First Symphony Project

Four Composers Commissioned to Write Their First Symphonies to be Premiered Over Four Years

First Symphony composers: Michael Djupstrom, Gabriella Smith, Angélica Negrón, Matt Browne

Santa Rosa Symphony (SRS), in partnership with Eugene Symphony, launched the First Symphony Project in the fall of 2019. Four acclaimed American composers have been co-commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony, Eugene Symphony and nine patron households including Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, to write their first symphony, to be premiered and given second performances between the two symphony orchestras over the next five years.

Increasing the scope of the project, the orchestra performing the world premiere will also perform a shorter work by that composer earlier in the same season. Additionally, each of the composers will be Composer-in-Residence for both performance weeks, participating in community outreach activities.

SRS Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, who is also Music Director of the Eugene Symphony, proposed this unique project to shift the commissioning paradigm to a collaborative and interactive process between the commissioners, performers, composers, and their communities. Lecce-Chong selected American composers whom he knows to be open to collaboration and feedback during the composition process.

“Our art form relies on the creative vision of today’s composers,” says Lecce-Chong. “In the large-scale form of a symphony, these composers will be able to create a musical world that is both deeply personal and powerfully universal. Just as importantly, the multiple residencies will allow us to not only celebrate these new creations, but bring us closer to their creators.”

Commissioned composers and season of their first symphony world premiere:

2019-2020 | Matt Browne
2021-2022 | Gabriella Smith
2022-2023 | Angélica Negrón
2023-2024 | Michael Djupstrom

Lecce-Chong wanted the commissioning support to be locally based to strengthen community engagement during the compositional process. Moreover, his commitment to this project extends to his being one of the nine donors, unusual for a music director. Thus, four local patrons of the Santa Rosa Symphony and four from the Eugene Symphony, as well as Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, provide support for this project. All nine donors will be listed on the music scores as co-commissioners. Santa Rosa Symphony patron donors are Emeritus Board Members: Nancy and David Berto, Chuck and Ellen Wear, Creighton White and current board member Gordon Blumenfeld.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to be patrons, to support Francesco and the four composers by investing in these new major works. We look forward to hearing these commissioned pieces played by our symphony,” commented donors Chuck and Ellen Wear.

First Symphony Project Commissioners:

Nancy and David Berto (Santa Rosa Symphony)
Elaine Bernat and Roger Saydack (Eugene Symphony)
Gordon Blumenfeld (Santa Rosa Symphony)
Jack and Dondeana Brinkman (Eugene Symphony)
Elaine Twigg Cornett and Zane Cornett (Eugene Symphony)
Donald Gudehus and Gloria Page (Eugene Symphony)
Chloe Tula and Francesco Lecce-Chong
Ellen and Chuck Wear (Santa Rosa Symphony)
Creighton White, In Loving Memory of Dorothy (Santa Rosa Symphony)

Meet the Composers


Santa Rosa Symphony Premiere | February 2020


New York-based composer Matt Browne (b. 1988) strives to create music that meets Sergei Diaghilev’s famous challenge to Jean Cocteau: Astonish me!, through incorporating such eclectic influences as the timbral imagination and playfulness of György Ligeti, the shocking and humorous eclecticism of Alfred Schnittke, and the relentless rhythmic energy of Igor Stravinsky.  His music has been praised for its “unbridled humor” (New Music Box) and described as “witty” (The Strad) and “beautifully crafted and considered” (What’s On London).
Matthew has had the privilege to collaborate with such ensembles as the Minnesota Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, Albany Symphony, Harold Rosenbaum and the New York Virtuoso Singers, New Jersey Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, the New England Philharmonic, the Villiers Quartet, the Donald Sinta Quartet, the Tesla Quartet, the PUBLIQuartet, and SEVEN)SUNS.
Recently, Matthew’s music has received honors such as winner of the ASCAP Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize (2017), an ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers award (2014), a BMI Student Composer award (2015), a residency at the Mizzou International Composers Festival, fellow at CULTIVATE Copland House (2017), winner of the New England Philharmonic Call for Scores (2014), a residency at the Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute (2016), winner of the American Viola Society’s Maurice Gardner Composition award (2014), and a residency at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s First Annual Composers Institute (2013). Matthew holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Music Composition from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and a Bachelor of Music from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Previous teachers include Michael Daugherty, Kristin Kuster, Carter Pann, and Daniel Kellogg.

