Composition Faculty Bios

Dan Visconti

Active as a composer, concert curator, and writer on music, Dan Visconti is updating the role of the classical musician for the 21st century as he creates new projects in collaboration with the community. For his ongoing initiatives to address social issues through music by reimagining the arts as a form of cultural and civic service, Visconti was awarded a 2014 TED Fellowship and delivered a TED talk at the conference’s thirtieth anniversary. 

Visconti’s musical compositions are rooted in the improvisational energy and maverick spirit of rock, folk music, and other vernacular performance traditions—elements that tend to collide in unexpected ways with Visconti’s classical training, resulting in a growing body of work the Plain Dealer describes as “both mature and youthful, bristling with exhilarating musical ideas and a powerfully crafted lyricism.”

Commission credits include works written for the Kronos Quartet, Branford Marsalis, eighth blackbird, Opera Philadelphia, the JACK Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, Da Capo Chamber Players, Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, Silk Road Project percussionist Shane Shanahan, guitarist Jason Vieaux, soprano Lucy Shelton, and many others. His music has been performed at venues including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Los Angeles’s Disney Hall, London’s Barbican Theatre, and Sydney Opera House. He has also held composer residencies including those with the California Symphony, Arkansas Symphony, and Metropolitan Opera.

Visconti’s music has been recognized with the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and awards from the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, Fromm Foundation, Naumburg Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and has recently had speaking engagements at the Clinton School for Public Service, the National Archive, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Visconti currently serves as Director of Artistic Programming at Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble and works with young musicians at the ensemble’s annual Fresh Inc Festival on cultivating musical careers in line with their own unique vision and values. He is also Artistic Advisor at Astral Artists, where he works to develop the next generation of classical music leaders.

Julia Adolphe

Julia Adolphe’s music has been described as “alive with invention” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker), “colorful, mercurial, deftly orchestrated” (Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times) displaying “a remarkable gift for sustaining a compelling musical narrative” (Thomas May, Musical America). Adolphe’s works are performed across the U.S. and abroad by renowned orchestras and ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, the Eastern Festival Orchestra, James Conlon and the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, the Bravo! Vail Music Festival, soprano Hila Plitmann, pianist Gloria Cheng, and Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, among others.

 Her awards include a 2017 ASCAP Young Composer Award, a 2016 Lincoln Center Emerging Artists Award, a 2016 OPERA America Discovery Grant, and a 2015 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Adolphe is a native New Yorker living in Los Angeles.

Current commissions include an orchestral work for the LA Philharmonic’s centennial season, choral works for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Peninsula Women’s Chorus, and a comic opera entitled A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears based on the novel by Jules Feiffer with a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann. Adolphe’s 2017 orchestral work, White Stone, premiered by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, follows on the heels of the NY Philharmonic’s 2016 premiere of Unearth, Release, Adolphe’s viola concerto composed for Cynthia Phelps, and Dark Sand, Sifting Light, featured during the 2014 NY PHIL BIENNIAL. Conducted by Jaap Van Zweden, Unearth, Release was called “a significant new work…a poetically haunting meditation” (Musical America) concluding with “a bold choice…[where] the viola floats mystical lines above the tremulous, shimmering orchestra” (The New York Times).

Adolphe’s chamber opera, SYLVIA, received its concert premiere at New York City’s Bargemusic in March 2013 in a set of performances produced by the composer herself. Based on her original story and libretto, Adolphe composed and produced a workshop of SYLVIA in April 2012 at the Lost Studio theater in Los Angeles. An excerpt of the one-act opera was subsequently performed at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust as part of the Yom HaShoah Commemoration and called “ambitious and defiantly audacious” (Out West Arts). In New York, SYLVIA was hailed as “a short, sharp, powerful opera…searingly vivid” (eMusic) presented “with great clarity, composer and librettist Julia Adolphe encapsulates Sylvia’s dilemma in a plaintive cry” (cityArts).

