Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Composer
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“There are not many composers in the modern world who possess the lucky combination of writing music of substance and at the same time exercising an immediate appeal to mixed audiences. Zwilich offers this happy combination of purely technical excellence and a distinct power of communication.” -Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (8th edition)
At a time when the musical offerings of the world are more varied than ever before, few composers have emerged with the unique personality of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Her music is widely known because it is performed, recorded, broadcast, and – above all – listened to and liked by all sorts of audiences the world over.
A prolific composer in virtually all media, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s works have been performed by most of the leading American orchestras and by major ensembles abroad. Her works include five symphonies, a string of concertos commissioned and performed over the past two decades by the nation’s top orchestras, and a wealth of chamber music.
Zwilich is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, including the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Music (the first woman ever to receive this coveted award), the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnányi Citation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Grammy nominations, the Alfred I. Dupont Award, Miami Performing Arts Center Award, the Medaglia d’oro in the G.B. Viotti Competition, and the NPR and WNYC Gotham Award for her contributions to the musical life of New York City. Among other distinctions, Ms. Zwilich has been elected to the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1995, she was named to the first Composer’s Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, and she was designated Musical America’s Composer of the Year for 1999. Ms. Zwilich, who holds a doctorate from The Juilliard School, currently holds the Krafft Distinguished Professorship at Florida State University.
- ZKM Karlsruhe feature and interview of Ellen as part of “Femmes4Music,” Dec. 4, 2022
- “A new cello concerto by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b.1939) was always going to be big news,” says The Strad magazine in its December 2022 review of the Delos recording of Ellen’s works, praising “this sassy, jazzy work in which Zwilich’s hallmark propulsive energy in passages of incisively bowed syncopated semiquavers, alternates with moments of profound calm.” The review continues, “The tightly worked Prologue and Variations (1983) shows a particular affinity for the string-orchestra medium, and the Romance, for the composer’s own instrument, is beautifully characterised by concertmaster Joseph Edelberg.” Read the review in The Strad.
- Ellen Taaffe Zwilich – Cello Concerto & Other Works, Featuring Cellist Zuill Bailey, a New Delos Release – Press release
- Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s “Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Portrait Concert” on April 8, 2022, garners rave reviews from the Boston Globe, Boston Classical Review, and Boston Musical Intelligencer.
- See more Zwilich news here: www.zwilich.com/latest-news
- The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas/Fort Worth NBC affiliate NBCDFW previewed the October 7 premiere of Zwilich’s Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the Dallas Symphony, Denyce Graves, and Jeffrey Biegel.
- Concerto for Cello & Orchestra is the featured work in The Violin Channel’s “New Music Tuesday,” April 20, 2021
- Contemporary Voices CD Wins 2021 Grammy Award – Press release
- “Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Shines On Brightly” – San Francisco Classical Voice interview, Feb. 9, 2021
- WRUU “Contemporary Classics” interview with Dave Lake includes three full works, Feb. 9, 2021
- Zwilich’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra To Receive Two Online Performances This Season; Artistic Partnership with Santa Rosa Symphony January – May 2021; Grammy Nomination for Contemporary Voices CD – Press release
- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra online concert series “BSO Sessions” features an interview with Ellen by Marin Alsop and a performance of her Concerto Grosso – Read more
- Contemporary Voices CD nominated for a 2021 Grammy Award – Read more and see the full list of nominees
- A Little Violin Music in Memory of Elijah McClain performed by Kelly Hall-Tompkins – Read more and see the performance on YouTube
Cellist Zuill Bailey, who performed the world premiere of Ellen’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra to rave reviews with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra in March, will premiere the chamber version of the concerto with members of the Boulder Philharmonic in an online event scheduled for January 23, 2021. Read more on the Boulder Philharmonic’s event page.
- Reviews are appearing for the Pacifica Quartet’s new recording, Contemporary Voices (Cedille Records, July 2020), featuring Ellen’s Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet with works by Jennifer Higdon and Shulamit Ran. Among these: “Zwilich’s Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet, the featured score on the Pacifica Quartet’s new album ‘Contemporary Voices,’ continues her exploration of America’s most original art form in a classical setting. The 2007 work is typically concise with three movements spanning just 17 minutes. Still Zwilich’s penchant for unexpected thematic incident and inspired melodic paths pervades every bar in a voice both accessible and thoroughly contemporary,” wrote Lawrence Budmen in South Florida and New York Classical Review sites. Read the full review here. “Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s 2007 Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet…effortlessly blends the spiky rhythms of the massed strings with the slinky smoothness of [the] alto sax. …echoes of Stravinsky and Milhaud laced with a sassy, post-minimalist vibe,” wrote Clive Paget in Musical America. Read the full review here.
Ellen’s new Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, given its world premiere performances (March 5-8, 2020) by Zuill Bailey and the South Florida Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sebrina Maria Alfonso, has received rave reviews:
“Composer Zwilich adds to her musical legacy with Cello Concerto premiere,” wrote Lawrence Budmen in South Florida Classical Review, who called the work “an important addition to the cello concerto literature.” Read the full review here.
“Zwilich’s Snazzy Cello Concerto Soars In Florida,” wrote John Fleming in Classical Voice North America. Read the full review here.
“The blues haunts Zwilich’s fine new cello concerto,” wrote Dennis Rooney in Palm Beach Arts Paper. Read the full review here.
- Read interviews with Ellen about the cello concerto premiere on Artburst Miami and Miami Artzine
- Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Concerto for Cello & Orchestra – World Premiere Performances March 5, 7, 8, 2020 – Press release
- Ellen is David Osenberg’s featured guest for two installments of his award-winning program “Cadenza” on WWFM, a lively hour of music and conversation. Here are links to stream the program: Part I and Part II.
- The Violin Channel’s “New Music Tuesday” feature focused on Ellen’s Fantasy for Solo Violin, commissioned for the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, and its premiere recording by Jinjoo Cho, on July 23, 2019. Read Ellen’s comments and hear the selection here.
- Upcoming performances of Ellen’s music are listed on zwilich.com: www.zwilich.com/performances
- Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame – ACMHF press release
Click here for past news about Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Top Photo by Florida State University Photo Lab
Headshot Photos by Bill Keefrey