|Robert Beaser has emerged as one of the
most accomplished creative musicians of his generation. Since 1982,
when The New York Times wrote that he possessed a “lyrical
gift comparable to that of the late Samuel Barber,” his music has won
international acclaim for its balance between dramatic sweep and architectural
clarity. The Baltimore Sun writes “Beaser is one of this country’s
huge composing talents, with a gift for vocal writing that is perhaps unequaled.”
His opera The Food of Love, with a libretto by Terrence McNally,
is part of the Central Park trilogy, which opened to worldwide critical
accolades at Glimmerglass and New York City Opera. Televised nationally
on PBS Great Performances, it received an Emmy nomination in 2000.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 29, 1954, Beaser was brought
up in a non-musical family. His father was a physician and mother was
a chemist. He grew up in Newton, Massachusetts where he distinguished
himself at a young age as a percussionist, composer and conductor. He made
his debut with the Greater Boston Youth Symphony at Jordon Hall when he
was 16, conducting the premiere of his own orchestral work, Antigone.
He went on to study with Yehudi Wyner and
at Yale College, graduating summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1976,
and later received his Master of Music, M.M.A. and Doctor of Musical Arts
degrees from the Yale School of Music. He studied conducting with Otto-Werner
Mueller and William Steinberg. Other teachers included Toru Takemitsu,
Arnold Franchetti, Goffredo Petrassi and Earle Brown. He studied
with Betsy Jolas on
a fellowship at Tanglewood. In 1977 he became the youngest composer to
win the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. Residence in Rome
proved a watershed in his development, and he embraced more tonal language,
synthesizing a variety of diverse influences from jazz to folk into his
From 1978-1990 he served as co-Music Director and Conductor of the chamber ensemble Musical Elements at the 92nd Street Y, bringing premieres of over two hundred works to Manhattan. From 1988-1993 he was the Meet the Composer/Composer-in-Residence with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and served as the ACO’s artistic advisor until January 2001, when he assumed the role of Artistic Director. Since 1993, he has been Professor and Chairman of the Composition Department at the Juilliard School in New York.
Beaser’s compositions have earned him numerous awards and honors. In 1977 he became the youngest composer to win the Prix de Rome from the American Academy in Rome. In 1986, Beaser’s widely heard Mountain Songs was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Contemporary Composition. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Fulbright Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Charles Ives Scholarship, an ASCAP Composers Award, a Nonesuch Commission Award, and a Barlow Commission. In 1995 the American Academy of Arts and Letters honored him with their lifetime achievement award, the Academy Award in music.
Beaser has received major commissions from the New York Philharmonic
(150th Anniversary Commission), the Chicago Symphony (Centennial
Commission), the Saint Louis Symphony, The American Composers Orchestra,
The Baltimore Symphony and Dawn Upshaw, The
Minnesota Orchestra, Chanticleer, New York City Opera, Glimmerglass,
and WNET/Great Performances among others. Recent major orchestral
performances have come from the Chicago, Saint Louis and Baltimore Symphonies,
The Minnesota Orchestra, The New York Philharmonic, the American Composers
Orchestra, the Vienna Radio Orchestra, the Dutch Radio Symphony and
the Hong Kong Philharmonic with James Galway. His music
has been performed, recorded and commissioned by artists such as Leonard Slatkin, Richard Stoltzman, Eliot
Fisk, James Galway, Lauren Flanigan, Dawn Upshaw, David Zinman, Dennis Russell Davies,
Robertson, and Big Bird.
His principal recorded works include The Seven Deadly Sins,
Chorale Variations, and Piano Concerto (London/Argo), The
Heavenly Feast (Milken Archives), Song of the Bells (New
World Records), Notes on a Southern Sky (EMI-Electrola), Mountain
Songs (Musicmasters, Koch, Gajo, Siemens, HM Records Venezuela),
and Landscape With Bells (Innova).
== Biography taken from the website of the American Composers Orchestra, as well as other sources.
== Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
© 1991 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on January 18, 1991. Portions were broadcast on WNIB two months later, and again in 1994 and 1999. This transcription was made in 2019, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.