John Harbison

b. 1938

American

Summary

The 2018-2019 season marks the 80th birthday of composer John Harbison with celebrations throughout the country and around the world. Three major premieres, more than a dozen new recordings, his first book, and performances across the globe mark the occasion. Major citywide celebrations are taking place in Harbison's two hometowns of Boston, MA and Madison, WI.
 
One of America's most distinguished artistic figures, Harbison is recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize. He has composed music for most of America's premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
 
Harbison's concert music catalog is anchored by three operas, seven symphonies, twelve concerti, a ballet, six string quartets, numerous song cycles and chamber works, and a large body of sacred music that includes cantatas, motets, and the orchestral-choral works Four Psalms, Requiem and Abraham. His music is widely recorded on leading prestige labels.
 
First performances in the 2018-2019 season include the monodrama IF (for Boston Musica Viva, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), What Do We Make of Bach? for orchestra and obbligato organ, for a consortium anchored by the Minnesota Orchestra, the Northrop at the University of Minnesota, and the Seattle Symphony, together with a companion volume of essays on Bach, and the Viola Sonata, commissioned by an anonymous admirer with a consortium of first performances by distinguished violists across the country.
 
Recent works include Psalm 116 (Chanticleer), String Quartet No. 6 (Lark, Fromm Players at Tanglewood, and Telegraph Quartet), Presences (cello and string quintet), A Bag of Tales, (codas for piano), The Cross of Snow (in versions for viols with countertenor, and string quartet with mezzo-soprano), The Nine Rasas (clarinet, viola, and piano), and Painting the Floors Blue (for violinist Jennifer Koh).  Harbison's opera The Great Gatsby, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, was recently revived at Semperoper Dresden, after the European premiere there of a new production following performances in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Aspen, Boston, and Tanglewood.
 
Harbison has been composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Academy in Rome, and numerous festivals. He received degrees from Harvard and Princeton before joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is currently Institute Professor. For many summers since 1984 he taught composition at Tanglewood, serving as head of the composition program there from 2005-2015, often also directing its Festival of Contemporary Music. With Rose Mary Harbison, the inspiration for many of his violin works, he has been co-Artistic Director of the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival since its founding in 1989. He continues as principal guest conductor at Emmanuel Music (where for three years he served as Acting Artistic Director). An accomplished jazz pianist, Harbison founded MIT's Vocal Jazz Ensemble in 2010, for which he served as coach and arranger, and he is pianist with the faculty jazz group Strength in Numbers (SIN). In these roles he is adding to his large catalogue of pop-songs and jazz arrangements.
 
Harbison was President of the Copland Fund for fifteen years, and a trustee of the American Academy in Rome. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is a Trustee of the Bogliasco Foundation.
 
His music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers.
 
— October 2018 To be added to the list of recipients of the newsletter 'Harbison Occasions' contact arsnova.artsmanagement@gmail.com.
Critical Acclaim
There is much to admire in Harbison's whirlwind instrumental skill and audacious orchestration, including his writing for brass and winds, and much imaginative writing for an array of percussion.
Chicago Tribune

Biography

Composer John Harbison's concert music catalog of almost 300 works is anchored by three operas, six symphonies, twelve concerti, a ballet, six string quartets, numerous song cycles and chamber works, and a large body of sacred music that includes cantatas, motets, and the orchestral-choral works Four Psalms, Requiem, and Abraham. He also has a substantial body of jazz compositions and arrangements. Harbison has received commissions from most of America's premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. As one of America's most distinguished artistic figures, he is recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize.
 
The 2018-2019 season marked Harbison's 80th birthday with celebrations throughout the country and around the world, including major city-wide celebrations in his two home-towns of Boston, Massachusetts and Madison, Wisconsin. The season included first performances of three major works: the monodrama If (Boston Musica Viva, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), the organ symphony What Do We Make of Bach? (Seattle Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra & Northrup Hall), and the Sonata for Viola and Piano for a consortium of seven violists. Summer festival residencies included Songfest, Tanglewood, Aspen, and Santa Fe. Widely recorded on leading labels, recent CD releases include his String Quartet No. 6 (Lark Quartet, Bridge), Requiem (Nashville Symphony, Naxos), Vocalism (Mary Mackenzie, Albany), and his cadenzas to Beethoven's fourth piano concerto in G major (David Deveau, Steinway). Harbison's first book, What Do We Make of Bach: Portraits, Essays, Notes was published last fall (ARS Nova).
 
First performances in the 2019-20 season include the consortium premiere of If (March 2020, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center) and two new song cycles, In the Early Evening (poems of Louise Glück) and Four Poems for Robin (Gary Snyder) in June 2020 at SongFest, where Harbison has been named Distinguished 2020 Season Composer and will again direct the Bach Cantata Institute. Mark the Date will have its first performance this summer at the Aspen Festival. Harbison's current projects include new choral music, a piece for big band, and works for The People's Symphony and for Earplay.
 
Other recent compositions include Psalm 116 (Chanticleer), Presences (cello and string quintet), A Bag of Tales (codas for piano), The Cross of Snow (viols or string quartet with countertenor or mezzo-soprano), The Nine Rasas (clarinet, viola, and piano), and Painting the Floors Blue (solo violin). Harbison's opera The Great Gatsby, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, was revived at Semperoper Dresden in May 2017, following performances in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Aspen, Boston, and Tanglewood.
 
Harbison has been composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, American Academy in Rome, and numerous festivals. He received degrees from Harvard and Princeton before joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is currently Institute Professor, the highest honor accorded resident faculty. He has taught composition at the Tanglewood Festival since 1984 and served as head of its composition program from 2005 to 2015, including directing its Festival of Contemporary Music. With Rose Mary Harbison, the inspiration for many of his violin works (Violin Concerto, Four Songs of Solitude, Crane Sightings, Violin Sonata No. 2), he has been co-Artistic Director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival since its founding in 1989. He continues as principal guest conductor at Emmanuel Music (where for three years he served as Acting Artistic Director), and is a past music director of Cantata Singers. An accomplished jazz pianist, Harbison founded MITs Vocal Jazz Ensemble in 2010, for which he served as coach and arranger, and he is pianist with the faculty jazz group Strength in Numbers (SIN). He continues to add to his jazz catalog.
 
Harbison has been President of the Copland Fund and a trustee of the American Academy in Rome. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is a Trustee of the Bogliasco Foundation. His music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers.
 
— November 2019

News

Performances

21st August 2020

LOCATION
First Presbyterian Church / Staunton, VA / United States

23rd January 2021

PERFORMERS
Des Moines Symphony
LOCATION
Civic Center of Des Moines, Des Moines, IA, United States

24th January 2021

PERFORMERS
Des Moines Symphony
LOCATION
Civic Center of Des Moines, Des Moines, IA, United States

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