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James Matheson

New York, NY         

New York-based composer James Matheson has rapidly emerged as one of the most distinctive, vital, and creative musical voices of his generation. Among his commissions are works for the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Chicago and Albany Symphony Orchestras, Carnegie Hall and the Borromeo String Quartet. The American Academy of Arts and Letters honored him in December, 2011, with the Charles Ives Living, an award of $100,000 a year for 2 years (2012-2014).

Recent commissions include Violin Concerto, co-commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic; True South, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic; a new work for two shakuhachi and chamber orchestra, co-commissioned by Kyo-Shin-An Arts and River Oaks Chamber Orchestra for soloists James Schlefer and Akihito Obama; String Quartet (2014), commissioned by Justus and Elizabeth Schlichting for the St. Lawrence String Quartet; Times Alone (2013), commissioned by soprano Kiera Duffy, Cretic Variations (2013), commissioned by pianist Nadia Shpachenko, and Peace Talks (2014), commissioned by Swarthmore College for its Sesquicentennial Celebration. Current projects include new works for violinist Jennifer Koh, pianist Bruce Levingston and a second work for pianist Nadia Shpachenko.

From 2009 to 2015 James served as Director of the the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s innovative Composer Fellowship Program. In addition to the Ives Living, Matheson has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Bogliasco and Sage Foundations, ASCAP, and the Robbins Prize. From 2005-2007, Matheson was Executive Director of the MATA Festival of New Music in New York, which commissions and performs the work of young composers who are making their entry into professional musical life. Matheson has held residencies at Civitella Ranieri, Yaddo and the Liguria Study Center, and has been a fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

Cretic Variations (Nadia Shpachenko, piano)

I write music that is extremely difficult to play, that treads the line between the possible and the impossible. I love the feeling of wonder that comes from sensing that no one person should be actually able to play so many things and that yet, there it is, happening right before us…

The cretic foot, in poetic meter, consists simply of the stress pattern long-short-long. As in, say, the childish taunt “lah di dah” or Shakespeare’s “Shall I die? Shall I fly?” Cretic Variations explores this basic rhythm and its expressive potential.

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Borromean Rings (Borromeo String Quartet; Judith Gordon, piano)

A key element in the emotional and structural world of my piano quintet is the idea of the Borromean Rings—a chain of rings in which all rings are connected as a unit, but in which no two individual rings are connected. Thus, if one link in the chain is broken, the entire structure crumbles. Borromean Rings explores the powerful musical and spiritual implications of this metaphor of mutually dependent connectedness, of chains of relationships in which every nodal point has equal importance in maintaining the survival and integrity of the whole.

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Violin Sonata (Thereza Stanislav, violin; Roberto Giordano, piano)

The opening few measures of Violin Sonata spotlight a recurring organizational and expressive principle of the piece – that of hazy, ambiguous ideas becoming dramatically and suddenly clear. Almost like the process of manually adjusting the focus of a camera, shapeless blocks of color gradually move toward clarity until that magical instant when the image resolves and we can suddenly see. Click.

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NewMusicBox Articles

Articles October 19 2016 | By James Matheson
Vinyl Fever

In 2012 came move number 19 and I left the records when I left the apartment. It was an impulsive yet life-altering decision that on occasion still keeps me awake...