John Duffy (June 23, 1929 - December 22, 2015), considered "one of the great heroes of American music," has composed more than 300 works for symphony orchestra, opera, theater, television and film. He has received many awards for his contributions to music: two Emmys, an ASCAP award for special recognition in film and television music, a New York State Governor's Art Award, and the (New York City) Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture. He is also the recipient of the American Music Center's Founders' Award for Lifetime Achievement. As founder and president of Meet the Composer, an organization dedicated to the creation, performance, and recording of music by American composers, he initiated countless landmark programs to advance American music and to aid American composers.
Duffy grew up in the Bronx, one of fourteen children of Irish immigrant parents. As a young man, he studied composition with noted composers Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, Luigi Dallapiccola, Solomon Rosowsky and Herbert Zipper concurrently with his career and early successes in the theater. He credits Rosowsky for insisting uncompromisingly on learning the craft of music and developing the discipline and patience necessary to the art.
His profound regard for language, its beauties and its powers, suited him ideally for his work in theater, television and film. He acquired a reputation early on as a first-class interpreter of ideas and emotion, a brilliant orchestrator, and a sensitive colleague.
Duffy's appointment, in his twenties, to the post of music director, composer and conductor of Shakespeare under the Stars, was the first in a succession of similar posts at the Guthrie Theater, the Long Wharf Theatre, and the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, and for NBC and ABC television in New York City. The culmination was his landmark music for the production of Macbeth at John Houseman's American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.
He composed some of his notable theater scores for Broadway and Off-Broadway productions of The Ginger Man, Macbird, Mother Courage, Playboy of the Western World, and many Shakespeare plays, including his memorable collaboration with John Houseman.
Duffy also has composed distinguished concert music for a variety of commissions, among them: A Time for Remembrance (cantata for soprano, speaker and orchestra), commissioned by the U.S. Government to mark the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Symphony No. 1: Utah, commissioned by the Sierra Club to draw attention to preserving and protecting public lands in southern Utah; Freedom Overture, commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall; Concerto for Stan Getz and Concert Band; and the Emmy Award-winning score for the nine-hour PBS documentary, narrated by Abba Eban, "Heritage: Civilization and the Jews."
The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune call his music, "haunting, memorable, and brilliant." Recordings of his music appear on the CBS, Albany, L.A. TheatreWorks, and Koss labels. His most recent opera, Black Water, with a libretto by Joyce carol Oates, premiered in Philadelphia in 2001, followed by performances in Los Angeles, Lincoln Center and Cooper Union Hall in New York City, as well as performances in Maine. Mark Swed, chief music critic for the Los Angeles Times, said, "…at some point the listener no longer feels like a bemused bystander, watching yet another episode of a Washington soap opera, and becomes caught up in a real opera of universal tragedy. The ending is devastating – an excellent tonic for the nightly news."
|Among the composers represented
in this series (some multiple times) are John Adams, John Harbison, Joan Tower, David Del Tredici, Bernard Rands, Donald Erb, Daniel Asia,
Alvin Singleton, Tobias Picker, Dan Welcher, John Corigliano; conductors
Edo de Waart, André
Slatkin, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Gerard Schwarz, James
Sedares, Dennis Russell
Davies, Sir Neville Marriner, Herbert Blomstedt, Paul
Polivnik, Christopher Wilkins, David Zinman, Robert Shaw, Louis Lane,
Donald Johanos, Daniel Barenboim;
and performers Susan Larson, Lynn Harrell, Lucy Shelton,
Garrick Ohlsson, Leona Mitchell.
|The New Philharmonic Orchestra was founded
in 1977, when the College of DuPage boldly embarked on sponsoring resident
professional arts organizations. Since its first concert that November,
when an orchestra of 24 carefully auditioned musicians performed for a
capacity audience of 330 in the Building M open space on west campus, the
New Philharmonic has expanded and thrived. Now under the direction of
Artistic Director and Conductor Kirk Muspratt, the orchestra numbers approximately
60 players, depending on the repertoire, and performs for audiences of
1,500 people per engagement in the beautiful McAninch Arts Center. Under
Muspratt’s direction, the orchestra performs innovative renditions of
classic and modern works. [To read a detailed biography of Kirk Muspratt,
and an article about Harold
Bauer, who formed the orchestra, click
The New Philharmonic is the only professional orchestra based in DuPage County, Illinois, and is grateful to call the MAC its home. The college provides substantial in-kind support. Funding comes from ticket sales, corporate and individual donations, grants, the Illinois Arts Council, DuPage Community Foundation, JCS Fund, College of DuPage Foundation, and from the college’s Student Activities Fund.
© 1988 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in suburban Chicago on January 25, 1988. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1993 and 1998. This transcription was made in 2020, 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. To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.
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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.