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Music of the 21st Century


AARON JAY KERNIS — 2011

Winner of the coveted 2002 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and one of the youngest composers ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Aaron Jay Kernis is among the most esteemed musical figures of his generation. With his "fearless originality [and] powerful voice" (The New York Times), each new Kernis work is eagerly awaited by audiences and musicians alike, and he is one of today's most frequently performed composers. His music, full of variety and dynamic energy, is rich in lyric beauty, poetic imagery, and brilliant instrumental color.

His works figure prominently on orchestral, chamber, and recital programs around the world. He has been commissioned by many of America‘s foremost performers, including sopranos Renee Fleming and Dawn Upshaw, violinists Joshua Bell, Pamela Frank, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and James Ehnes, pianist Christopher O'Riley and guitarist Sharon Isbin. Commissions have also come from such musical institutions as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra (for the inauguration of its new home at the Kimmel Center), Walt Disney Company, Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, San Francisco and Singapore Symphonies, Minnesota Orchestra, Lincoln Center Great Performers Series, American Public Radio; Los Angeles and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestras, and Aspen Music Festival. His work was heard last season on programs of orchestras from Philadelphia to Amsterdam (Concertgebouw, Amsterdam Sinfonietta), Santa Barbara to France (Orchestra National De France), Detroit, Seattle, and throughout Europe. Upcoming and recent commissions include a new work for James Conlon’s first season as Ravinia Festival Music Director, a work for the BBC Proms, a song cycle for the opening of the new San Francisco Conservatory, for trumpet soloist Philip Smith with the New York Philharmonic and a consortium of American’s “top 10” college wind ensembles, the Seattle Symphony, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

One of America's most honored young composers, Mr. Kernis received the coveted Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition (2002) for the cello and orchestra version of "Colored Field," the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for his String Quartet No. 2 ("musica instrumentalis"), and Grammy Award nominations for both "Air" and his Second Symphony. He has also been awarded the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rome Prize, an NEA grant, a Bearns Prize, a New York Foundation for the Arts Award, and three BMI Student Composer Awards. He has become an especially familiar and much-admired presence in Minnesota's Twin Cities; in September 1993, he was appointed Composer-in-Residence for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Public Radio, and American Composers Forum, and he returned in the fall of 1998 as New Music Advisor to the Minnesota Orchestra, a position he held till 2009. As an educator he is Director of the Minnesota Orchestra's Composer Institute, an extraordinary national for young composers, and teaches composition at Yale School of Music.

His works have been recorded on Nonesuch, New Albion, and Argo, Britian’s esteemed label, with which Mr. Kernis had an exclusive recording contract. Previously issued CDs include a widely acclaimed CD with Hugh Wolff conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Mr. Kernis's Symphony No. 2, "Invisible Mosaic III," and "musica celestis" was nominated for a Grammy, and won France's Diapason d'or Palmares for Best Contemporary Music Disc of the Year. Other recordings include a disc of his Pulitzer-Prize winning String Quartet No. 2 ("musica instrumentalis") and Musica Celestis, both on Arabesque with the Lark Quartet. Other releases on Argo featured works for violinists Pamela Frank and Joshua Bell with David Zinman and the Minnesota Orchestra, and his Double Concerto with guitarist Sharon Isbin, violinist Cho-Liang Lin and Hugh Wolff leading the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Originally released on Virgin/EMI was his cello version of "Colored Field" and "Air," created for the Norwegian virtuoso Truls Mork and the Minnesota Orchestra with Eiji Oue. Several of his important works recorded on Argo have been re-released by Phoenix, including his Second Symphony, “Musica Celestis” for String Orchestra, “Invisible Moasic III, and "Symphony in Waves," with Gerard Schwarz and the New York Chamber Symphony. Recent critically acclaimed recordings include a disc of his song cycles by soprano Susan Narucki on Koch, and the release of orchestral works by the Grant Park Festival Orchestra on Cedille Records.

Aaron Jay Kernis was born in Philadelphia on January 15, 1960. He began his musical studies on the violin; at age 12 he began teaching himself piano and, the following year, composition. He continued his studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Manhattan and Yale Schools of Music, working with composers as diverse as John Adams, Charles Wuorinen and Jacob Druckman. Kernis first came to national attention in 1982 with the acclaimed premiere of his first orchestral work, "dream of the morning sky," by the New York Philharmonic at its Horizons Festival. Mr. Kernis's music is published by AJK Music, administered by Associated Music Publishers.

Photo Credit: Richard Bowditch