Adolphe is also an active writer, teacher, and producer. In 2014, NewMusicBox published Adolphe’s articles on teaching music in an all-male maximum security prison. In 2013, Adolphe was co-producer of The Prodigal Son conducted by James Conlon for the LA Opera Britten Centennial. As a USC Teaching Assistant, Adolphe taught courses on the History of the Beatles and Classic Rock. Adolphe currently pursues a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the USC Thornton School of Music. Prior teachers include Stephen Hartke, Steven Stucky, and Donald Crockett. Adolphe holds a Master of Music degree in music composition from USC and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music and the College Scholar Program from Cornell University.

Miguel del Aguila

Three-time Grammy nominated American composer Miguel del Aguila was born 1957 in Montevideo, Uruguay. In more than 115 works that couple drama and driving rhythm with nostalgic nods to his South American roots, he has established himself among the most distinctive and highly regarded composers of his generation.  His music has been performed worldwide by over 96 orchestras, by thousands of ensembles and soloists, and recorded on 34 CDs.

He was honored in 2010 with two Latin Grammy nominations, for his CD Salón Buenos Aires, and for his work Clocks. 2015 he received a third Grammy nomination for Concierto en Tango which two years after its premiere has been scheduled  for 27 orchestra performances worldwide. His works are recorded on Naxos, Dorian, Telarc, New Albion, Albany, Centaur and Eroica, among others.  He is published by Peermusic.  

After graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory he studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna where early premieres of his works won him praise from audiences and press. In 1989 he introduced his music at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall, Lukas Foss premiered his Hexen with Brooklyn Philharmonic and his first CDs were released.

After 10 years in Vienna, Aguila returned to the U.S. in 1992 where soon the Los Angeles Times described him as “one of the West Coast’s most promising young composers.” He received the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award 1995and  by the 1990s his works were performed at Lincoln Center, London’s Royal Opera House, and in most European capitals. 2001-2004 he was Resident Composer at Chautauqua Festival and 2005-2007 Composer in Residence with the New Mexico Symphony through a New Music USA/Music Alive Award. His residency culminated in premiere of his third opera Time and Again Barelas. He received a New Music USA/Magnum Opus Award in 2008, the Lancaster Symphony Composer of the Year Award 2009 and Copland Foundation awards among others.

Derek Bermel

Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel has been widely hailed for his creativity, theatricality, and virtuosity.  Artistic Director of the American Composers Orchestra, Bermel is also curator of the Gamper Festival at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Director of Copland House’s emerging composers institute Cultivate, and recently enjoyed a four-year tenure as artist-in-residence at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton. Bermel has become recognized as a dynamic and unconventional curator of concert series that spotlight the composer as performer, including ACO’s SONIC Festival. 

Alongside his international studies of ethnomusicology and orchestration, an ongoing engagement with other musical cultures has become part of the fabric and force of his compositional language, in which the human voice and its myriad inflections play a primary role.

He has received commissions from the Pittsburgh, National, Saint Louis, and Pacific Symphonies, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, WNYC Radio, La Jolla Music Society, Seattle Chamber Music Festival, eighth blackbird, Guarneri String Quartet, Music from Copland House and Music from China, De Ereprijs (Netherlands), violinist Midori, and electric guitarist Wiek Hijmans among others. His many honors include the Alpert Award in the Arts, Rome Prize, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award, and an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; commissions from the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations, Meet the Composer, and Cary Trust; and residencies at Yaddo, Tanglewood, Aspen, Banff, Bellagio, Copland House, Sacatar, and Civitella Ranieri. 

His discography features three critically-acclaimed discs: an all-Bermel orchestral recording that includes the Grammy-nominated performance of his clarinet concerto Voices, (BMOP/sound); Soul Garden, his small ensemble/solo music (New World/CRI); and his most recent disc, Canzonas Americanas, with Alarm Will Sound (Cantaloupe).  Recent appearances include the Intimacy of Creativity Festival in Hong-Kong; Seattle, La Jolla, and Lincoln Center Chamber Music Societies, Migration Series with the Seattle Symphony, Elixir with the Boston Symphony, Hyllos, his evening-length collaboration with The Veenfabriek and Asko | Schönberg Ensemble in Amsterdam, as well as composer-in-residence stints at Kempten Classix (Germany) and Nuova Consonanza (Rome).  Two upcoming Bermel discs feature recordings with the JACK quartet and Albany Symphony Orchestra.

