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 Artistic Director 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.

Lisa Bielawa

Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition, and takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Her music has been described as “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart,” by The New York Times. She is the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and was named a William Randolph Hearst Visiting Artist Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society for 2018.

In 1997 Bielawaco-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers, and Bielawa served as Artistic Director of the acclaimed San Francisco Girls Chorus from 2013-2018. She received a 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy nomination for her unprecedented, made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, created with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. Vireo was filmed in twelve parts in locations across the country and features over 350 musicians. The Los Angeles Times called Vireo an opera, “unlike any you have seen before, in content and in form.” Vireo was produced as part of Bielawa’s artist residency at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California and in partnership with KCETLink and Single Cel. In February 2019, Vireo was released as a two CD + DVD box set on Orange Mountain Music, featuring all of the music and episodes.

Bielawa is currently at work on concertos for violinist Jennifer Koh and cellist Joshua Roman; an orchestral song cycle for mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin; and a commission from the Cathedral Choral Society. Her work has recently been premiered at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, SHIFT Festival, Town Hall Seattle, and Naumburg Orchestral Concerts Summer Series, among others. Orchestras that have championed her music include the The Knights, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, American Composers Orchestra, and the Orlando Philharmonic. Premieres of her work have been commissioned and presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Rider, Seattle Chamber Music Society, American Guild of Organists, and more.

Bielawa’s music can be found outside the concert hall as well. Chance Encounter was premiered by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights in Lower Manhattan’s Seward Park. Airfield Broadcastsis a 60-minute work for hundreds of musicians, which was premiered on the tarmac of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin and at Crissy Field in San Francisco. She is recorded on the Tzadik, TROY, Innova, BMOP/sound, Orange Mountain Music and Sono Luminus labels.

For more information, please visit www.lisabielawa.net.

Jennifer Higdon

Pulitzer Prize and two-time Grammy-winner Jennifer Higdon (b. Brooklyn, NY, December 31, 1962) taught herself to play flute at the age of 15 and began formal musical studies at 18, with an even later start in composition at the age of 21. Despite these obstacles, Jennifer has become a major figure in contemporary Classical music. Her works represent a wide range of genres, from orchestral to chamber, to wind ensemble, as well as vocal, choral and opera. Her music has been hailed by Fanfare Magazine as having “the distinction of being at once complex, sophisticated but readily accessible emotionally”, with the Times of London citing it as “…traditionally rooted, yet imbued with integrity and freshness.” The League of American Orchestras reports that she is one of America’s most frequently performed composers.

Higdon’s list of commissioners is extensive and includes The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, The Pittsburgh Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well such groups as the Tokyo String Quartet, the Lark Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, and the President’s Own Marine Band. She has also written works for such artists as baritone Thomas Hampson, pianists Yuja Wang and Gary Graffman, violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Jennifer Koh and Hilary Hahn. Her first opera, Cold Mountain, won the prestigious International Opera Award for Best World Premiere in 2016; the first American opera to do so in the award’s history. Performances of Cold Mountain sold out its premiere run in Santa Fe, North Carolina, and Philadelphia (becoming the third highest selling opera in Opera Philadelphia’s history).

Upcoming commissions include a chamber opera for Opera Philadelphia, a string quartet for the Apollo Chamber Players, a double percussion concerto for the Houston Symphony, an orchestral suite for the Made In America project, and a flute concerto for the National Flute Associations’ 50th anniversary.

Higdon received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing the work as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.” She has also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, The Independence Foundation, the NEA, and ASCAP. As winner of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition’s American Composers Invitational, Higdon’s Secret & Glass Gardens was performed by the semi-finalists during the competition.

Higdon has been a featured composer at many festivals including Aspen, Tanglewood, Vail, Norfolk, Grand Teton, and Cabrillo. She has served as Composer-in-Residence with several orchestras, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Fort Worth Symphony. She was honored to serve as the Creative Director of the Boundless Series for the Cincinnati Symphony’s 2012-13 season. During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years Higdon served as the prestigious Barr Laureate Scholar at the University of Missouri Kansas City.

Most recently, Higdon received the prestigious Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University which is awarded to contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition. Beginning in 2018, Higdon will complete two residences at the Bienen School of Music as the Nemmers Prize recipient. Also in the 2018-19 season, Higdon will be in residence at University of Texas, Austin, as part of the Eddie Medora King Award.

Higdon enjoys more than 200 performances a year of her works. Her orchestral work, blue cathedral, is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral works in the repertoire, more than 600 performances since its premiere in 2000. 

Her works have been recorded on over 60 CDs. Higdon has twice won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition: first for her Percussion Concerto in 2010 and in 2018 for herViola Concerto.

Dr. Higdon received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Bowling Green State University, an Artist Diploma from The Curtis Institute of Music, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Hartt School and Bowling Green State University.

Dr. Higdon currently holds the Rock Chair in Composition at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press.

For more information: www.jenniferhigdon.com

Marc Mellits

Composer Marc Mellits is one of the leading American composers of his generation, enjoying hundreds of performances throughout the world every year, making him one of the most performed living composers in the United States. From Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, to prestigious music festivals in Europe and the US, Mellits’ music is a constant mainstay on programs throughout the world.  

