John Corigliano continues to add to one of the richest, most unusual, and most widely celebrated bodies of work any composer has created over the last forty years. Corigliano's scores, now numbering over one hundred, have won the Pulitzer Prize, the Grawemeyer Award, five Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and have been performed and recorded by many of the most prominent orchestras, soloists, and chamber musicians in the world. Attentive listening to this music reveals an unconfined imagination, one which has taken traditional notions like "symphony" or "concerto" and redefined them in a uniquely transparent idiom forged as much from the post-war European avant-garde as from his American forebears.
“It is simple. No longer is John referred to as "an American Composer". He belongs to the world. Festivals and performances around the globe attest to his pre-eminence in the musical pantheon. All of us eagerly look forward to his next musical thoughts. And I always cherish our lasting friendship.”
– LEONARD SLATKIN
Perhaps one of the most important symphonists of his era, Corigliano has to date written three symphonies, each a landscape unto itself. Scored simultaneously for wind orchestra and a multitude of wind ensembles, Corigliano's ambitious, extravagant, and grandly barbarous Symphony No. 3: Circus Maximus (2004) was commissioned by the University of Texas at Austin Wind Ensemble, who gave its New York premiere in 2005 at Carnegie Hall and presented it on their 2008 tour in Europe. Circus Maximus has since been performed by over 60 different ensembles throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Naxos released a stereo recording of Circus Maximus in 2009, and chose the work as the debut recording in its Blu-Ray format in 2010. Symphony No. 2 (2001), a rethinking and expansion of the surreal and virtuosic String Quartet (1995), was introduced by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2000 and earned him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Symphony No. 1 (1991), commissioned by Meet the Composer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was composer-in-residence, channeled Corigliano's personal grief over the loss of friends to the AIDS crisis into music of immense power, color, drama, and scope: performed worldwide by over 300 orchestras and recorded three times, this symphony earned him the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. Its most recent engagements were a return to the New York Philharmonic and its debut by the Hong Kong Philharmonic, both conducted by Jaap van Zweden.
It has been an honor for me to conduct John’s music. From the very first note, I was completely conquered by his genius as an artist and his generosity as a human being.
– Gustavo Dudamel
Corigliano's theatricality, at once thoughtful and innate, has vivified his ten essays in the concerto form, of which Triathlon, for saxophonist and orchestra, is his latest. This aptly-named virtuoso showpiece, in which the soloist plays not one but three instruments over the course of three widely varied movements, was given its premiere by soloist Tim McAllister and the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero in April 2022. Conjurer (2008), for percussion and string orchestra, commissioned by an international consortium of six orchestras for Evelyn Glennie, was introduced by the Pittsburgh Symphony in the 2007-2008 season, when the orchestra designated him its Composer of the Year. Conjurer is also performed frequently by soloist Martin Grubinger. For Joshua Bell, Corigliano composed Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: The Red Violin (2005). Developed from the themes of the score to François Girard's film of the same name, which won Corigliano an Oscar in 1999, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was introduced by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop and recorded by them in 2007. Vocalise (2000), a single-movement wordless concerto for voice, orchestra, and electronics, was commissioned for the millennium by the New York Philharmonic; Kurt Masur led Sylvia McNair in the work's premiere; it was later performed and recorded by Hila Plitmann and the Albany Symphony. Guitarist Sharon Isbin and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under Hugh Wolff introduced Troubadours in 1994. Flutist James Galway and the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Myung-Whun Chung first performed Pied Piper Fantasy in 1982. Corigliano's kinetic and elegant Piano Concerto (1967), in which Victor Alessandro led Hilde Somer and the San Antonio Symphony, was his first essay in the genre, but the composer credits his first two concerti for solo winds
with changing both his art and his career. It was during the composition of the Oboe Concerto (1975: Humbert Lucarelli, oboe; Kazuyoshi Akiyama, American Composers Orchestra) and, especially, the Clarinet Concerto (1977) that he first used the "architectural" method of composing which empowers him to forge a strikingly wide range of musical materials into arches of compelling aural logic. The premiere of the Clarinet Concerto, with Stanley Drucker and the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, was by contemporary accounts the musical event of the year — a status since confirmed by numerous international performances and an established place in the contemporary repertoire.
John Corigliano is the most talented composer today, and he will have a direct influence on the course of American music for generations to come.
– Sir James Galway
After thirty years away from the opera stage, Corigliano has returned to the form with The Lord of Cries, a surreal fantasy retelling the story of Euripides’ The Bacchae with the characters of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Santa Fe Opera’s premiere production featured a cast led by stellar countertenor Anthony Roth Costanza in the title rôle; conducted by Johannes Debus and directed by James Darrah, The Lord of Cries made its widely celebrated debut in July 2021. Mark Adamo’s libretto sparked from Corigliano a range of musical utterances various even for him, from eerie monody through vehement emotion to orchestral utterances of granitic solidity and force; Boston Modern Orchestra Project, led by conductor Gil Rose, reunites the original cast for the piece’s frist recording in November of 2022.
