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Potluck: Composer of the Year

Sioux City

The Sound of New Music

Compiled by Carol Bodensteiner
and Mary Gottschalk

“Promoting new American music is a passion for me,” says Ryan Haskins, conductor of the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra and the inspiration behind the orchestra’s innovative Composer of the Year award, which is now in its second year. “I want Iowans to be able to share that passion.”

Haskins expects each of the award winners, selected by a panel that includes him as well as experts in composition and music theory, to spend at least a week in Sioux City. Some of that time is devoted to orchestra rehearsals. But the concert performance is only one dimension of Haskins’ effort to introduce new musical talent to a wider audience “in a careful way.”

“The winners,” says Haskins, “have to be more than just good composers. I want them to be able to talk easily about their music to many different groups — to students and residents of our retirement communities as well as to the preconcert audience. I want our audiences to hear the composer’s voice, learn the story behind the music, understand what the composer was trying to do.”

Haskins’ first experience with showcasing new music came while he was studying at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. As the conductor of a 50-person volunteer orchestra, he premiered one of the early works of a fellow student, Clint Needham.

“It was a thrilling experience,” recalls Haskins. “And it still gives me joy to be the first to hear a full performance of a wonderful new work.” 

This year’s winner, Roger Zare, will perform with the symphony on November 17. Visit for more information. Buy concert tickets online at or call 712-277-2111. — M.G.

Photo of Ryan Haskins courtesy G.R. Lindblade & Co./Sioux City, Iowa.



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