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Musical World

John Corigliano

  • Composer


John Corigliano richly expressive style as a composer is on display on his latest new Sony Classical recording entitled Phantasmagoria (SK 60747). It features four musical fantasies Corigliano wrote for piano and cello, both solo and together, performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianists Emanuel Ax and James Tocco. The title work, heard here in its first recording by Ma and Ax, is drawn from the score of the composer’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles.
In 1997, John Corigliano completed the film score to the motion picture The Red Violin, directed by François Girard (who is best known for Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould). The film, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Greta Scacchi, revolves around the 300-year history of a violin and the people whose lives it touches.
The Sony Classical soundtrack (SK 63010) features violinist Joshua Bell and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen. Corigliano's score was recently awarded Best Original Score at the Academy Awards and also at the Genie Awards, while the film took awards for Best Picture and Best Director, as well as others. On November 25, 1997, Robert Spano and the San Francisco Symphony gave the world premiere of the composer's The Red Violin Chaconne for violin and orchestra with Sony Classical artist Joshua Bell.
In December of that year, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa and Bell performed the work at Symphony Hall in Boston, Carnegie Hall in New York and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The Red Violin Chaconne is an independent concert piece that serves as the centerpiece for the soundtrack recording of the film. During the 1999-2000 season Corigliano continued to embrace new compositional challenges. For the first time in his wonderfully diverse body of work, he employed the use of live electronics with Vocalise, premiered by soprano Sylvia McNair and the New York Philharmonic. The work fulfills a “Messages for the Millennium” commission, one in a series of commissions the New York Philharmonic made to leading composers in each of several nations, asking each to articulate a vision for the next millennium. Corigliano and his work represented the United States in the series. Corigliano collaborated with McNair again and pianist Martin Katz in March 2000, when the performers premiered a Carnegie Hall commission based on the verse of Bob Dylan, followed by a subsequent international tour with McNair.
The same month, the Minnesota Orchestra will premiered the Suite from The Ghosts of Versailles, culled from themes of his landmark opera. Corigliano is working on a second symphony for string orchestra on commission from Boston Symphony Orchestra, a work based on his 1996 String Quartet that will receive its premiere in 2001. In the 1998-99 season, Corigliano introduced The Dylan Thomas Trilogy, an evening-length “memory play in the form of an oratorio,” as the composer describes it, for tenor, boy soprano, baritone, two choruses and two orchestras.
Leonard Slatkin led the National Symphony in the first performances at the Kennedy Center and at Carnegie Hall and will lead the European premiere at London’s Royal Festival Hall in the fall of 1999. Also in the 1998-99 season The Ghosts of Versailles received its European premiere in a new production, directed by Jerome Sirlin and conducted by Andreas Delfs, that opened the new opera house in Hanover, Germany, in April of 1999. Corigliano’s first opera attracted unparalleled international attention upon its premiere by the Metropolitan Opera in 1991, after which it won the Composition of the Year award at the first International Classic Music Awards. Subsequently it sold out its two engagements (1991 and 1994) at the Metropolitan as well as its 1995 revival at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Corigliano's Symphony No 1 also continues to be a worldwide success: the Flemish Radio Orchestra, touring the work across Belgium this fall, is just the latest of over 100 orchestras worldwide that continues to be drawn to Corigliano’s response to the AIDS crisis. Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was in residence there, Symphony No 1 captured the 1991 Grawemeyer Award for Best New Orchestral Composition.
John Corigliano's pre-1990 catalogue includes dramatic essays in nearly all of the major musical forms. Artists around the world have performed and recorded the Pied Piper Fantasy, originally commissioned by James Galway.
In addition, he has written a Piano Concerto and a trio of woodwind concerti. His vibrant orchestral portfolio includes a wide range of works, from the youthful and exuberant Tournaments, to the more recent Fantasy on an Ostinato, a sophisticated, minimalist composition. Amen, for a cappella choir, joins the stark AIDS cantata Of Rage and Remembrance and A Dylan Thomas Trilogy in his choral catalogue. His first mature composition was a chamber work: the much-recorded and performed Sonata for Violin and Piano, which, upon its premiere, won the Spoleto Festival chamber music prize. Later chamber music ranges from large-scale solo piano works (Etude Fantasy) to Poem in October for tenor and chamber ensemble to his String Quartet, commissioned by the Cleveland Quartet for their valedictory performance.
In 1996, the Quartet, like the Symphony before it, won double Grammy Awards, both for Best Performance and again for Best Contemporary Classical Composition of the Year, making Corigliano the first composer to win twice in the history of that award. As for film, his first score, for Altered States, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981. Corigliano's other honors include the Composer of the Year from Musical America in 1991, the President's Medal awarded by the president of Georgetown University, and the Boston Symphony's Horblit Award for Distinguished Composition by an American Composer.
He is a member since 1991 of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.