Jim Stephenson

Leading American orchestras, instrumentalists, and wind ensembles around the world have performed the music of Chicago based composer James M. Stephenson, both to critical acclaim and the delight of audiences.  The Boston Herald raved about “straightforward, unabashedly beautiful sounds,” suggesting “Stephenson deserves to be heard again and again!”  A formal sense of melody and tonality characterize his music, each embedded in a contemporary soundscape.  These qualities, coupled with the composer’s keen ability to write to each occasion, have led to a steady stream of commissions and ongoing projects.

 

“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Riccardo Muti, Zell Music Director – have announced a world premiere planned with Jim for the 2018/19 season. Details will be announced in January of 2018.”  A second bass trombone concerto received its orchestral premiere with the St. Louis Symphony and soloist Gerry Pagano, in 2017. “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band commissioned a symphony (the composer’s second in this genre) and gave the work its premiere in 2016 at the prestigious Midwest Clinic, and subsequently recorded the work.  Additionally, Compose Yourself!, Stephenson’s landmark young-audience work has now been performed over 300 times since its creation in 2002, engaging children in New Zealand and Canada and across the U.S. Additional  premieres include Carnegie Hall in May, 2017 (Chamber Music Charleston) and in the summer, 2017, a Music Academy of the West premiere of “Martha Uncaged” – with the composer conducting – and a west-coast premiere of his violin concerto at the famed Cabrillo Music Festival. The 2017-18 season will see a new “Low brass concerto” with the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä.

The Devil’s Tale (2013), a sequel to Stravinsky’s famous “Soldier’s Tale” has become a highlight of Stephenson’s extensive chamber music output, having already garnered much critical praise for its recent recording (“a most remarkable work” – Fanfare Magazine) and numerous performances, including at noteworthy venues such as Ravinia and Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center.

James M. Stephenson came late to his full-time composing career, having first earned a degree from the New England Conservatory in trumpet performance, and then going on to perform 17 seasons in the Naples Philharmonic in Florida.  As such, the composer is largely self-taught, making his voice truly individual and his life’s work all the more remarkable.  Colleagues and friends encouraged his earliest efforts and enthusiasm followed from all directions.  As his catalog grew, so did his reputation.  That catalog now boasts concertos and sonatas for nearly every instrument, earning him the moniker “The Concerto King” from Chicago Symphony clarinetist John Yeh.  The vast majority of those compositions came through commissions by and for major symphony principal players, in Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Washington DC, St. Louis, Oregon, Milwaukee, and Dallas, among others.  A major break came from the Minnesota Commissioning Club, which led to two works (violin concertos) receiving premieres in 2012—by Jennifer Frautschi with the Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä and by Alex Kerr with the Rhode Island Philharmonic under Larry Rachleff.  Other international soloists for whom Stephenson has composed include saxophonist Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Rex Richardson, whose concerto has been performed on five continents.  With such prolific output, Stephenson’s music is well represented in recordings.  Nearly all of his solo brass works (over 50) have been professionally recorded, and in total, his extensive catalog for all instruments can be heard on over 30 CDs.

James Stephenson is also a highly sought-after arranger and conductor, rounding out his constantly busy schedule.  His arrangements have been performed/recorded/broadcast by virtually every major orchestra in the country, including the Boston Pops, Cincinnati Pops, New York Pops and more.  On the podium, Stephenson has led orchestras in Chattanooga, Bozeman, Charleston, Ft. Myers, Modesto, and Wyoming, in addition to numerous concert bands.  With the Lake Forest Symphony, near his Illinois home, he has not only conducted but also has served for seven years as Composer-in-Residence.

Jim originally hails from the Greater Chicago area, as does his wife Sally.  In 2007 the couple, along with their four children, returned to the region to pursue the life they now share.

Austin Wintory

Austin Wintory has built his career on exploring and curiosity. He began his obsession with composing back when he was ten years old, when he discovered Jerry Goldsmith’s scores to Patton and A Patch of Blue.

Austin studied at NYU and USC with composers Morten Lauridsen, Charles Fussell, and Erica Muhl. Never satisfied with working in a single medium, Austin has worked in the concert world, film music, video games, and miscellaneous others.

