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Michael Colgrass

Michael Colgrass began his musical career in his native Chicago, where his first professional experiences were as a jazz drummer. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in performance and composition, and his studies included training with Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Festival and with Lukas Foss at Tanglewood. He served for two years as timpanist in the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, Germany, and then spent eleven years supporting his composing as a free-lance percussionist in New York City, where his wide-ranging performance venues included the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater, Dizzy Gillespie, the Modern Jazz Quartet, the original West Side Story orchestra on Broadway, the Columbia Recording Orchestra’s Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky series, and numerous ballet, opera, and jazz ensembles. He organized the percussion sections for Gunther Schuller’s recordings and concerts, as well as for premieres of new works by John Cage, Elliott Carter, Edgard Varèse, and many others. During this New York period, he continued to study composition with Wallingford Riegger and Ben Weber.

Colgrass has received commissions from the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony (twice), as well as from the orchestras of Minnesota, Detroit, San Francisco, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto (twice), the National Arts Centre Orchestra (twice), the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the Manhattan and Muir String Quartets, the Brighton Festival in England, the Fromm and Ford Foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and numerous other orchestras, chamber groups, choral groups, and soloists.

He won 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Déjà vu, which was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic. In addition, he received an Emmy Award in 1982 for a PBS documentary “Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass." He has been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions, and the 1988 Jules Leger Prize for Chamber Music.

Among his recent works are Crossworlds (2002) for flute piano and orchestra, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and premiered with soloists Marina Piccinini and Andreas Heafliger. Pan Trio was commissioned and premiered by Soundstreams Canada in 2005 and premiered by them with Liam Teague (steel drums), Sanya Eng (harp), and Ryan Scott (percussion). Side by Side (2007) for harpsichord and altered piano, with Joanne Kong as soloist, was commissioned by the Esprit Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Zululand (2010) for wind ensemble, was commissioned and premiered by the University of Wisconsin at River Falls.

As an author, Michael Colgrass wrote My Lessons with Kumi, a narrative/exercise book, outlining his techniques for performance and creativity. His newest book, Adventures of an American Composer, is published by Meredith Music and distributed by the Hal Leonard Corporation. He lectures throughout the world on personal development and gives workshops on the psychology and technique of performance.