Artist Statement

I’m so excited to get this opportunity to work with the Eugene and Santa Rosa Symphonies, and to get another chance to work with the wonderful Francesco Lecce-Chong. It is a dream of mine, as well as for so many composers, to write large-scale works for orchestra that tell bigger and broader stories. Several years ago at the New York Historical Society I discovered a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole called The Course of Empire that depicts the same beautiful landscape throughout the rise and fall of a great empire. The stories told in the five paintings range from grandiose all the way down to the tender, and to me provides fertile ground for the creation of a large orchestral work. One of my favorite orchestral composers, Gustav Mahler, made use of the orchestra in every way imaginable, from elongated chamber music sections to massive walls of sound. This is the kind of versatility and opportunity I am excited to exploit in the creation of this work. In addition, I am also very thrilled to have the opportunity to be present in the Eugene and Santa Rosa communities throughout the creative process. So often us composers are shut up in our studios writing music, only to send it off with minimal contact. It is refreshing and so important for us composers to be present and available throughout the process, not only to the musicians but also to the community as a whole.


An Introduction to Matt Browne
His Inspiration
His Creative Process
In the Ruins


Santa Rosa Symphony Premiere | January 2022


Gabriella Smith is a composer from the San Francisco Bay Area whose music is described as “high-voltage and wildly imaginative” (Philadelphia Inquirer), “bold, original and suggests exciting new directions for American music” (Giancarlo Guerrero), and “You really get the Pacific Ocean, man!” (Cabrillo Festival audience member). Her music has been performed throughout the U.S. and internationally by eighth blackbird, Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Nashville Symphony, PRISM Quartet, Aizuri Quartet, and yMusic, among others. This season’s highlights include the world premiere of a new work for Roomful of Teeth and Dover Quartet at Bravo! Vail Music Festival, and performances of Tumblebird Contrails by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in January 2019, conducted by John Adams.
During the 2016-17 season, Gabriella was the Nashville Symphony’s inaugural Composer Lab & Workshop Fellow. Other recent residencies include two months as an artist fellow at Instituto Sacatar on the island of Itaparica in Bahia, Brazil and a Copland House Residency at Aaron Copland’s home in Cortlandt Manor, New York.
She has received commissions from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition for a new work for yMusic, the People’s Commissioning Fund for Bang on a Can’s Field Recordings project, the Pacific Harmony Foundation for the 2014 Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the New York Youth Symphony as part of their First Music program, Tucson Symphony, yMusic, the Barnes Foundation for the opening of their 2015 exhibition Order of Things, Friction Quartet, One Book One Philadelphia in celebration of their 2012 book selection Create Dangerously by Edwidge Danticat, Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival for their 2012 season opening concert, Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble for their 9th Annual Young Composers Concert, the Rock School of Ballet in Philadelphia, and Monadnock Music in collaboration with poet Marcia Falk, among others.
Gabriella is a recipient of a BMI Student Composer Award (2018), the ASCAP Leo Kaplan Award (2014), three ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, a winner of the American Modern Ensemble Ninth Annual Composition Competition (2015), the Theodore Presser Foundation Music Award (2012), and the First Place Prize in the 2009 Pacific Musical Society Composition Competition.
She is currently a doctoral candidate at Princeton University, where she has studied with Steve Mackey, Paul Lansky, Dan Trueman, Dmitri Tymoczko, Donnacha Dennehey, and Ju Ri Seo. She received her Bachelors of Music in composition from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with David Ludwig, Jennifer Higdon, and Richard Danielpour. After graduating, she returned to the Curtis Institute of Music as an ArtistYear Fellow for the 2015-16 season, dedicating a citizen-artist year of national service in the Philadelphia region.
When not composing, she can be found backpacking (playing trail songs on her ukulele along the way), birding, playing capoeira, and recording underwater soundscapes with her hydrophone.