In March 2012, the PlayStation3 game Journey was released, after three years of work. The game instantly became Sony’s fastest-selling PlayStation title, and the soundtrack album debuted on the Billboard charts higher than any original score in gaming history. In December 2012, more history was made when it was announced that Journey had become the first-ever Grammy-nominated videogame score.

The score subsequently won an Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences D.I.C.E. award, two British Academy Awards, a Spike TV VGA, and IGN’s “Overall Music of the Year,” five G.A.N.G. Awards and host of others. The score features the Macedonia Radio Symphonic Orchestra and a lineup of top soloists (Audio excerpts available here). Orchestral excerpts, and the stand alone mini-concerto “Woven Variations” have been consistently scheduled for concert performances all over the world since its release.

Beginning humbly as a Kickstarter campaign, Austin’s next major game effort was Stoic Studio’s The Banner Saga, a unique and mature turn-based strategy / RPG hybrid with a dazzling art direction. The score featured the Dallas Wind Symphony, America’s premiere wind ensemble, and an all-star trio of YouTube musicians: MalukahPeter Hollens and Taylor Davis. The game and soundtrack were released in early 2014 to critical and commercial success; the score earned Austin over a dozen awards and nominations, including his 4th and 5th British Academy Award nominations, and won the first-ever peer-voted ASCAP Composer’s Choice Award for “Best Video Game Score of the Year.” He is currently working with Stoic on The Banner Saga 2, which was announced live, on-stage at The Game Awards in December 2014 to an audience of nearly 2 million people.

Most recently (released August 2016), Austin scored the debut title for Giant Squid Studios, ABZÛ. The score was an ambitious blend of orchestra, choir and large harp ensemble recorded in both the US and the UK. The game and score were both immensely well-received, earning a number of publications’ “Best Of” lists for top soundtrack of the year, in addition to Austin’s second D.I.C.E. Award nomination, a Hollywood Music in Media nomination, and others.

In 2015, Austin wrote and produced the score for Ubisoft’s latest blockbuster: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. The music is at its heart a chamber score deeply rooted in 19th century traditions, featuring virtuoso musicians Sandy Cameron and Tina Guo, and an all-star ensemble recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. The score earned Austin his 6th British Academy Award nomination, and second ASCAP Composer’s Choice Award win, and has been lauded as among the top game scores for 2015 by major industry organizations like GameTrailers, IGN, Movie Music UK, the International Film Music Critics Association and the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.

Austin has also scored nearly 50 feature films, and his first major film score, for the Sundance Film Festival-winning film Captain Abu Raed, was shortlisted for the 2009 Academy Awards for Best Original Score by the LA Times. His next major film, Grace, was also a hit at the Sundance Film Festival. Austin’s score (which featured a wild array of custom-recorded sounds such as babies crying and horse flies, in addition to a large ensemble of clarinets at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios), was also highly lauded, earning a notorious Fangoria Chainsaw Award nomination and being cited by “Visions in Sound” (a popular film scoring radio program) as among the Top 10 Scores for 2010. His most recent films are writer/director Adam Alleca’s Standoff, starring Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne, and Amin Matalqa’s The Rendezvous, starring Stana Katic.

Outside of games, Austin also maintains a busy concert composing schedule, with regular appearances throughout the world. Most recently he premiered the commissioned work “This Gaming Life” with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a theatrical work created in collaboration with the legendary comedians called “Tripod.” Announced in 2016 was also the unveiling of his partnership with the Chicago-based chamber group Fifth House Ensemble, with whom he will tour in a production of “Journey LIVE,” a recreation of the hit PlayStation title, performed interactively live. His chamber music show “Mythos,” combining his own music with other contemporary works, is also touring throughout 2015 and beyond following a successful world premiere in Manhattan at New York Comic Con in 2014. Forthcoming he will also have premieres with the West Michigan Symphony, Colorado Symphony and others.

Passionate about education, Austin is a regular public speaker at schools and events around the world, in addition to pre-concert talks and workshops. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the non-profit Education Through Music – Los Angeles, as well as the Board of Directors for the Society of Composers and Lyricists.