Steven Mackey was born in 1956 to American parents stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. He is regarded as one of the leading composers of his generation and has composed for orchestra, chamber ensembles, dance and opera. His first musical passion was playing the electric guitar, in rock bands based in northern California. He blazed a trail in the 1980s and ‘90s by including the electric guitar and vernacular music influence in his concert music. He regularly performs his own work, including two electric guitar concertos and numerous solo and chamber works. He is also active as an improvising musician and performs with his band Big Farm.
Mackey's orchestral music has been performed by major orchestras around the world, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco and Chicago Symphonies, the BBC Philharmonic, Concertgebouw orchestra, and the Austrian Radio Symphony, to the Sydney Symphony and Tokyo Philharmonic. As a guitarist, Mackey has performed his chamber music with the Kronos Quartet, Arditti Quartet, London Sinfonietta, Nexttime Ensemble (Parma), Psappha (Manchester), and Joey Baron.
In 2013, the Brentano String Quartet premiered Mackey’s One Red Rose
—a joint commission by Carnegie Hall and the Nasher Center in Dallas to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. The same year saw the premiere of his orchestral work, Urban Ocean
, commissioned for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. Stumble to Grace
, his piano concerto for Orli Shaham, co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Louis and New Jersey Symphonies and TONIC
, an orchestral work for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, have also recently premiered.
Mackey has been honored by numerous awards including a Grammy, several awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim fellowship, Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center Friedheim award and many others. He has been the composer-in-residence at major music festivals, including Tanglewood, Aspen and the Holland Festival.
His monodrama, Ravenshead
, for tenor/actor (Rinde Eckert) and electro-acoustic band/ensemble (the Paul Dresher Ensemble), has been performed nearly 100 times and is available on a MINMAX CD. In a year-end review of cultural events, USA Today
crowned the work the "Best New Opera of 1998."
Mackey’s music appears on several albums, featuring a range of works. Dreamhouse
(2010) and Lonely Motel: Music From Slide
(2011) were each nominated for 4 Grammy Awards. Mackey won a Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance for Lonely Motel in 2012.
Mackey is currently Professor of Music and chair of the Department of Music at Princeton University, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1985. Helping to shape the next generation of composers and musicians, he teaches composition, theory, twentieth century music, improvisation, and a variety of special topics. He regularly coaches and conducts new work by student composers, as well as 20th-century classics. He was the recipient of Princeton University’s first Distinguished Teaching Award in 1991. Mackey’s web site is www.stevenmackey.com. His music is published by Boosey & Hawkes. He lives in Princeton New Jersey with his wife, composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, and their son Jasper and daughter Dylan.
— January 2015This biography can be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with the following credit:
Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.