John Corigliano is one of the finest and most widely recognized American composers. He has received virtually all of the most important prizes-several Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for his Second Symphony, a Grawemeyer Award for his Symphony no. 1, and even an Academy Award for his score to Francois Giraud’s 1997 film The Red Violin-as well as honorary doctorates, awards, fetes, lauds, and accolades too numerous to list. His work has been performed by some of the most visible orchestras, soloists, and chamber musicians in the world and recorded on the Sony, RCA, BMG, Telarc, Erato, Ondine, New World, and CRI labels.
Possessed of a gift for gorgeous melody crossed with the rigor and formalist logic of the serialists, Corigliano will be remembered as one of the great mavericks of his generation, the artist who took generic, traditional notions like “symphony” or “concerto” and within them found a language all his own, an amalgam of his American forebears crossed with the exploratory spirit of the post-war European avant garde.
“You must understand the importance of the past, but if you don’t realize the importance of the present and the future, you don’t nourish that—and our art form does not—then it’s like a tree that grows no new shoots. Without new shoots the tree dies.”
To date, Corigliano has written 3 symphonies. His 1991 Symphony no. 1, commissioned by Meet the Composer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was composer-in-residence, stands as an angry, dizzy wolf-cry in response to the AIDS crisis, described by one critic as a work “of staggering emotional impact and musical grandeur.” Premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2000, his Second Symphony-a rethinking and expansion of his 40-minute 1995 String Quartet-earned him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. His third symphony, the over-the-top, potent, and slightly mad Circus Maximus, written for the University of Texas at Austin Wind Ensemble, had its New York premiere in 2005 at Carnegie Hall.
Corigliano’s 1991 opera The Ghosts of Versailles-a twist on the story of the French Revolution through the eyes of Beaumarchais, author of the famed Figaro trilogy-was the Metropolitan Opera’s first commission in three decades, and was a wild success with critics and audiences (both its original run and the 1994 revival had completely sold out runs).
Other important large-scale works include his evening-length A Dylan Thomas Trilogy, a concatenation and revision of 3 of his earlier settings of this poet scored for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, and orchestra; Phantasmagoria, a suite of themes from The Ghosts of Versailles; and Mr. Tambourine Man, a setting of texts by 1960s folk-pop icon Bob Dylan, which began life as a song cycle for piano and soprano but now also exists in a fully orchestrated version.
Corigliano holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, City University of New York, and serves on the faculty at the Juilliard School of Music. In 1991, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1992, Musical America named him Composer of the Year, their first ever. He has received grants from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Bio courtesy G. Schirmer Inc., Corigliano’s publisher