Published: June 26, 2023 By
Jeffrey NytchProfessor of Composition + Entrepreneurship Center for Music Director Jeffrey Nytch.
We tend to think of entrepreneurship solely as a business endeavor, but Professor of Composition Jeffrey Nytch—who directs the CU Boulder College of Music’s Entrepreneurship Center for Music—considers the application of entrepreneurial principles as essential to his creative practice.
“Entrepreneurs create value for a product or service by addressing unmet needs in the marketplace,” says Nytch, recently awarded a MacDowell Fellowship, the preeminent artist residency program in the country. “In the arts, that means understanding the audience you’re trying to reach and creating works that speak to them in meaningful ways. 
“There are boundless opportunities for musicians to bring their art to their communities, and the vast majority of them require some element beyond a performance in a concert hall.”
He adds, “It’s not enough for me to teach our students about building careers for themselves in the arts. I need to model that in my own work and lead by example.” 
Indeed, Nytch has been taking an entrepreneurial approach to his creative work for more than a decade. His first symphony—“Formations,” commissioned by the Geological Society of America and premiered by the Boulder Philharmonic—depicted the geologic history of the Rocky Mountains and was paired with educational activities in the Boulder community. More recently, his multimedia string quartet, “For the Trees,” combined music, sound design, oral histories and projected images to engage audiences on issues of deforestation and climate change. Each performance of “For the Trees” is presented in partnership with local environmental groups and includes a discussion with the audience about how they can get involved.

As a MacDowell Fellow this fall, Nytch will tackle his next project—a concerto for his longtime friend James Rodgers, principal contrabassoonist for the Pittsburgh Symphony. 

“My piece will celebrate the history and legacy of the steel workers and worker organizations who spearheaded the birth of America’s labor movement,” says Nytch. “It’s the human element I’m most interested in—these workers tended to be recent immigrants with little or no formal education, yet they quite literally built 20th-century America. 

“That’s a history that I think is worth remembering today … and Pittsburgh is the place to do it. It’s incredible how much history of the labor movement unfolded there.”

He continues, “The early labor movement was marked by incredible violence, as well as heroism on the part of workers and their families. When I think about them, the phrase ‘gritty nobility’ comes to mind—put another way, ordinary people doing the extraordinary. That’s exactly how I would also describe the tone of the contrabassoon—earthy, sometimes unrefined, but also capable of great lyricism and beauty.”

The lower version of its better-known cousin, the bassoon, the contrabassoon is generally known as a supporting instrument for the bass section of the orchestra. As such, there’s little solo literature for the instrument and only a handful rarely-performed concertos. According to Nytch, “In addition to writing a piece that will tell an important story, it’s my hope that it will be a significant contribution to the woodwind repertoire.” 

Nytch will be on sabbatical leave for the 2023-2024 academic year, during which he’ll advance his entrepreneurial/artistic pursuits, including the MacDowell residency and composing the contrabassoon concerto. 

“This is truly a lifelong dream,” he says of the MacDowell Fellowship. To date, MacDowell Fellows have won 97 Pulitzer Prizes, 868 Guggenheim Fellowships, 117 Rome Prizes, 33 National Book Awards, 31 Tony Awards, 33 MacArthur Fellowships, 15 Grammys, nine Oscars and eight National Medals of the Arts.