|Joseph Fennimore (born 16 April
1940) is an American composer, pianist and teacher best known for his
works for piano and chamber ensembles, ranked by Pulitzer Prize-winning
critic Philip Kennicott as “one of this country’s finest
composers.” His music has been performed and broadcast worldwide
and included in the Metropolitan Opera Studio and New York City Ballet
Fennimore was born in Manhattan and began formal music studies in upstate New York at the Schenectady Conservatory of Music, his principal teacher being its founder and director, Joseph G. Derrick, graduate of the New England Conservatory in the piano class of Ethel Newcomb, Theodor Leschetizky’s first American assistant. In his twelfth year Fennimore was chosen to perform a piano concerto with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra at that city’s historic Proctor’s Theater. The first Fennimore compositions to be performed publicly were choral works presented in 1957 by the Scotia-Glenville Choralaires, under Carl M. Steubing, which annually toured the northeast.
Fennimore was one of eight high school juniors to participate in the Eastman School of Music’s experimental accelerated program in Rochester, New York, during which the first year of his baccalaureate was completed over the summer months before and after his senior year in high school. The first summer he studied piano with guest teacher Eugene List; the second summer he studied with Eastman piano chair Cecile Genhart, who would become one of his chief musical influences. It was in the fall of 1958 that Fennimore met fellow Eastman freshman, the pianist Gordon Hibberd, who has been his life partner ever since.
Genhart arranged summer piano studies for Fennimore with retired Eastman faculty member Sandor Vas; Vas enlisted Hildegarde Lasell Watson to become Fennimore’s patron; in 1962 she arranged Fennimore’s visit to and audition for composer and critic Virgil Thomson, who urged him to move to New York City. Upon graduating from Eastman that year with a B.M. degree with distinction and a performer’s certificate, Fennimore entered the Juilliard School of Music in Manhattan that autumn as a student of Rosina Lhévinne, receiving an M.S. degree from Juilliard in 1965 with the Loeb and Van Cliburn Alumnae Awards.
Fennimore, an ASCAP composer, at first interspersed composing with other musical activities ranging from performing as concert and recital soloist (encouraged by Bedford Pace III, director of public relations in North America for the British Tourist Authority) in America, Japan and Europe, to assistant conducting on Broadway for music director and arranger Buster Davis, writing music criticism pseudonymously and co-founding, with Gordon Hibberd, and directing (1972–76) the Hear America First concert series that was broadcast nationally on National Public Radio. He also taught piano at Princeton University as well as piano, piano literature and music literature at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. Since the early 1970s he has devoted his energies more exclusively to his compositional efforts, new works introduced and often performed by mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle, cellist Ted Hoyle, harpsichordist Elaine Comparone and pianists Larry Graham, Dennis Helmrich, Jeffrey Middleton, Dan Teitler, Marthanne Verbit, and Juana Zayas.
Among Fennimore’s citations are the Loeb Memorial Award and Van Cliburn Award (both from Juilliard for post-graduate study); the Hour of Music Award from the Colony Club of New York, which he won in 1964; and first prize in piano in the National Federation of Music Club’s Young Artist Competition in 1965. This last award brought Fennimore four years of management from the federation, which included a United States Information Agency-sponsored tour of Japan and dozens of concerts throughout the United States, especially in the south, where he received the Kentucky Colonel and Arkansas Traveler awards from the governors of those states. He also received a Rockefeller grant (with renewal); a Fulbright grant (with renewal) in 1967-69, which enabled him to study with Harold Craxton, O.B.E., in the United Kingdom; and first prize in Barcelona’s Concurso Internacional Maria Canals in 1969. In addition, since 1976 he has been recipient of annual ASCAP awards. In 2013 Fennimore received a citation from the New York State Music Teachers Association recognizing his “outstanding contributions as a performer, master teacher, coach and world-renowned performer.”
-- Note: Throughout this page, names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on this website. BD
© 1986 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago at the beginning of July, 1986. Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1990, 1995 and 2000. A portion was also used as part of the in-flight entertainment package aboard United Airlines in March of 1988. [That package was also carried aboard Air Force One, the Presidental Airliner] This transcription was made in 2015, 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, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.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.