Richard Danielpour

Richard Danielpour

Composer

• Born 1956

Biography

Born in the middle of an overwhelmingly diverse musical century, Richard Danielpour established himself as an innovator of a different sort: one who works within a musical inheritance, and seeks originality in the poignancy of expression rather than the novelty of method. Danielpour's accessibility has elicited criticism; one prominent reviewer derided his allegiance to "the dictator ship of the past." While resisting the facile categorization "neo-Romantic," and likewise respecting the 20th century's great musical mavericks, Danielpour has embraced his role as a composer "between revolutions."

Early on as a student -- first at the New England Conservatory, then at the Juilliard School -- Danielpour established his reputation as a skilled pianist (studying under Hollander, Jochum, and Chodus) and gifted composer (under Persichetti and Mennin). In fact, his first Piano Concerto, completed in 1981 (but later withdrawn), was commissioned and received its first performances while Danielpour was yet a Juilliard student. Like many composers of his generation, Danielpour initially subscribed to certain serial methods; his works in the early '80s employed them extensively. Works from the end of that decade, however, such as First Light (1988) and The Awakened Heart (1990), adopted a broader and more unapologetically expressive style. He emerged in the '90s as one of a handful of composers, alongside figures including Adams, Rouse, Schwantner, Corigliano, and Kernis, who embraced both the sonic engagement of triadic harmony and the experimental innovations of the previous century -- the familiar sound of the traditional orchestra as well as cultural ubiquity of pop, rock, and jazz. 1996's Concerto for Orchestra ("Zoroastrian Riddles"), for example, hides beneath its ostensibly serious surface musical allusions to Broadway, movies, and television. And like the music of his colleagues in this diverse cohort, Danielpour's works, including several symphonies and concertos and numerous chamber and vocal pieces, resonated with his audience and garnered wide acclaim; in fact, Danielpour became one of only three composers (the others being Stravinsky and Copland) to enjoy an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical. By the end of the century, Danielpour's resume read like a checklist of classical music's highest honors: he had fulfilled commissions for numerous prestigious orchestras from the San Francisco Symphony to the New York Philharmonic, received several awards, completed numerous residencies, and served on the faculties of the Curtis Institute and the Manhattan School of Music. In 2005 he completed his first opera, Margaret Garner, in collaboration with novelist Toni Morrison. That work, moving from a Detroit premiere to the New York City Opera, spawned other high-profile vocal commissions, including Three Prayers for soprano and orchestra (2007), an adaptation of three of the opera's arias, and Songs from an Old War, for baritone and piano, written for baritone Thomas Hampson.

Danielpour's major works of the 2010s have included the oratorio Toward a Season of Peace (2011), recorded for the Naxos label in 2014, and the ballet Layla and the Majnun (2016). The latter work, based on a 12th century Persian love poem, drew on the composer's own Persian Jewish heritage. Among Danielpour's many honors are a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Charles Ives Fellowship and Award both from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, five MacDowell Colony Fellowships, a Jerome Foundation Award, and a Rockefeller Foundation Grant.

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