By Susan Meister
President Emeritus and currently Artistic and Education Director of Chamber Music Monterey Bay (CMMB), Amy Anderson has been a cellist since the age of nine. A music major at UC Berkeley, she is also a scientist with a PhD in biology, a field that still engages her interest. But it is chamber music that has always spoken to her and, in 1996, when she joined the board of CMMB—then called Chamber Music Society of the Monterey Peninsula—she returned to it as her central focus. The organization has been a major force in bringing outstanding chamber music ensembles to the Monterey Peninsula, and, via its education program, nationally acclaimed musicians to work closely with area students.
In all of this, Amy Anderson has partnered with fellow musicians from all over the greater San Francisco Bay area. As CMMB’s artistic director she has focused on bringing in international recognized ensembles who share the mission of preserving the European-based tradition of chamber music composed over the last four centuries. Like Anderson, they also recognize the importance of showcasing contemporary compositions, heard in many cases for the first time as fresh commissions by CMMB. (On at least two occasions, she has arranged for world-class string quartets to conduct master classes with Youth Music Monterey student musicians.)
A new commissioning program was the result of what Amy describes as a “life changing” experience that occurred in 2002. On a visit to New York City for a professional meeting she went to the Guggenheim Museum where a video installation was on display. “It was something I ordinarily would not seek out,” she said, “but it was so cold outside I decided to stay and see it.” The work, called “Going Forth by Day,” by California artist Bill Viola, is a five-part depiction of the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth, displayed on a huge screen. It struck Amy as momentous and, five years later, she and CMMB invited four American composers to write original works interpreting their impressions of Viola’s work.
In 2007, she took the first step. With her own financial support, CMMB engaged composer Kevin Puts to write a piece—to be played by the Miró Quartet—in honor of her father who had recently died. (The commission was co-supported by Lowel Figen in memory of his late wife, Janie.) The work, Credo, was so well received that the Miró Quartet has since incorporated it into their repertory and has also recorded it.
Based on Viola’s work, and with the support of outside donors, CMMB created the “Arc of Life” project that is a central part of their activities. Composers Kevin Puts, George Tsontakis, Joan Tower and Christopher Theofanidis signed onto the project. (Just by chance, Theofanidis, who had already been commissioned, saw the Viola show in Paris and became more personally affected by it.) Three of the four pieces have been premiered at the Sunset Center. The Theofanidis work will debut on April 10th, to be preceded by a public interview with the composer.
The commissioning process will continue with CMMB’s decision to join with other organizations to commissioni new works. “It’s very important for every artistic discipline, whether music, dance, or fine art, to reflect our current world,” says Anderson, “and we are fortunate in having audiences who want to explore the new.” To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016, CMMB will present another new commission.
Given her broad range of responsibilities at CMMB, Amy Anderson has been as much manager and administrator as she is musician, one that, as she says of herself, likes “to work hard at what I am doing and really dig in.” Still, she understands the importance of attracting quality chamber music ensembles to perform in the Monterey Bay area. This involves a lot of networking, which cuts into her cello playing time. But she is as committed, along with her colleagues at CMMB, to enrich the cultural life of the community. She is the first to say that she is lucky to live in a community where she can apply her passion and commitment to music in so many ways.
That includes always being in search of the new. Amy Anderson is a unique inspiration to her fellow musicians and a forceful leader in the artistic vision of CMMB. To appreciate how broad its mission is, and how much has been accomplished in its nearly 50 years of existence, go to their website www.chambermusicmontereybay.org and take in the range and quality of their many accomplishments. And on April 10th, be at Sunset Center to greet yet another new work that is a direct expression of its visionary artistic director.