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Repertory Archive

John Harbison



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 PsalmsRequiem, 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).

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 SolitudeCrane 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.