One can question whether programming on this scale and with this focus is the best use of Bates’s time and ability. He certainly has a knack for it, but his creativity has been counterbalanced by a certain amount of (understandable) learning on the job. And the time he pours into his programming work seems like time taken away from his composing — his last new piece for the NSO, “Passage,” was well-intentioned but hardly earth-shattering. Of course, he has managed to fulfill other major new commissions during his residency, including this summer’s new opera at Santa Fe, “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.”
That said, three years is not long enough to take the measure of this kind of work, which is just hitting its stride now that Bates and the center have learned their way around each other. Another two years will give Bates a chance really to show what he’s aiming at — and allow the center more time to figure out whether there are other composers who will fit into this position, as Bates has evolved it, or whether the next holder of the chair will revamp it along his, or her, own lines.