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Gregory Spears

Brooklyn, NY   

Gregory Spears writes music for modern and period instruments that blends aspects of romanticism, minimalism, and early music. His work has been called “astonishingly beautiful” (New York Times), “coolly entrancing” (The New Yorker), and “some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory.” (The Boston Globe) 

Spears’ first opera, Paul’s Case, recently described as a “masterpiece” and a “gem” (New York Observer) with “ravishing music” (New York Times), was developed by American Opera Projects Composers and the Voice Program. It was premiered in 2013 by Urban Arias in Arlington, VA, restaged at the Prototype Festival in New York in 2014, and presented in a new production by Pittsburgh Opera in 2014. Excerpts from Paul’s Case were also performed by the young artists of the LA Opera at the 2010 OPERA America National Conference. OPERA America subsequently commissioned his song Where I Lived, and What I Lived for, which was included in the OPERA America Songbook in 2012. His songs Savior Machine and Feast of Flowers were both commissioned by poet Tracy K. Smith and premiered at the New York Public Library LIVE series. Spears’ new evening-length chamber opera Fellow Travelers, written in collaboration with librettist Greg Pierce and director Kevin Newbury, was recently developed in a 2013 Opera Fusion workshop by Cincinnati Opera/Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. 

Spears is currently writing O Columbia, an evening-length chamber opera-oratorio commissioned by Houston Grand Opera (HGOco), as well as a dramatic “Afterpiece” for the New Vintage Baroque ensemble and the Damask ensemble. The later work is inspired by eighteenth-century music from Virginia and was supported by a 2014 Gilder-Lehrman Fellowship from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Other commissions have come from the Dalton School Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera HGOco (for the Persian-themed one-act opera The Bricklayer), pianist Marika Bournaki, the Present Music Ensemble, and the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra. In 1999 Spears was awarded a First Music Commission to write a piece for the New York Youth Symphony, which was given its premiere at Carnegie Hall. His music has also been performed by the American Composers Orchestra, Inscape Chamber Orchestra, the NOW Ensemble (the MATA Festival), So Percussion, and Eighth Blackbird. 

Much of his work involves period instruments and is inspired by baroque and renaissance music. New Amsterdam Records released his early music-inspired chamber Requiem to critical acclaim in 2011. Requiem was commissioned by Christopher Williams Dances and underwritten by a 2010 grant from the O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation. His dance-opera, Wolf-in-Skins (in-progress) is being written in collaboration with choreographer Christopher Williams and is being scored for a mostly period instrument chamber orchestra. Excerpts were featured at the OPERA America New Works Forum in 2011. Part One was produced in Philadelphia in 2013 by Philadelphia Dance Projects, Christopher Williams Dances, and American Opera Projects, featuring performers from the Sebastian Chamber Players period ensemble. The Sebastian Players also gave the New York premiere of Our Lady commissioned by countertenor Ryland Angel as part of the 2012 Twelfth Night Festival at Trinity Wall Street. More recently, Spears was commissioned by Seraphic Fire to write a new Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei to replace Franz Süssmayr’s contribution to the Mozart Requiem. The new movements were premiered last fall in South Florida by Seraphic Fire and the Firebird Chamber Orchestra conducted by Patrick Quigley. 

In 2009 Spears won a Jerome Composers Commissioning Award to support the composition of his string quartet Buttonwood for the JACK Quartet. The piece was inspired by his experience as composer-in-residence at the Buttonwood Psychiatric Unit in the winter of 2010. At the time Spears was teaching a course at the Princeton Writing Program called Music and Madness, which explores the connection between mental illness and creativity. Spears has also collaborated with Princeton musicologist Simon Morrison to realize the original score for Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, which was premiered by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Bard Festival in 2008.

Spears has won prizes from BMI and ASCAP as well as awards and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fulbright Foundation (Fellowship to Denmark 1999-2000), and the Vagn Holmboe Competition. He holds degrees in composition from the Eastman School of Music (BM), Yale School of Music (MM), and Princeton University (PhD). He has been an artist-in-residence at Yaddo, the Aaron Copland House, and the MacDowell Colony.  He was also one of the resident composers for American Opera Projects’ Composers and the Voice 2007-2008 season. He lives in Brooklyn.

Requiem VII. Postlude

REQUIEM (2010) is scored for 2 sopranos, 3 tenors, bass voice, recorder, chimes, troubadour harp, pedal harp, electric organ, and Baroque viola. It was commissioned by choreographer Christopher Williams with support from the O’Donnell Green Foundation for Music and Dance for the dance “Hen’s Teeth.” The piece interweaves texts in three languages and is loosely inspired by the Breton fairy tale “Pipi Menou et les Femmes Volantes.”

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OUR LADY (excerpt)

OUR LADY (2012) for countertenor, positive organ, and baroque string ensemble was written for Ryland Angel to accompany Vivaldi’s “Stabat Mater” on a concert featuring works in praise of the Virgin Mary. The piece uses fragments of Marian texts written in medieval Provençal by one of the last troubadours, Guiraut Riquier (c.1230- c.1300).

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BUTTONWOOD (string quartet no. 1)

BUTTONWOOD (2010) was commissioned by the JACK Quartet and underwritten by the American Composers Forum with funds from the Jerome Foundation. “Buttonwood” is a musical meditation on my experience as composer-in-residence at the Buttonwood Psychiatric Unit and is dedicated to the staff and patients I encountered at the hospital.

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