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Musical World

Jay Greenberg

  • Composer


Jay Greenberg: Recently, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s announced it was commissioning Jay Greenberg to write a one movement violin concerto for Joshua Bell to be premiered at Carnegie Hall on October 28, 2007.

“How do you react when you encounter an early compositional gift so extraordinary that you can’t even begin to comprehend it?” Zyman wrote in The Juilliard Journal in 2003. “How do you explain to others a compositional talent so exquisitely developed at such an early age that you can barely believe it yourself? What would you do if you personally met an eight-year-old boy who can compose and fully notate half a movement of a magnificent piano sonata in the style of Beethoven, before your very eyes and without a piano, in less than an hour? How do you let the world know that the same boy, at age 10, composed a probing, original viola concerto in three movements, fully orchestrated, in just a few weeks?”

Typically of a young artist, Greenberg has little to say in explaining his creative process or describing his music. In conversation, his self-confidence and his intelligence are leavened by a sharp, playful sense of humor – the perfect means of deflecting questions about his methods. He has recently begun maintaining a catalogue of his works dating from 1999, when he began to apply himself seriously to composing. Greenberg believes there were a few earlier pieces of which he has no record, but his catalogue is already rich in full-scale compositions – in addition to five symphonies, more than a dozen piano sonatas and a wide variety of solo piano pieces, he has composed string quartets and other chamber music, three piano concertos, and concertos for the violin and the viola. In 2001, he began using a computer for composing, which enabled him to work at a much faster pace.

“I don’t usually work them out on paper,” Greenberg says simply of his composing process. “They tend to work themselves. Generally, fairly quickly.”

Born in 1991 in New Haven, Connecticut, Jay Greenberg began playing the cello when he was three years old, and he later taught himself how to play the piano. His first formal lessons in theory and composition began when he was seven; three years later he enrolled as a scholarship student in both the college and pre-college divisions of New York’s Juilliard School of Music. Greenberg’s teachers there have included Zyman, Ira Taxin, Samuel Adler, Ernest Baretta, Lance Horn and Kendall Briggs. He says he has also learned from the writings of contemporary composers, such as Stravinsky’s Poetics in Music and the Norton Lectures that Leonard Bernstein delivered at Harvard University in 1973, as well as Aaron Copland’s essays and texts on music and composition.

His Overture to 9/11 received first prize in the composition competition at the Juilliard pre-college division in 2003, and he won ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composers awards in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Among Greenberg’s most recent commissions are Short Stories for Tenor Saxophone, Percussion and Orchestra, performed at Alice Tully Hall by the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York, and Hexalogue for Winds and Piano, premiered at the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival in North Carolina.