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Mackey, Steven
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Steven Mackey

Steven Mackey has established himself as one of the most gifted and original America composers to emerge during the 1990s. Born in 1956 in Frankfurt, Germany to American parents, he was raised and educated in the U.S. His early training in performance was as classical and electric guitarist and Baroque lutenist. In 1977 he toured Europe as a lutenist under the auspices of the University of California; he graduated summa com laude Grandeis University. Mackey is now Professor of Music at Princeton University, where he has been a member of the faculty sine 1985.

Mackey’s idiom, a multi-layered world of rhythm and sonority, draws its expanded harmonic palette from western art music, its wit and vivacity from the imaginative transformation of popular music elements. His chamber music often features retuned instruments and microtones, as in ON ALL FOURS for string quartet. The Kronos Quartet commissioned a trilogy of works for electric guitar and string quartet; On the Verge, Troubadour Songs, and Physical Property. In addition to performing these pieces around the world with the composer as soloist, Mackey and the Kronos have recorded Physical Property for a Nonesuch release entitled Short Stories.

Mackey’s orchestral works display consummate skill in their handling of instrument colour and texture. TILT, commissioned by the American Composers orchestra, received its premiere in 1992 under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies. Of that performance, Tim Page of Newsday wrote: "One was reminded of a radio caught between frequencies: timbres, bang and shimmer, there are arpeggios and teasing references to musical clichés, and despite some occasional violent fortissimos, the mood throughout is lithe, subtle and more than a little playful. Anything can happen – and most of it does". TILT was succeeded by Eating Greens (1993), a lively seven-movement work commissioned by the Chicago Symphony orchestra and premiered by the ensemble under Dennis Russell Davies.

Two concertos followed: Banana/Dump Truck (1994) for cello and ensemble and Deal (1995) for electric guitar and ensemble or orchestra. Banana/Dump Truck has been performed by soloist Fred sherry with the Albany Symphony Orchestra with the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra. Deal, a commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was given its premiere by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group under Esa-Pekka Salonen, with noted electric guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Joey Baron as soloists. Deal has since been performed by Frisell and Baron with the American Composers Orchestra (the orchestral version) and the San Francisco New Music Players (ensemble version). His most recent orchestral work is Lost and Found, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and given its premiere under Michael Tilson Thomas in September 1996.

The composer has recently completed Ravenshead, his first music theatre work. Scored for solo voice and chamber ensemble, Ravenshead is based on the true story of an ill-fated solo attempt to sail around the world. The piece was given its world premiere by the Paul Dresher ensemble at Penn State University with librettist/singer Rinde Eckert in the title role in November 1998.

Steven Mackey is the recipient of numerous awards, including Guggenheim, Lieberson, and Tanglewood fellowships. He has twice won the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards for his scores Fumeux Fume (in 1987) and Physical Property (in 1993). In addition to the performers mentioned above, the Koussevitzky and Fromm foundations, Dawn Upshaw, Fred Sherry and the Concord String Quartet have all commissioned works from him. His music has been recorded on Bridge, CRI, Newport Classics, Nonesuch and Catalyst/BMG.

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