Gregory Spears

Gregory Spears writes music that blends aspects of romanticism, minimalism, and early music. His work has been called “astonishingly beautiful” (The New York Times), “coolly entrancing” (The New Yorker), and “some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory” (The Boston Globe). In recent seasons he has been commissioned by The Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Cincinnati Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seraphic Fire, and the JACK Quartet among others.

Spears’ most recent evening length opera, Fellow Travelers, premiered this summer at Cincinnati Opera in a ten-performance run. It was hailed as “one of the most accomplished new operas I have seen in recent years” (Chicago Tribune) and an opera that “seems assured of lasting appeal” (The New York Times). The premiere of Fellow Travelers was also recently included in The New York Times‘ Best in Classical Music for 2016. Before premiering, excerpts from the opera were presented at the OPERA America New Works Forum and at National Sawdust. The entire piece was workshopped by Opera Fusion in 2013. Spears’ children’s opera Jason and the Argonauts also premiered this summer at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and was subsequently performed on tour this fall. His opera about space exploration, O Columbia, premiered in 2015 at Houston Grand Opera. O Columbia was described in The Wall Street Journal as having “crystalline orchestrations” and “textured, complex musical structures that sound old and new at the same time.” Spears’ first opera, Paul’s Case, described as a “masterpiece” and a “gem” (New York Observer) with “ravishing music” (The New York Times), was developed by American Opera Projects and premiered by Urban Arias in 2013. It was restaged at the Prototype Festival in New York, and presented in a new production by Pittsburgh Opera in 2014.

Spears is currently writing a double trumpet concerto commissioned by Concert Artists Guild and the BMI Foundation for trumpeter Brandon Ridenour as well as a new vocal work commissioned by New York Polyphony — made possible by a 2016 Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program grant. He also recently completed the soundtrack for the British feature film Macbeth (Kit Monkman, director), which is currently in post-production.

Much of his work involves period instruments. Recently, Spears was commissioned by Seraphic Fire to write a New Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei to replace Franz Süssmayr’s contribution to the Mozart Requiem. The new movements were premiered in Miami by Seraphic Fire and the Firebird Chamber Orchestra and were performed with period instruments as part of Seraphic Fire’s 2016 East Coast tour. His recent dramatic cantata Virginiana, commissioned by the period instrument ensemble New Vintage Baroque and the Damask vocal ensemble, was inspired by eighteenth-century music. New Amsterdam Records released his early music-inspired chamber Requiem to critical acclaim in 2011. Requiem was commissioned by Christopher Williams Dances and underwritten by the O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation. He is also writing a dance-opera, Wolf-In-Skins in collaboration with choreographer Christopher Williams. Excerpts were featured at the OPERA America New Works Forum, and Part One was produced by Philadelphia Dance Projects featuring performers from the Sebastian Chamber Players period ensemble. The Sebastian Players also gave the New York premiere of Our Lady commissioned by countertenor Ryland Angel as part of the Twelfth Night Festival at Trinity Wall Street. 

Spears won a Jerome Composers Commissioning Award to support the composition of his string quartet Buttonwood for the JACK Quartet. The piece was inspired by his experience as composer-in-residence at the Buttonwood Psychiatric Unit in the winter of 2010.  At the time Spears was teaching a course at the Princeton Writing Program called Music and Madness, which explored the connection between mental illness and creativity.  Spears has also collaborated with musicologist Simon Morrison at Princeton to realize the original score for Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, which was premiered by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Bard Festival in 2008. 

Other recent commissions have come from The Five Boroughs Music Festival, OPERA America, poet Tracy K. Smith, Christopher Williams Dances, the Dalton School Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera (for the Persian-themed one-act opera The Bricklayer), pianist Marika Bournaki, the Present Music Ensemble, and the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra. In 1999 Spears was awarded a First Music Commission to write a piece for the New York Youth Symphony, which was given its premiere at Carnegie Hall.  His music has also been performed by the American Composers Orchestra, Inscape Chamber Orchestra, the NOW Ensemble (the MATA Festival), So Percussion, and Eighth Blackbird. 

He has won prizes from BMI and ASCAP as well as awards and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Vagn Holmboe Competition. He holds degrees in composition from the Eastman School of Music (BM), Yale School of Music (MM), and Princeton University (PhD) and traveled to Denmark on a Fulbright Fellowship to study composition with Hans Abrahamsen. He has been an artist-in-residence at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Aaron Copland House, the Rauschenberg Residency at Captiva Island, and was a participant in American Opera Projects’ Composers and the Voice 2007-2008 season. His music is published by Schott Music and Schott PSNY. 

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