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Kirke Mechem is a prolific composer with a catalogue of over 250 works. He enjoys an international presence, as ASCAP recently registered concert performances of his music in 42 countries. Born and raised in Kansas and educated at Stanford and Harvard Universities, Mechem conducted and taught at Stanford, and served as composer-in-residence for several years at the University of San Francisco. Mechem also lived in Europe, spending three years in Vienna where he came to the attention of Josef Krips, who later championed the composer's symphonies as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. He was guest of honor at the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and was invited back for an all-Mechem symphonic concert by the USSR Radio-Television Orchestra in 1991.
He has been honored and recognized for his contributions from the United Nations; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Gallery; the American Choral Directors Association; the Music Educators National Conference, and was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the National Opera Association. In 2012 the University of Kansas awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts.
Mechem's compositions cover almost every genre, but vocal music is the core of his work. His three-act opera,
, has been performed nearly 400 times in six countries. His extensive choral works have garnered him the title of "dean of American choral composers." The premiere of Mechem's large-scale dramatic opera based on American abolitionist John Brown was commissioned to celebrate Lyric Opera Kansas City's 50th anniversary.
Songs of the Slave
— a suite for bass-baritone, soprano, chorus and orchestra from the oepra
— has been performed over 80 times. His comic opera,
(an American update of Sheridan’s classic play,
), was premiered in 2011 by Skylight Opera in Milwaukee. Mechem is currently completing an opera based on Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice
— July 2012