Christopher Rouse - Composer


Photo © 2007 by Jeffrey Herman

Christopher Rouse is one of America's most prominent composers of orchestral music. His works have won a Pulitzer Prize (for his Trombone Concerto) and a Grammy Award (for Concert de Gaudí), as well as election to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters. Rouse has created a body of work perhaps unequalled in its emotional intensity. The New York Times has called it "some of the most anguished, most memorable music around." The Baltimore Sun has written: "When the music history of the late 20th century is written, I suspect the explosive and passionate music of Rouse will loom large."

Born in Baltimore in 1949, Rouse developed an early interest in both classical and popular music. He graduated from Oberlin Conservatory and Cornell University, numbering among his principal teachers George Crumb and Karel Husa. Rouse maintained a steady interest in popular music: at the Eastman School of Music, where he was Professor of Composition until 2002, he taught a course in the history of rock for many years. Rouse is currently a member of the composition faculty at The Juilliard School. In 2012, he began his three-year tenure as Composer-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic.

While the Rouse catalog includes a number of acclaimed chamber and ensemble works, he is best known for his mastery of orchestral writing. His music has been played by every major orchestra in the U.S., and numerous ensembles overseas including the Berlin Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney and Melbourne Symphonies, the London Symphony, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Stockholm Philharmonic, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Gulbenkian Orchestra of Lisbon, the Toronto Symphony, the Vienna Symphony, the Orchestre National de France, the Moscow Symphony, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony, the Bournemouth Symphony, and the Orchestre Symphonique du Montreal, as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the radio orchestras of Helsinki, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Tokyo, Austria, and Berlin.

Rouse's Symphony No. 1 (1986), commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and winner of the prestigious Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, was rated by the Boston Globe as "probably the most completely successful symphonic composition yet written by an American composer of his rising generation." The Symphony No. 2 (1994), commissioned by Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony, has found equal success, earning praise in both its premiere and in European tour performances. Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony have recorded the Symphony No. 2 for Telarc, on an all-Rouse disc that also features the Celtic-inspired Flute Concerto (with Carol Wincenc as soloist) and Phaethon, one of several Rouse scores inspired by mythology. The disc earned a 'Diapason d'Or' award from the French magazine Diapason, and Gramophone magazine credited the performance of the Flute Concerto with "plenty of quietly cathartic spiritual affirmation." RCA has also issued a CD devoted to Rouse's music, featuring Marin Alsop leading the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Gorgon, Iscariot, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning Trombone Concerto, with New York Philharmonic principal trombonist Joseph Alessi as soloist. Alsop also conducts on "Passion Wheels," a new recording for Koch containing Rouse's Concerto per Corde, Rotae Passionis, Ku-Ka-Ilimoku, and Ogoun Badagris. The CD has won "Best of the Year" designation for 2000 from both Gramophone magazine and Fanfare magazine.

Over the past decades Rouse has gained particular notice for his concerti. Among these are his Violin Concerto (1991), commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival for Cho-Liang Lin; his Violoncello Concerto, given its premiere in Spring 1994 by Yo-Yo Ma, with David Zinman leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic; and his Flute Concerto (1993), the most frequently performed of his concerti, commissioned by Carol Wincenc and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Violoncello Concerto elicited cheers from the audience and a glowing review from The New York Times, which called it "a strongly conceived elegy....Rouse's music [has] been acclaimed by both audiences and critics and is among the most intriguing orchestral music now being written....One is drawn into Mr. Rouse's emotional universe and is moved by its craft as well." Ma has recorded the Violoncello Concerto for Sony Classics, accompanied by David Zinman and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

One of Rouse's more recent concerti is Der gerettete Alberich, a "fantasy for percussion and orchestra on themes of Wagner," commissioned for soloist Evelyn Glennie by a consortium of four leading orchestras: The Cleveland Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Christoph von Dohnányi conducted the Cleveland Orchestra in the work's debut in January 1998; the Cleveland Plain Dealer described Rouse's transformation of Wagner's narrative as "a fresh burst of creative imagination....[a] brilliant melding of romantic and contemporary idioms."

