Rich and powerful musical language and a strong sense of drama have made Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave one of the most respected and exciting contemporary composers in the Western world.
Her compositions were first performed under the auspices of the British Broadcasting Corporation and at the Edinburgh International Festival. As a result her works have been widely performed in Britain, Europe and the USA, and at the major music festivals, such as Edinburgh, Warsaw Autumn, Florence Maggio Musicale, Venice Biennale, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham and Zagreb; on most of the European and American broadcasting stations; and on many regular symphony concert series.
From time to time she conducts her own works: the premiere performance of Mary, Queen of Scots at the 1977 Edinburgh International Festival and later with the San Francisco Spring Opera; her ballet Beauty and the Beast; the premiere performances of The Voice of Ariadne in Britain and again in New York and Los Angeles for the New York City Opera; orchestral works with the BBC Symphony, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, and the London Sinfonietta; also a recording of the Horn Concerto with the Scottish National Orchestra and soloist Barry Tuckwell. In the United States she has conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. She has also conducted the Jerusalem Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic. It is a measure of her talent and determination that Thea Musgrave has earned great respect for her work both as a composer and conductor at a time when these were still rather uncommon professions for a woman.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 27 May 1928, she studied first at the University of Edinburgh and later at the Conservatoire in Paris, where she spent four years as a pupil of Nadia Boulanger, before establishing herself back in London as a prominent member of British musical life with her orchestral, choral, operatic, and chamber works. In 1970 she became Guest Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which anchored her increasing involvement with the musical life of the United States. In 1971 she married the American violist and opera conductor Peter Mark, and has resided in the U.S. since 1972. In 1974 she received the Koussevitzky Award, resulting in the composition of Space Play, which after its London premier was performed in New York by the Lincoln Center Chamber Players. She has also been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, in 1974-75, and again in 1982-83, and was recognized with honorary degrees by Old Dominion University (Virginia), Smith College, Glasgow University and in May 2004, the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She was awarded a C.B.E. on the Queen's New Year's Honour List in January 2002. As Distinguished Professor at Queens College, City University of New York from September 1987-2002, Musgrave has guided and interacted with many new and gifted young student composers.
Musgrave has consistently explored new means of projecting essentially dramatic situations in her music, frequently altering and extending the conventional boundaries of instrumental performance by physicalizing their musical and dramatic impact. As she once put it, she wanted to explore dramatic musical forms: some works are dramatic-abstract, that is without programmatic content (such as the Clarinet Concerto, the Horn Concerto, the Viola Concerto, and Space Play), and others project specific programmatic ideas (such as the paintings in The Seasons and Turbulent Landscapes, the poems in Ring Out Wild Bells, Journey through a Japanese Landscape, and Autumn Sonata, and the famous Greek legends in Orfeo, Narcissus, Helios, and Voices from the Ancient World); -- all extensions of concerto principles. In some of these, to enhance the dramatic effect, the sonic possibilities of spatial acoustics have been incorporated: in the Clarinet Concerto the soloist moves around the different sections of the orchestra, and in the Horn Concerto the orchestral horns are stationed around the concert hall. Thus the players are not only the conversants in an abstract musical dialogue, but also very much the living (and frequently peripatetic) embodiment of its dramatis personae.
It was therefore not surprising that her focus on the lyric and dramatic potential of music should have led to Musgrave's fluency in the field of opera, and it is interesting to see that her large-scale operas of the past 30 years, beginning with The Voice of Ariadne (1972) and followed by Mary, Queen of Scots (1977), A Christmas Carol (1979), and Harriet, The Woman Called Moses (1984), are in every sense the true successors to the instrumental concertos. Simón Bolívar (1993), like many of her operas, focuses on a historic figure whose life takes on an epic or archetypal dimension -- in this case the heroic liberator of several South American countries from Spanish colonial rule. Her newest opera, Pontalba, (2003), again places the heroic struggle of its heroine in a larger historical context, in this case the Louisiana Purchase and the forging of the young United States.
With such a large and varied career and catalogue, Thea Musgrave is frequently interviewed and questioned about being a "woman" composer, to which she has replied; "Yes, I am a woman; and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time."
Thea Musgrave's music is published by Novello & Co. and Chester Music.
For more information about the music of Thea Musgrave, and/or for publicity or media queries, please contact:
A440 Arts Group
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