The Lord of Cries followed The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), the Mdetropolitan Opera’s first commission in over thirty years. Richly counterposing the fiction of Mozart and Beaumarchais with the Reign of Terror to create a richly multilayered meditation on the need for, and costs of, personal and social change, The Ghosts of Versailles succeeded brilliantly with both critics and audiences; the season it opened, Corigliano was elected to the American Academy
and Institute of Arts and Letters, and Musical America named him its first-ever "Composer of the Year." After triumphs in Chicago, Houston, and Hannover, Germany, The Ghosts of Versailles returned to the American stage in a new reduced orchestration in June 2009, premiered by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, followed shortly by performances at Ireland's Wexford Festival (2009), the Aspen Music Festival (2010), Manhattan School of Music (2012), and Wolftrap Opera (2015). The Metropolitan Opera released a DVD of their production as part of the James Levine 40th-Anniversary limited edition series in September 2010. Los Angeles Opera received wide acclaim for their stunning new production in 2015, conducted by James Conlon, staged by Tony Award-winning director Darko Tresnjac and starring Patricia Racette, Christopher Maltman, Lucy Schaufer, and Patti LuPone. A CD of this production was released by Pentatone and awarded the Grammy for Best Opera Recording of the Year. The opera made its French debut in 2019 when Royal of Opera of Versailles, in collaboration with Glimmerglass Opera, brough the opera to very theatre in which it was set; that production was recorded and released on DVD, CD, and Blu-Ray in 2020.
John Corigliano's music is the perfect marriage of the traditional and the innovative, all of which is placed in the service of the profoundly expressive. There is no one else like him.
– Christopher Rouse
Corigliano's other major vocal works show a comparably lavish and powerful sense of vocal theatre. Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2000) boldly refashions texts by the iconic songwriter into a compelling monodrama, by turns savage, yearning, and hallucinatory; begun as a song cycle for piano and soprano in 2000, Corigliano re-scored the piece for full orchestra and amplified soprano in 2004. Its Naxos recording, on which JoAnn Falletta leads the Buffalo Philharmonic, was released in September 2008 and garnered Grammy awards for both the work itself and for its leading interpreter, the soprano Hila Plitmann. Mr. Tambourine Man has also been arranged for wind ensemble and in a sextet version for the ensemble eighth blackbird. A Dylan Thomas Trilogy (1960, rev. 1999) revisits and combines three of Corigliano's earlier settings of this poet — Fern Hill (1960), Poem in October (1970), and Poem on His Birthday (1976) — with the late Author's Prologue into a "memory play in the form of an oratorio." Scored for boy soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, and orchestra, A Dylan Thomas Trilogy was recorded in spring 2008 with Leonard Slatkin conducting Sir Thomas Allen and the Nashville Symphony and Chorus; it was released by Naxos in November 2008. In 2011, Corigliano unveiled One Sweet Morning, premiered by the New York Philharmonic with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe in September 2011. A co-commission with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, One Sweet Morning is a four-movement song cycle on texts by Czeslaw Milosz, Homer, Li Po, and E. Y. Harburg that reflects on the presence of war, its anguishes throughout history, and ends with the dream of a world without it. In 2012 Sasha Cooke performed its Asian premiere with the Shanghai Symphony conducted by Long Yu. Corigliano's earliest songs form the cycle The Cloisters (1965), written with William M. Hoffman, who also wrote the libretto to The Ghosts of Versailles. His latest songs are a trio of cabaret songs for voice and piano set to the lyrics of Mark Adamo — End of the Line, Marvelous Invention, and Dodecaphonia (or, They Call Her Twelve-Tone Rose) — first introduced by William Bolcom and Joan Morris, and known collectively as Metamusic.
Corigliano is fast becoming established as one of our finest composers. His music is clear, strng, magnificiently constructed and, wonder of wonders, directly appealing to a large public.
– William Schuman
In the chamber realm, Corigliano was, until it disbanded in 2008 (verify), one of the few living composers to have a string quartet named for him: its young players joined together after an Indiana University performance of his String Quartet (1995), which Corigliano wrote as a valedictory commission for the Cleveland Quartet and which won him that year's Grammy Award for best contemporary composition. His first chamber score, Sonata for Violin and Piano (1964), is now a standard of the American violinist's repertory, having been performed hundreds of times and recorded dozens since the Spoleto Festival awarded the piece first prize in its inaugural Chamber Music Competition. His newest chamber scores are Stomp, for solo violin, commissioned for the
International Tchaikovsky Competition; and Winging It: Improvisations for Solo Piano introduced by Ursula Oppens in May 2009. His keyboard catalogue includes the virtuoso showpieces Etude Fantasy (1976) and Fantasia on an Ostinato (1985) for solo piano, and the unique Chiaroscuro (1997), for two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart. Inspired by the version of Poem on His Birthday for tenor and eight instruments (1970), Corigliano recast Phantasmagoria (2000) a suite for orchestra reframing themes from The Ghosts of Versailles into a version for cello and piano with no loss of force. Contrarily, Corigliano expandeed Snapshot, ca. 1909, a brief string quartet inspired by a photo of his father as a young boy, for string orchestra in 2011; and Stomp, for solo scordatura violin, for Houston Symphony, which introduced the orchestral version in 2015. Corigliano serves on the composition faculty at the Juilliard School of Music and retired from the position of Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Music at Lehman College, City University of New York in 2020. The university has established a scholarship in his name. Born in 1938 to John Corigliano Sr., a former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and Rose Buzen, an accomplished pianist and educator, Corigliano has lived in New York City all his life. Presently he and his spouse, the composer-librettist Mark Adamo, divide their time between Manhattan and Kent Cliffs, New York. Corigliano’s music is published exclusively by G. Schirmer.