Ursula Oppens, celebrated pianist and distinguished professor of music at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, performs works by New York composers John Corigliano, Joan Tower, Tania León, and Elliott Carter, and a world premiere by Tobias Picker.
Between performances, several of these eminent composers join Oppens for a conversation about composition and performance, and what it means to create and play music in New York today. Ms. Oppens is joined by fellow CUNY faculty member, clarinetist Charles Neidich.
Tania León, born in Cuba, is a vital personality on today's music scene. She is a composer and conductor and is recognized for her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations.
She has been the subject of profiles on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision (including their noted series "Orgullo Hispano," which celebrates living American Latinos whose contributions in society have been invaluable), Telemundo and independent films.
In 1969, León became a founding member and first Music Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, establishing the Dance Theatre's Music Department, Music School and Orchestra. She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978 and in 1994 co-founded the American Composers Orchestra Sonidos de las Americas Festivals in her capacity as Latin American Music Advisor. From 1993 to 1997 she was New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. She has made appearances as guest conductor with the Beethovenhalle Orchestra in Bonne, the National Symphony Orchestra of Johannesburg, South Africa; the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Holland; the Chicago Sinfonietta and the New York Philharmonic, among others.
León has been Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University, Visiting Professor at Yale University, the University of Michigan, the University of Kansas, Purchase College and the Musikschule in Hamburg. In 2000, she was named the Claire and Leonard Tow Professor in Music at Brooklyn College, and Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York since 2006.
Charles Neidich has been hailed by the New Yorker as "a master of his instrument and beyond a clarinetist." He has been described as one of the most mesmerizing musicians performing before the public today. Neidich regularly appears as soloist and as collaborator in chamber music programs with leading ensembles. He has performed throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States, and is a sought-after participant at many summer festivals.
Very active in education, Charles Neidich is on the faculties of the Juilliard School, Queens College of the City University of New York, the Manhattan School, and the Mannes College of Music, and has held visiting positions at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, the Yale School of Music, and Michigan State University. He is in demand for master classes around the world and for innovative lecture concerts he has devised such as "Old is New: how playing old music on period instruments is like playing new music on modern instruments," and "Craft and Drama: how understanding how Brahms composed makes for a more compelling performance." He also published a book on the basics of clarinet technique for the Japanese publisher TOA Ongaku Inc., with his wife, Ayako Oshima.
Last spring, Neidich was the recipient of the William Schuman Award given by the Juilliard School for outstanding performance and scholarship.
Ursula Oppens studied piano with her mother, the late Edith Oppens, as well as with Leonard Shure and Guido Agosti. She received her master's degree at The Juilliard School, where she studied with Felix Galimir and Rosina Lhevinne.
After 14 years as the John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University, Ms. Oppens joined the faculty of Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music and CUNY Graduate Center as Distinguished Professor in fall 2008.
Tobias Picker called "our finest composer for the lyric stage" by The Wall Street Journal, is a composer of numerous works in every genre, drawing performances by the world's leading musicians, orchestras and opera houses. Picker began composing at the age of eight and studied at the Manhattan School of Music, The Juilliard School and Princeton University where his principal teachers were Charles Wuorinen, Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt. His first commissions occurred while still in his late teens and he quickly became established as one of America's most sought-after young composers.
By the age of thirty, Picker was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Bearns Prize (Columbia University), a Charles Ives Scholarship, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. In 1992, he received the prestigious Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. From 1985-90, Picker was the first Composer-in-Residence of the Houston Symphony.
He has also served as Composer-in-Residence for such major international festivals as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Pacific Music Festival.
Joan Tower's music is noted by a number of defining qualities: driving rhythms and colorful orchestrations influenced by the sounds and sensations of a childhood spent in South America; approachability for listeners and players alike, resulting from her engagement with the performers of her music (often written with specific musicians in mind) and her own performances as a pianist. Early works were serial in conception. In the 1970s she moved toward more tonal, Messiaen-like sonorities.
She has written a number of works paying homage to composers such as Beethoven (Concerto for Piano), Stravinsky (Petroushskates), and Copland (Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman). She was the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission, Made in America. Its top-selling recording won three 2008 Grammy awards, including Best Classical Contemporary Composition.