphia audiences with the rich musical life of past and present Philadelphia.”  

Tania León’s new work for Curtis 20/21 Ensemble will celebrate the Musical Fund Society’s long-lasting and unwavering support of people from all heritages who have helped build Philadelphia’s music scene, and the Society’s ability to embrace the sounds of each generation, foreseeing what might be relevant for future ones and supporting innovators who later became music icons.

“Nowadays, society is more mindful of the contributions composers and musicians have made to the history of humanity,” León said.

Stephen Jaffe is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to write for the Network for New Music Ensemble and Philadelphia’s musical fabric, and for the chance to be part of a group of composers chosen to celebrate the McCollin Fund’s anniversary of enriching Philadelphia’s musical life, being mindful of the deep imprint the vital musical and artistic life of the region has made on him.

“As I soak up ideas and ambience, let them ferment, and aim to produce something previously unheard, new, beautiful and curious, I celebrate the city and the region for the plentifulness that contains the seeds of effervescence,” Jaffe said.

Roberto Sierra will write a work for Prism Quartet inspired by the urban street as a sequel to his work Graffiti, written in 2017. He said Philadelphia, like all major American cities, has great street art.

“I am always honored when an institution or an individual is interested in a new work from me,” Sierra said. “This project in particular is special because it was a competition by invitation, and also because the pieces were judged blind.”

For Augusta Read Thomas’s work for Astral’s Rolston String Quartet, she is picking up on Philadelphia’s history of inclusion, innovation, communication, industry, healthcare for the world’s family, fertile fields and the love that binds us all together. 

“The reason I compose music is to express gratitude,” she said. “The music will flow like the arc of the rivers that define this great city. From planting seeds through to harvesting the fruit of mind and labor embodied in the freedom and the spirit of Philadelphia, thanks is given for our mutual celebration of the human experiences of justice, love and joy, health and knowledge, beauty and insight into the nature of being.”


Tickets are on sale now ($20/ticket) and available from Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Purchase online or call the Box Office at 215-569-8080.


Access photos of the four composers here.


Musical Fund Society Bicentennial: New Commissions from Tania León, Stephen Jaffe, Roberto Sierra, and Augusta Read Thomas was supported by New Music USA. To follow the project as it unfolds, visit the project page