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Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. The New York Times describes her music as, “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart,” and Time Out New York praised her "prodigious gift for mingling persuasive melodicism with organic experimentation." She is a 2009 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition and will spend September 2009 through August 2010 composing at the American Academy in Rome.
Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Lisa Bielawa played the violin and piano, sang, and wrote music from early childhood. She moved to New York two weeks after receiving her B.A. in Literature in 1990 from Yale University, and became an active participant in New York musical life. She began touring with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992, and in 1997 co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers.
Recent highlights include performances of Ms. Bielawa’s chamber music in New York at Judson Memorial Church, The Brooklyn Museum, and Symphony Space. Her work, Chance Encounter, a piece comprising songs and arias constructed of speech overheard in transient public spaces, has been performed by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights in Seward Park in Lower Manhattan and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; and by Ms. Narucki, the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, and the Rome-based Blue Chamber Orchestra on the banks of the Tiber River and as part of the opening of the celebrated new MAXXI Museum in Rome. Additional highlights included the world premiere of Portrait-Elegy, written for pianist Bruce Levingston, in New York; the world premiere of The Project of Collecting Clouds at Town Hall in Seattle by cellist Joshua Roman and chamber ensemble; and the world premiere of In medias res, a concerto for orchestra commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the culmination of Ms. Bielawa’s three-year residency with that orchestra.
In 2008, Ms. Bielawa’s Double Violin Concerto received its debut performances by BMOP in Boston in March and in New York as part of the MATA Festival in April. Following the April performance, Russell Platt commented in an entry on the New Yorker blog, “Bielawa walked into the hall as a professional, but she may well have walked out a star: the piece caused that kind of excitement . . . Kihlstedt, also a singer, sang a setting of a translated text from Goethe’s “Faust” during the slow movement, while simultaneously playing the violin. It’s that kind of uniqueness—along with the work’s deft combination of Romantic, minimalist, and avant-garde influences—that could well carry the piece into the future.”
Other recent performances of Ms. Bielawa’s music include the premiere of The Right Weather by the American Composers Orchestra and pianist Andrew Armstrong during Zankel Hall’s inaugural season in 2004, the March 2006 premiere of Ms. Bielawa’s The Lay of the Love and Death, based on an epic poem by Rilke and written for violinist Colin Jacobsen and baritone Jesse Blumberg, at Alice Tully Hall; and the November 2006 performance by Ms. Bielawa of unfinish’d, sent with BMOP at the inaugural concert of her residency.
In 2007, the first commercial recordings of Ms. Bielawa’s music were released on the Tzadik and Albany Records labels. A Handful of World (Tzadik 8039) features Kafka Songs, performed by violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt; Lamentations for a City, performed by the Cerddorion Vocal Ensemble; and A Collective Cleansing, sung by the composer. In addition, Ms. Bielawa’s The Trojan Women was released on Albany Records on a disc entitled First Takes (TROY941), performed by the String Orchestra of New York City (SONYC). Hildegurls: Electric Ordo Virtutum, released in 2009 on Innova, is a 1998 re-envisioning of 12th-century German abbess Hildegard von Bingen’s musical drama The Order of the Virtues by the Hildegurls.
In June 2010, BMOP/sound released a recording of Ms. Bielawa’s works for orchestra – Roam, unfinish’d, sent (featuring Ms. Bielawa as the soprano soloist), Double Violin Concerto (featuring violinist Colin Jacobsen and Carla Kihlstedt) and In medias res, a concerto for orchestra – recorded by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Also in 2010, the world premiere commerical recording of Lisa Bielawa’s Chance Encounter will be released on Orange Mountain Music. The performance was recorded by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights and produced by Grammy Award-winning engineer Adam Abeshouse. A third recording, The Lay of the Love, is scheduled for release in 2010 as the inaugural disc of Premiere Commission Recordings, a new label based in New York.
Ms. Bielawa has appeared as vocalist in her own work at the Seattle Symphony’s Made in America festival; Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan; in a music-theatre work with playwright Erik Ehn at the INFANT Festival in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia; in several works as composer-in-residence at American Music Week in Sofia, Bulgaria; at the Bang On A Can Festival; and at the Lincoln Center Festival and the World Financial Center Winter Garden in the Electric Ordo Virtutum. Her chamber opera Phrenic Crush, librettist Erik Ehn, received its premiere production in San Francisco through the Haas Foundation Creative Work Fund.
In addition to the 2009 Rome Prize, Ms. Bielawa has received fellowships and awards from the Alpert-Ucross Foundation, Creative Capital, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, the Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Joyce Dutka Arts Foundation, ASCAP, and the Fondation Royaumont in France. In 2007-2008, Lisa Bielawa was a Radcliffe Institute Fellow.
An enthusiastic advocate for the field, Ms. Bielawa now serves on the board of the MATA Festival. In addition, she has served on the board of the American Music Center and taught composition through the New York Youth Symphony Making Score program. In addition to her work as a vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble, she tours and records with John Zorn and has premiered and recorded works by numerous other composer colleagues.
More info at www.lisabielawa.typepad.com