His unique musical style is an eclectic combination of driving rhythms, soaring lyricism, and colorful orchestrations that all combine to communicate directly with the listener. Mellits’ music is often described as being visceral, making a deep connection with the audience. “This was music as sensual as it was intelligent; I saw audience members swaying, nodding, making little motions with their hands” (New York Press). He started composing very early, and was writing piano music long before he started formal piano lessons at age 6. He went on to study at the Eastman School of Music, Yale School of Music, Cornell University, and Tanglewood. Mellits often is a miniaturist, composing works that are comprised of short, contrasting movements or sections. His music is eclectic, all-encompassing, colorful, and always has a sense of forward motion.

Mellits’ music has been played by major ensembles across the globe and he has been commissioned by groups such as the Kronos Quartet, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Holland), Duo Assad, Bang On A Can All-Stars, Eliot Fisk, Canadian Brass, Nexus Percussion, Debussy Quartet, Third Coast Percussion, Real Quiet, New Music Detroit, Four-In-Correspondence (National Symphony Orchestra), Musique En Roue Libre (France), Fiarì Ensemble (Italy), Percussions Claviers de Lyon (France), Talujon, the Society for New Music, Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, and the Albany Symphony’s Dog’s Of Desire. Additionally, Mellits’ music has been performed, toured, and/or recorded by members of the Detroit Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Minneapolis Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, eighth blackbird, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, New Millenium Ensemble, Da Capo Chamber Players, and the American Modern Ensemble, among many others.

On film, Mellits has composed numerous scores, including the PBS mini-series “Beyond The Light Switch” which won a 2012 Dupont-Columbia award, the most prestigious award in documentaries. Mellits also directs and plays keyboards in his own unique ensemble, the Mellits Consort. He was awarded the prestigious 2004 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award. On CD, there are over 50 recorded works of Mellits’ music that can be found on Black Box, Endeavour Classics, Cantaloupe, CRI/Emergency Music, Santa Fe New Music, Innova, & Dacia Music. Marc Mellits is an Associate Professor of music at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters, and spends significant time in Romania.

Shawn Okpebholo

“…a beautiful artist. …who has enormous grace in his music, and fantasy and color.”  

— Augusta Read Thomas, Grammy-award winning composer

A widely sought-after and award-winning composer, Shawn E. Okpebholo (b. 1981) has been described by Augusta Read Thomas as “…a beautiful artist …who has enormous grace in his music, and fantasy and color.” Okpebholo comfortably composes in a variety of styles and genres, intentional in creating music that is diverse, dynamic, and genuine.  A laureate of various awards, these include: Second Place Winner in The American Prize in Composition (professional/orchestral division), First Prize Winner in the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, Winner of the Adams-Owens Composition Award, First Prize Winner in the Accent06 International Composition Competition, among others. His music has been performed in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and all across the U.S., including close to forty states. Distinguished venues, festivals, and radio broadcasts include: Carnegie Hall; The Kennedy Center; The National Cathedral; Chicago’s Orchestra Hall; EarTaxi Contemporary Music Festival; Monte Music Festival (Goa, India); MusicX Contemporary Music Festival; The Uncommon Music Festival (Alaska); Front Wave New Music Festival; several National Flute Association, Society of Composers, Inc., College Band Directors National Association, and Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers national conferences; state music festivals across the country; Chicago’s WFMT 98.7 and Cincinnati’s WGUC 90.9. 
 
Okpebholo regularly receives commissions from noted soloists, universities, and organizations, including the International Tuba and Euphonium Association, the United States Air Force, the Ohio Music Education Association, to name a few. Some celebrated performing artists and ensembles include Cadillac Moon, Fulcrum Point, Picosa, United States Army Field Band, cellist Leonardo Altino, baritones Will Liverman and Robert Sims, mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, pianists Paul Tuntland Sánchez and Mark Markham, euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead, flutists Caen-Thomason-Redus and Jenny Oh Brown, among others.  He has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Tangemen Sacred Music Center, Wheaton College (Aldeen Research Grant, John Stott Faculty Grant in Human Needs and Global Resources, Faculty Global Research Grant) and a Union University Pew Research Grant. His compositions can be heard on a variety of commercially released albums, including his first album solely devoted to his music, Steal Away, a collection of re-imagined Negro spirituals. 
 

As an academic, Okpebholo has been in residence at many colleges and universities both in the U.S. and Nigeria, giving masterclasses, guest lecturing, and having his music featured in concert. He was one of eighteen featured composers in Volume IV of the book series, “Composers on Composing for Band,” edited by Mark Camphouse. And his compositional interests and research have been a gateway for ethnomusicological field work in both East and West Africa. 

He earned his masters and doctoral degrees in composition from the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, where he also studied music theory. He completed a bachelor’s degree in composition and music history from Asbury College and had additional studies in film scoring from New York University. A significant part of his music education growing up was through The Salvation Army church, where he regularly received free music lessons. Inspired by that charity, Okpebholo is passionate about volunteering his musical talents to underserved communities. Currently, he is Associate Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music (IL), having previously taught at Union University (TN), Northern Kentucky University, and CCM.

He lives in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, violist Dorthy, and his daughters, Eva and Corinne.

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.