Sean Hickey is an American composer, arranger, pianist, guitarist and travel writer. He is also the sales manager at Naxos. He is the winner of numerous awards and receives commissions from talented performers and ensembles across the world.
Hickey was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1970. From the age of twelve, Hickey’s music education started ‘with an electric guitar, a Peavey amp and a stack of Van Halen records, the early ones of course’. He went on to study jazz guitar at the Oakland University and later composition and theory at Wayne State University. His teachers during this time included James Hartway, James Lentini and Leslie Bassett. Hickey moved to New York, where he still resides, and has since studied with Justin Dello Joio and Gloria Coates.
Sean Hickey’s output includes solo, chamber, vocal and orchestral works. His solo instrumental works are primarily for piano but also include works for clarinet, oboe, cello, guitar and bassoon. He has written more than 20 works within this genre between 1991 and 2013. His most recent works includeI’m About to do to You (What’s Been Done to Me) (2013) for piano and the simply titled B-flat (2011) for solo Bb clarinet. A homage to American author Kurt Vonnegut is also included in this collection,In Memoriam Kurt Vonnegut (2007) for piano. With the exception of theOstinato Grosso (2002) for piano, which lasts 15 minutes, all of Hickey’s solo instrumental works can be considered miniatures, mostly with a duration of two to six minutes.
Hickey’s chamber music output is nearly identical in size to his solo instrumental output, and again there are many miniatures. His initial works for chamber ensembles includeParadise Out of Focus (1992) for flute, oboe clarinet, horn and bassoon and the String Trio (1994). For the conventional instrumentations, Hickey also composed a substantial String Quartet (1996) and the Second String Trio (1996).
A variety of works for piano and other instruments include both traditional and unique combinations such as his Flute Sonata (1994),Fool’s Errand (2004) for clarinet and piano,Funny Papers (2003) for accordion and piano, Granfalloon (2004) for bassoon and piano,Ampersand (2006) for violin and piano, Foolscap (2011) for cello and piano,Yurodivi (2012) for clarinet and piano and, most recently,Longitude (2013) for viola and piano.
Some of the most uniquely titled works can also be found within this category includingUnintended Consequences (2010) for flute, violin, cello and piano, commissioned by the Pearls Before Swine Experience andHorse’s Mouth (2006) for trumpet, horn and trombone andPair of Pants (2003) for flute and clarinet.
In addition to the String Quartet, the Concerto for Clarinet and String Quartet (2006) commissioned by David Gould is very substantial.
Clearly most at home with miniatures and chamber works, Hickey composed only one orchestral work before 2003, his Symphony for Strings (1995). In 2003, he composed his first work for a full orchestra,Sagesee, which was written for the One World Symphony. The same year, he also composedDalliance, performed by Marin Alsop with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra.
He did not compose any more symphonic works until 2006 when he composed the Clarinet Concerto, which has been performed by David Gould. He has also written a Cello Concerto (2008) and a Mandolin Concerto (2010) commissioned by mandolinist Avi Avital. Other symphonic works include his Sinfonietta (2010) and Single Malt(2015) for string orchestra.
Hickey’s output of vocal works is quite small consisting of just four works. These include the acapellaA Mind of Winter (2003) and the Magnificat (1993) for chorus and organ, written for St. Mary’s of Steubenville, Ohio. His two other works include theNocturne (2001) for mezzo-soprano and piano and To the Wars (2004) for soprano, clarinet and cello. The latter was performed by the One World Symphony in New York.
In 2003, Hickey’s chamber and solo music was featured at CAMI Hall while his piano music was performed at Weill Recital Hall in New York.
Recently, Hickey has received a number of awards including grants from the New York Department of Cultural Affairs (2004) and the Composer Assistance Grant from the American Music Center (2004). He has also been awarded eight consecutive ASCAP awards, been a semi-finalist at the Auros Composition Competition (2001-2) and placed second at the State Awards in the former Yugoslavia (1990).
Hickey’s music appeals to a wide range of people, as evidenced by the popularity of hisLeft at the Fork in the Road (2005) album released on Naxos American Classics, which reached the Billboard Top 100 Classical Chart. He also has an album of concertos and his newest album,Cursive is now available. Cursive also features piano and chamber works.
The title piece, Cursive for solo piano is reminiscent of Messiaen in its use of birdsong. The wittyAmpersand for violin and piano takes after Prokofiev in style, whileDolmen is full of Celtic mystery. The album also contains a touching memorial,Reckoning, for a friend killed in the Marrakesh bombing in 2011. Pianist ‘Philip Fisher sight-read the score from my laptop exactly one time, and that is what you hear’. The album also includes Hickey’s most famous work,The Birds of Barclay Street (2011) and the jovial Hill Music: A Breton Ramble. The Ostinato Grosso, one of Hickey’s largest piano works, is also included, along withPied-a-terre for ‘Debussy trio’ (flute, viola and harp).
In addition to being an active composer, Hickey is also works for Naxos as the national sales and business development manager. This job ‘has him listening to and promoting literally hundreds of new recordings every month that are either released by or distributed through Naxos, as well as travelling all over the world to broker various deals’. Evidence of this vast amount of diverse musical exposure is evident in his music, though he definitely has his one musical voice. Also influential to him is the music of Frank Zappa and the performance of Stravinsky’sSymphonies of Wind Instruments by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was just 16 years old.
In the summer and autumn of 2016 Hickey's activities included the recorded premiere ofSingle Malt in Hungary and the premiere in London. Michala Petri performed Hickey’s Recorder Concerto at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Denmark, which was recorded the following day.