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Long Bio:

“My entire life was changed by a single note.” As a teenager growing up in Northern California obsessed with blues-rock guitar, Steven Mackey was in search of the “right wrong notes,” as he often likes to say, referencing Thelonius Monk. The single note in question occurs in the second movement of Beethoven’s last string quartet, which a 19-year-old Mackey heard while driving around northern California: an unexpected unison E-flat that wielded the power to explode assumptions he had about classical music. He would later describe it as the most psychedelic rock music he’d ever heard.

Mackey cites this as the moment he decided to become a composer, and it set the young guitarist on a path that has defined his music to this day: Colorful notes (including blue) creating vivid topographies that serve as landmarks on fantastical journeys.

Today, Steven Mackey is a Grammy-winning composer of works for chamber ensemble, orchestra, dance, and opera—commissioned by the greatest orchestras around the world, and winner of several awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award. Bright in coloring, ecstatic in inventiveness, lively and profound, Mackey’s music spins the tendrils of his improvisatory riffs into large-scale works of grooving, dramatic coherence.

Mackey began composition studies at the University of California at Davis, and received his PhD at Brandeis University. Upon graduating and becoming a professor at Princeton, Mackey came to realize his true creative voice by merging his academic training with the free-spirited physicality of his mother-tongue rock guitar music. Signature pieces incorporating rock vernacular into traditional classical ensembles emerged: Troubadour Songs (1991) for string quartet and electric guitar; Physical Property (1992) for electric guitar and string quartet; and Banana/Dump Truck (1995), a concerto for solo electrified cello plus a ripieno group of cellists and orchestra.

The decades that followed saw Mackey build on his collision between eras and styles with a deepening fascination in transformation and movement of sound through time. He would create many of the defining pieces in his repertoire: Dreamhouse (2003) for solo baritone, vocal quartet, electric guitar quartet and orchestra, nominated for four Grammy awards; A Beautiful Passing (2008) for violin and orchestra, an emotional reflection upon the death of his mother that Leila Josefowicz premiered with the BBC Philharmonic; and Slide (2011), an experimental music theater piece that won a Grammy Award for a recording featuring Mackey on electric guitar alongside vocalist Rinde Eckhart and eighth blackbird. In 2015, Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic premiered Mnemosyne’s Pool, which Musical America called “the first great American symphony of the 21st century.”

Today, Mackey lives in Princeton, New Jersey with his wife, composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, and their son Jasper and daughter Dylan, and teaches at Princeton University, where he mentors young composers as director of the Edward T. Cone Composition Institute. He continues to explore an ever-widening world of timbres befitting a complex, 21st-century culture, while always striving to make music that unites the head and heart, that is visceral, that gets us moving. www.stevenmackey.com

—Alex Ambrose, for Boosey & Hawkes
September 2019

Short Bio:

Bright in coloring, ecstatic in inventiveness, lively and profound, Steven Mackey’s music spins the tendrils of his improvisatory riffs into large-scale works of grooving, dramatic coherence.

As a teenager growing up in Northern California obsessed with blues-rock guitar, Mackey was in search of the “right wrong notes,” those heart-wrenching moments that imbue the music with new, unexpected momentum. Today, his pieces play with that tension of being inside or outside of the harmony and flow forward shimmering with prismatic detail.

Signature early works merged his academic training with the free-spirited physicality of his mother-tongue rock guitar music: Troubadour Songs (1991) and Physical Property (1992) for string quartet and electric guitar; and Banana/Dump Truck (1995), an electrified-cello concerto. Later works explored his deepening fascination in transformation and movement of sound through time: Dreamhouse (2003), a rich work for voices and ensemble was nominated for four Grammy awards; A Beautiful Passing (2008) for violin and orchestra on the passing of his mother; and Slide (2011), a Grammy Award–winning music theater piece.

Today, Steven Mackey writes for chamber ensemble, orchestra, dance, and opera—commissioned by the greatest orchestras around the world. He has served as professor of music at Princeton University for the past 35 years, and has won several awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award. He continues to explore an ever-widening world of timbres befitting a complex, 21st-century culture, while always striving to make music that unites the head and heart, that is visceral, that gets us moving. stevenmackey.com

—Alex Ambrose, for Boosey & Hawkes
September 2019

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