Douglas J Cuomo, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I started out as a jazz guitarist, but always was drawn to composing and quickly switched my focus and ambition in that direction.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My biggest influences actually were dramatic as much as musical. I did a lot of sound design and composing incidental music for theatre as well as music for television and film. Early on I realized that for me, music is drama.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I enjoy working on music for specific performers or groups — I literally imagine them playing the music as I write it. Plus of course knowing there will a performance coming up!

Of which works are you most proud?

I think that my first big piece, my chamber opera/oratoria Arjuna’s Dilemma is in many ways my favorite. I had no real idea of what I was doing, but I know what I wanted to say. It was just performed in Kathmandu this past summer — the first western opera ever in Nepal!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Dramatic, even if there’s not story or text.

How do you work?

I work with as open a mind as I can. And with joy.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Too many to say

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Of my work — ‘Arjuna’s Dilemma’, performed outdoors in the courtyard of a temple in Patan Durbar Square, which is a World Heritage Site. Of someone else’s work — seeing Alvin Lucier perform ‘I Am Sitting In a Room’ live when I was in college. It expanded my mind beyond what I could have imaged, letting me know that the boundaries that I thought existed in music (and art) actually did not exist.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Always be engaged in finding out who you are, and letting that speak in your music above all else. Don’t hold back.


‘Bach to the Future’, 8 November 2016, Stratford Arts House – Orchestra of the Swan premieres Douglas Cuomo’s Concertante for Flute, Oboe, Trumpet & Violin, composed to mark the orchestra’s 21st Anniversary season and as a companion piece to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no 2. Further information and tickets

The concert is repeated at Birmingham Town Hall on Wednesday 9 November. Further information

“I’ve written a piece for Orchestra of the Swan before, ‘Black Diamond Express Train to Hell’ , which was a double concerto for cello and sampler.  This one uses the identical instrumentation to the Bach (soloists are flute, oboe, trumpet and violin, plus a turn for the harpsichord), and takes its main themes, formal construction (even down to the number of bars in each movement) and it’s overall attitude from there as well.  By trying to channel Bach in this way I’m learning a huge amount as I write this piece.” Douglas Cuomo


Douglas J. Cuomo has composed highly acclaimed and original music for concert and theatrical stages, television, and film. His music, with influences from jazz, world music, classical, and popular sources, is as personal, distinctive, and recognizable as it is wide-ranging. His compositions range from well-known television themes — for Sex and the City and Now with Bill Moyers, among others — to evening-length works for theater, including the operas Doubt and Arjuna’s Dilemma.

Cuomo’s expressive musical language, with its arresting juxtapositions of sound and style, is a natural outgrowth of his eclectic background and training. Born in Tucson, Arizona, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and Amherst, Massachusetts, Cuomo began playing the trumpet in grade school and switched to guitar at the age of 12. While still in high school he studied with jazz greats Max Roach and Archie Shepp at the University of Massachusetts.

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