Rouse's extraordinary series of works for soloist and orchestra continued. January 1999 brought the premiere of Kabir Padavali, an orchestral song cycle commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra for soprano Dawn Upshaw, with texts by the 15th-century Indian mystic poet Kabir. David Zinman, a staunch advocate of Rouse's music, conducted the premiere. Seeing, a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax and the New York Philharmonic, made its debut in May 1999 under Leonard Slatkin, another champion of Rouse's work. A meditation on madness, Seeing was inspired by the tragic stories of Robert Schumann and Skip Spence, the Moby Grape guitarist and songwriter who from the late 1960's until his death in 1999 suffered from schizophrenia. The New York Times called Seeing "a poignant, tragic work...[a] brilliantly eclectic imagining of an inventive musical mind gone off the rails."

Concert de Gaudí, a guitar concerto for soloist Sharon Isbin, won a 2002 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. The concerto was commissioned jointly by the NDR Symphony Orchestra (Hamburg) and the Dallas Symphony. Concert de Gaudí drew inspiration from the exotic and fanciful designs of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Isbin has recorded the work on the Teldec label. A new orchestral work is Rapture, which depicts "a state of spiritual bliss, religious or otherwise." Rapture was commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons. It was recorded by Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic on an Ondine disc that also included Der gerettete Alberich and the Violin Concerto with soloists Evelyn Glennie and Cho-Laing Lin.

Photo by Christian Steiner

Rouse's Clarinet Concerto, which debuted in May 2001 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Larry Combs as soloist, was his first concerto premiered in the new millennium. John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune wrote of the piece, "Just as this music tests the virtuosity of the does it dare the audience to hang on tight as it takes them on the high-energy roller-coaster ride of their lives." The Clarinet Concerto has been recorded for BIS by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with Martin Fröst on clarinet and Alan Gilbert conducting (BIS-CD-1386), coupled with the Symphony No. 1 and Iscariot. Gilbert and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic have released a second BIS CD of Rouse's work, made up of Rapture, the Flute Concerto, and the Symphony No. 2.

Christopher Rouse's accomplishments as a composer were honored in 2002 with his election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Most of 2001 and 2002 were taken up with the composition of his massive Requiem. Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times hailed it as "the first great traditional American Requiem" following its 2007 Los Angeles premiere.

Rouse, who now lives in Baltimore, Maryland, recently completed a dance work entitled Friandises, jointly commissioned by the New York City Ballet and the Juilliard School. Friandises was premiered in February 2006, and televised nationally on PBS. Also recently completed was Wolf Rounds, a wind ensemble piece commissioned by the Frost Wind Ensemble of the University of Miami, which premiered in March of 2007 at Carnegie Hall, and Concerto for Orchestra, which premiered in August of 2008 at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music under the leadership of his consistent champion, Marin Alsop. In 2009, Rouse's Oboe Concerto had its world premiere with the Minnesota Orchestra.

The year 2010 saw the premiere of his newest New York Philharmonic commission (Odna Zhizn) in February under the baton of Alan Gilbert, and the premiere of his String Quartet No. 3 in June with the Calder Quartet, for whom it was composed. In 2011, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere performances of his Symphony No. 3.

Rouse's Heimdall's Trumpet, commissioned for Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal trumpeter Christopher Martin, premiered in December 2012. The New York Philharmonic-commissioned Prospero's Rooms, composed during Rouse's residency with them, had its world premiere in April of 2013, with additional performances on tour in Europe during the spring.

In February of 2014, the New York Philharmonic extended Rouse's tenure as Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence. His Supplica, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, premiered in April 2014, while his Symphony No. 4, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, premiered in June 2014. Rouse's Thunderstuck, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, premiered in Avery Fisher Hall with Alan Gilbert conducting in October of 2014. Rouse's Organ Concerto – commissioned by a consortium including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra – premiered in Philadelphia, under the baton of Yannick Nezet-Seguin and with Paul Jacobs on organ, in November 2016. His Symphony No. 5 premiered in February 2017 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jaap van Zweden. In November 2017, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of Berceuse Infinie under the baton of Marin Alsop. Rouse's Bassoon Concerto will premiere in November 2018 at Powell Hall, with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Cuneo as soloist, and conducted by Cristian Macelaru.

