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Aaron Jay Kernis

Born: 1960

Nationality: American

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Photo © Richard Bowditch


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 world-wide and has been commissioned by many of America's foremost performers, including sopranos Renée Fleming and Dawn Upshaw, violinists Joshua Bell, Pamela Frank, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and James Ehnes (for the BBC Proms), pianist Christopher O'Riley and guitarist Sharon Isbin, and 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, Ravinia Festival (for James Conlon's inaugural season) , 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 and programs from Philadelphia to Amsterdam (Concertgebouw, Amsterdam Sinfonietta), Santa Barbara to France (Orchestre National de France) throughout Europe and beyond.

Recent and upcoming commissions include new concerti for cellist Joshua Roman and for violist Paul Neubauer, works for eighth blackbird, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, La Jolla Chamberfest, and Chambermusic Northwest for David Shifrin and the Orion Quartet, the San Antonio Symphony, and his third string quartet for the Jasper Quartet. Past seasons have included conducting engagements with members of the San Francisco and Minnesota Orchestras, the New York Philharmonic, with major festivals in Chicago and Portland and for the Pascal Rioult Dance Company.

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One of America's most honored composers, Kernis was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Classical Music Hall of Fame, and has received countless awards and prizes throughout his career, including the 2011 Nemmers Award from Northwestern University, the 2002 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition 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, and New York Foundation for the Arts Award. He has been a much-admired and familiar 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. He was co-founder and Director of the Minnesota Orchestra's Composer Institute for 15 years. Kernis teaches composition at Yale School of Music, a position he's occupied since 2003.

His works have been recorded on Nonesuch, New Albion, Koch, Naxos, Virgin Classics, and Argo, Britain's esteemed label, with which Kernis had an exclusive recording contract. Previously issued CDs include a widely acclaimed CD with Hugh Wolff conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Symphony No. 2, Invisible Mosaic III, and Musica Celestis); it was nominated for a Grammy and won France's Diapason d'or palmarès for Best Contemporary Music Disc of the Year. Other recordings include a disc of his String Quartet No. 1 ("musica celestis") and the Pulitzer-Prize winning String Quartet No. 2 ("musica instrumentalis") 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 Mørk 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, Invisible Moasic III, and Symphony in Waves with Gerard Schwarz and the New York Chamber Symphony.

Recent critically acclaimed recordings include the release of orchestral works by the Grant Park Festival Orchestra on Cedille Records. His Goblin Market was released, with Invisible Mosaic II, on the Signum label with The New Professionals, Rebecca Miller conductor and Mary King narrator. Upcoming on Naxos in 2014 is a disc featuring pianist Andrew Russo, violinist James Ehnes, and the Albany Symphony with David Alan Miller.

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. Kernis's music is published by Associated Music Publishers and by AJK Music administered by Associated Music Publishers.

— September 2014

For specific inquiries about this composer, please contact Rachel.Sokolow@schirmer.com or call 212-254-2100 x 1130.

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