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Amy Beth Kirsten

New Haven, CT   

“ingenious, absorbing and quietly powerful” – John Von Rhein (The Chicago Tribune) on the world premiere of Savior April 2, 2018

Recognized with artist fellowships from the John S. Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, composer-director Amy Beth Kirsten’s musical and conceptual language is characterized by an abiding interest in music-driven theatre. Her work reimagines the embodiment of music and voice by deconstructing the sonic, physical, and visual aspects of performance. At the heart of this is a deep desire for discovery – to find a vocabulary for each new work, one that enables storytelling using music and all the theatrical stage has to offer.

Ms. Kirsten has composed evening-length, fully-staged theatrical works as well as traditional concert works for her own ensemble HOWL, musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, Peak Performances, the multi-Grammy-winning eighth blackbird, and American Composers Orchestra, among many others.

Ms. Kirsten spent the 2017-18 Season in collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to create Savior in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the CSO’s MusicNOW chamber series. An evening-length work of music-driven theatre, Savior is scored for pre-recorded voice actor, vocal trio, masked alto flute, cello, percussion, lighting, sound, and choreographic design. With libretto, music, and stage direction by Ms. Kirsten, Savior is a mystical re-telling of the life and death of Joan of Arc.

World premiere performances in March 2017 of QUIXOTE were the culmination of a two-year Performing Arts Research Lab residency at Peak Performances @ Montclair State University with HOWL. A 90-minute fully staged work inspired by Cervantes’ epic novel and performed by vocal trio, singing percussion quartet, and actor/director Mark DeChiazza, QUIXOTE was described as “wildly inventive” by the New York Times.

Colombine’s Paradise Theatre, commissioned and produced by the multi-Grammy-winning eighth blackbird, opened the 2014-15 seasons of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and New York’s Miller Theatre selling out both venues. The Washington Post called it a “tour de force” and said it has “a beguiling element of the grotesque throughout, and the music is complex and multilayered, rich in allusions, and often extraordinarily beautiful.” Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times found it “dark, wild and engrossing” with a “wondrously eclectic score, which combines spiky modernism, breezy pop, hints of Indian music, percussion wildness and more.”

Ms. Kirsten was born in East St. Louis, IL (just across the river from Missouri) and grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City and Chicago. Educated at Roosevelt University (MM) and the Peabody Institute (DMA), she now resides in New Haven, Connecticut. She teaches music composition privately and at the HighSCORE summer festival in Italy and served on the Music Composition faculty at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University during the 2015-17 academic years before joining the Composition Faculty at Longy School of Music of Bard College in the Fall of 2017.

ARTIST STATEMENT: I’ve included the three work samples below because they represent the musical and visual worlds I gravitate toward. I invite you to read the descriptions to learn some unusual details about each work.

World Under Glass No. 1 for five bassoons (2011)

Artist Thomas Doyle’s astonishing scenes-in-miniature are displayed in oversized snow globes. Far from beautiful snow-scapes they portray disturbing moments painstakingly arranged. We initially delight in these tantalizing objects. Carefree curiosity slowly draws us near. Upon closer inspection, delight turns to horror. This emotional whiplash stunned and inspired me. I didn’t know if I should laugh at how I was fooled or cry for the little tragedies under glass. Doyle’s work made my imagination sing. This piece is that song. (thomasdoyle.net)

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medical exam, from QUIXOTE; the crowd searches for a cure for Quixote’s madness (2017)

One of the challenges of building a new work of theatre for classically trained musicians, is figuring out how to make it possible for them to be mobile on the stage. With singers, it’s a bit easier to fathom, but for percussionists… The conundrum was inspiring. I dreamed of tuning forks striking small pads worn on the body – and that’s what we did. Once vibrating, the tines are placed carefully on a particular material or object. In this case, Quixote’s costume was made playable by adorning it with specific surfaces called for in the score.

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bass drum moon three, from COLOMBINE’S PARADISE THEATRE (2014)

Scene from my first evening-length piece of music-driven theatre – commissioned by eighth blackbird. In this scene Pierrot, trying to prove his love, brings Colombine the moon. The sung text is simple: “One thing alone is real.” This piece is close to my heart because through creating it I realized my affinity for theatre. The characters of the commedia dell’arte seemed a perfect catalyst for something new for eighth blackbird. I used these 16th century characters in a new story giving Colombine a starring role. She’d never had that before.

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NewMusicBox Articles

Articles March 19 2012 | By Amy Beth Kirsten
The ‘Woman Composer’ is Dead

It’s wonderful to celebrate the composers of our time, but lets do it by freeing them from our gender-burdened past. If we do this, then what happens to the 'woman...