1949 Born on 15 February in Baltimore, Maryland
1956 Starts to compose
1967 Accepted to Oberlin Conservatory
1971 After studies with Richard Hoffmann, graduates from Oberlin; begins private studies with George Crumb in Philadelphia
1973-77 Graduate studies with Karel Husa at Cornell; receives master's and doctoral degrees there.
1976 Receives a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts
1978-81 Teaches composition as a Fellow of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
1980 Receives Rockefeller Foundation grant and National Endowment for the Arts fellowship
1981 Appointed to the composition faculty of the Eastman School of Music; receives League of Composers/ISCM prize for The Infernal Machine
1982 Receives first significant commission, from Boston Musica Viva, for Rotae Passionis
1983 Nonesuch Records commissions The Surma Ritornelli for the Society of New Music
1984 Gorgon (commissioned by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra) premieres
1986 Appointed as first Composer-in-Residence to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (continued to serve as the symphony's New Music Advisor from 1989 through 2000); Phantasmata (commissioned by the Saint Louis Symphony) premieres
1987 Phaethon (commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra) premieres
1988 The Symphony No. 1 (commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) premieres; wins Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for the Symphony No. 1; the String Quartet No. 2 commissioned and premiered by the Cleveland Quartet
1989 Iscariot (commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra) premieres
1990 Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship
1991 Karolju (commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by the Barlow Foundation) premieres; promoted to Professor of Composition at Eastman
1992 The Violin Concerto (commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival) and the Trombone Concerto (commissioned by the New York Philharmonic) are premiered
1993 The Trombone Concerto awarded 1993 Pulitzer Prize in Music; the composer wins an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in Music
1994 Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is soloist in premiere of the Violoncello Concerto (commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic); the Flute Concerto (commissioned by the Detroit Symphony) premieres
1995 The Symphony No. 2 (commissioned by the Houston Symphony) premieres
1996 Envoi (commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) premieres; Compline (commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center) premieres; receives honorary doctorate from Oberlin
1997 Featured composer at Helsinki Biennale; Composer-in-Residence at Tanglewood; joins faculty of the Juilliard School (while remaining on the faculty at the Eastman School of Music)
1998 Der gerettete Alberich (jointly commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) premieres; Composer-in-Residence at the Pacific Music Festival
1999 Kabir Padavali (commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra) and Seeing (commissioned by the New York Philharmonic) premiere; begins serving annually as Composer-in-Residence at the Aspen Music Festival
2000 Receives Doctor of Music honorary degree from the State University of New York at Geneseo; Concert de Gaudí (co-commissioned by the Norddeutsche Rundfunk and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) and Rapture (commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony) premiere
2001 Receives DuPont Award from the Delaware Symphony Orchestra; Clarinet Concerto (commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) premieres; Rapturedux (commissioned by the Royal Northern College of Music Manchester International Cello Festival) premieres
2002 Concert de Gaudi wins Grammy Award as Best Contemporary Composition; elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters; assumes full-time teaching duties at Juilliard.
2006 Friandises world premiere with the New York City Ballet and the Juilliard School. The Juilliard School performance is featured on PBS's "Live from Lincoln Center" as part of their broadcast of 100 Years of The Juilliard School: A Gala Celebration.
2007 Requiem world premiere with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Wolf Rounds premieres with the Frost Wind Ensemble of the University of Miami.
2008 Christopher Rouse named Musical America's 2009 Composer of the Year. Concerto for Orchestra world premiere at Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.
2009 Oboe Concerto world premiere with the Minnesota Orchestra.
2010 Odna Zhizn world premiere with the New York Philharmonic.
String Quartet No. 3 world premiere with the Calder Quartet.
2011 Symphony No. 3 world premiere with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson.
2012 Appointed Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic for a two-year tenure; the position includes a world premiere commission.
2012 Heimdall's Trumpet world premiere with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
2013 Prospero's Rooms world premiere with the New York Philharmonic.
2014 Supplica world premiere with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Thunderstuck world premiere with the New York Philharmonic.
Fourth Symphony world premiere with the New York Philharmonic.
Term extended as Composer-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic
2016 Organ Concerto world premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
2017 Symphony No. 5 world premiere with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Berceuse Infinie world premiere with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

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