Most new music festivals hosted by colleges and universities follow (roughly) this format. A call for scores is issued, usually listing an "honored guest composer" and/or a featured guest ensemble. A committee sorts through the scores sent in by composers and builds a program. The styles represented will most likely reflect the biases of the committee members (this can be avoided, but that's for another post), and composers will self-deselect if those biases are well-known.
The pieces chosen by the selection committe are then parceled out to faculty and student performers for preparation. At a festival at a major school, there can be as many as eight concerts in as few as three days. In situations like this, the performers feel harried and put-upon, and it shows in their performances. The audience can't pay attention the way they normally would; it's just too much in too little time. The composers are not well-served, either, because they may not get quite the performance they thought they would, and they find it difficult to make connections with like-minded composers because the music is so hard to hear, because of the forced-march schedule.
The organizers of this year's New Music Festival at Western Illinois University, located in Macomb, took a different approach to festival programming. In the past (this was WIU's 24th annual Festival), the Festival was programmed with a Call and a guest composer. One crucial difference is that it was much smaller, with three concerts in two days, so fatigue was not an issue. This year, however, each WIU faculty composer (James Caldwell, Paul Paccione, and James Romig) invited a colleague (Benjamin Broening, Jeff Herriott, and myself) to attend.
In addition to having at least one piece performed on each of two evening concerts, each visiting composer gave a talk on his music to expnaded classes. Finally, an afternoon concert of student compositions was followed by a discussion of these pieces amongst all of the composers. I found the format of the Festival to be extremely interesting, as I got to hear two works by composers whose music was new to me or whose music I had not heard in concert before. Two pieces instead of one was definitely multiplication instead of addition.
I must also comment on the very high level of performances, by both faculty and WIU students. My pieces (premieres of The River Flowing Through Me [Istvan Szabό, viola], American Song [John Mindeman, trombone], and Night Music [Michael Ericson, oboe]) were given fiercely committed, sympathetic, and expressive performances. I really don't know how they could have been better.
This was a very valuable experience for me, and I urge festival organizers around the musical world to consider the WIU model for their events.