Laura Schwendinger, composer

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

Hearing the San Fransisco Symphony play the Rite of Spring when I was young. My father would also wake us up with loud classical music on weekends and I loved it. From there flute lessons at 7, composing by 10. Then my youth orchestra conductor in Berkeley programmed a work of mine, she was wonderful.

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

My dissertation advisor Andrew Imbrie, he was a brilliant composer and a first rate teacher.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Achieving a certain level of success and not breaking the major orchestral barrier. And knowing that even though I have won major awards and had important commissions and premieres, that some of my colleagues would treat me differently if I were a man.

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

The excitement of knowing that with a decent commission usually comes an engaged premiere. Collaborating with musicians who are interested in making something new “with” you.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

It’s always a pleasure working with musicians who are committed to your work, and to bringing new music to life.

Of which works are you most proud?

My High Wire Act has been performed by nearly 50 groups, so that makes me proud. I very much like my cello and violin concertos, as well as my last Koussevitzky commission, Artist’s Muse written for the Chameleon Arts Ensemble.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Passionate, dramatic, romantic, colorful, lyrical.

How do you work?

At the piano, on paper to start with, sometimes with flute in hand.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Henri Dutilleux, György Ligeti, Melinda Wagner, Andrew Imbrie, Dawn Upshaw, Matt Haimvitz, Julian Wachner, (the last four, I’ve had the pleasure to work with!)

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Making music you want to make, and getting to hear it played. Knowing some people are moved by it is nice to.

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

Do what you want to do, prepare yourself by studying hard, and learning the music that came before you.

The first composer to win the American Academy in Berlin Prize, Laura Schwendinger is a Professor of Composition at UW Madison. Her music, performed by leading artists of our day, Dawn Upshaw (on tour 1997-2013; TDK/Naxos DVD), Arditti& JACK Quartets, Jennifer Koh, Janine Jansen, Miranda Cuckson, Matt Haimovitz, ICE, Eighth Blackbird, New Juilliard Ensemble, Collage, StonyBrook Premiere, Boston Musica Viva, Aspen Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, Trinity Choir NOVUS, American Composers Orchestra and Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, and at Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln-Center, Times Center, Symphony Space, BargeMusic, Corcoran Gallery, Institute of Advanced Study-Princeton and Tanglewood, Aspen and Ojai Music Festivals; and at the National Arts Centre Canada, Théâtre Châtelet, Wigmore Hall, and Berlin Philharmonic, and was an American League of Orchestras Composer-in-residence with the Richmond Symphony in 2016. Her honors include a Guggenheim, Koussevitzky (2), Fromm, Radcliffe Institute, Copland House, Harvard Musical Association, Chamber Music America, League of American Orchestras, New Music USA, two American Academy of Arts and Letters awards (a Goddard Leiberson Fellowship for “mid-career composer of exceptional gifts” and Ives scholarship), First-prize ALEA III, MacDowell (9), Yaddo (7), Tyrone Guthrie Center(5), Bogliasco and Rockefeller Bellagio Centers. Premieres include a Miller Theater commission, ACO UnSafe Commission, Sounding Beckett (Off-Broadway, Classic Stage Co.), and a National Opera Center Discovery award for her opera Artemisia, which will be produced in NY and SF in 2019.
Her reviews include..“Evok(ing) a sense of serene mystery and infinite beauty”, “evincing an acute sonic imagination and sure command of craft.”, “darkly attractive, artful and moving…” “talent to burn…ballsy, confident music-making in both writing and execution…proves that serious contemporary music does not have to dumb down to be immediately accessible and emotional”,“…her music has at its core her own impressive point of view… … displays an acute ear for engaging melodic contours and evocative settings”, “not a single moment in her works sounds contrived, formulaic, or artificial…intensely and strongly “alive”, “This was shrewd composing, the genuine article. Onto the ”season’s best” list it goes.” The NY Times Playlist review of her High Wire Acts, “The works grouped together on this captivating disc… she sketches musical short stories of somnambulant fragility and purpose.”

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