Artist Statement

When Francesco proposed this project to me, I was immediately thrilled by it for two reasons in particular: First of all, I’m really looking forward to working with the Eugene and Santa Rosa Symphonies, especially since I am from the West Coast. It will also be fantastic to work with Francesco again. He conducted two of my orchestral works when we were students at Curtis together, and I was struck by the attention, care, and understanding that he put into the music. Another reason this project is so exciting to me is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to write an orchestral work of this scope. I have always been attracted to long, continuously developing musical arcs, and a work of this scope will give me the opportunity to develop this sense of trajectory and evolution to a much fuller extent than I have ever been able to in the past.


Santa Rosa Symphony Premiere | March 2023


Puerto Rican-born composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón writes music for accordions, robotic instruments, toys, and electronics as well as for chamber ensembles, orchestras, choir, and film. Her music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR/Q2) while The New York Times noted her “capacity to surprise.” Negrón has been commissioned by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Kronos Quartet, loadbang, MATA Festival, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Sō Percussion, the American Composers Orchestra, and the New York Botanical Garden, among others. She has composed numerous film scores, including Landfall (2020) and Memories of a Penitent Heart (2016), in collaboration with filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo. She was the recipient of the 2022 Hermitage Greenfield Prize. Upcoming premieres include works for the Seattle Symphony, LA Philharmonic, NY Philharmonic Project 19 initiative and multiple performances at Big Ears Festival 2022. Negrón continues to perform and compose for film.

Artist Statement

I’m extremely honored and excited to be a part of the First Symphony Project. Undertaking such a large scale work is a stimulating challenge as well as a creative opportunity to take risks and explore what it means to write a symphony in the 21st century. With my new piece I’m hoping to reimagine this tradition considering the orchestra as an ever evolving and expanding sonic palette with infinite possibilities. I’m interested in submerging myself in this long form to discover new sonic spaces that make room for fresh perspectives that reflect what it means to be a composer in today’s complicated landscape.

Meet Angélica Negrón


Santa Rosa Symphony Premiere | March 2024


Composer and pianist Michael Djupstrom’s work captured first prizes in the international composition competitions of the UK’s Delius Society, the American Viola Society, the Chinese Fine Arts Society, and has received awards from institutions including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, MacDowell, and the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, among many others. In recent years, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and Arizona Friends of Chamber Music are among the many institutions that have awarded him commissions for new works. His music has been presented and broadcast across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia and has been released on numerous commercial recordings.

As a pianist, Djupstrom’s passion for chamber music has led to concerts for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the British Library, Brooklyn Art Song Society, Hong Kong’s “Intimacy of Creativity” festival, Music From Angel Fire, Tanglewood, and many other presenters worldwide. In recent seasons, his special interest in Romanian classical music led to performances at the George Enescu Festival of McGill University, a recital highlighting contemporary Romanian and American works at the annual Meridian Festival in Bucharest, and to advanced Romanian language study with the assistance of a Romanian government scholarship. A 2020 grant from the S&R Evermay Foundation helped share this excitement for Romanian music through the creation of a chamber music series in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Djupstrom teaches chamber music at the University of Pennsylvania and maintains a private composition and piano studio. Previously, he taught composition at the Curtis Institute of Music, theory and orchestration for Boston University, ear training for the University of Michigan, and piano at Settlement Music School. Djupstrom received degrees from the University of Michigan and the Curtis Institute of Music. He pursued additional studies in Paris with Betsy Jolas, whom he later worked for as musical assistant.

Artist Statement

It was orchestral music that first really sparked my interest in classical music.  When I was a teenager, an uncle visiting from abroad stayed with my family for a few weeks, and because classical recordings were much more expensive where he lived, he stocked up on CDs while in town. He never played them at our house, though, and I became extremely curious to know what the music sounded like. One day, when he was out with my parents, I broke into his bedroom (actually my room) and spent the entire afternoon devouring Ravel, Stravinsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Although I had played the piano since I was a young child, that day permanently changed my relationship with classical music.

I am still in love with orchestral music today. I have written for several works for the medium, but I have never had the chance to compose something large-scale. These opportunities are extremely rare today, and I’m very excited to take part in this project.