© Cori Wells Braun
As the 21st century dawns and 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. Like the great masters of bygone times, Zwilich produces music "with fingerprints," music that is immediately recognized as the product of a particular American composer who combines craft and inspiration in reflecting her optimistic and humanistic spirit in her compositions.
Ellen 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 Dohnanyi Citation, and Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Grammy nominations, and, among other distinctions, she has been elected to the Florida Artists Hall of Fame 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 in 1999.
A prolific composer in all media except opera, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's works have been performed by virtually all of the leading American orchestras and by major ensembles abroad. Her music first came to public attention when Pierre Boulez conducted her Symposium for Orchestra at Juilliard (1975), but it was the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for the Symphony No. 1 that brought her instantly into international focus. Commissions and major performances and recordings soon followed: the Symphony No. 2 (Cello Symphony), premiered by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony; the Symphony No. 3, written for the New York Philharmonic's 150th anniversary; and the Symphony No. 4 ("The Gardens") with chorus, commissioned by Michigan State University; the string of concertos for solo instruments and orchestra, commissioned and performed by top orchestras for piano (Detroit Symphony, Günther Herbig), trombone (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti), flute (Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa), oboe (Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi), violin and cello (Louisville Orchestra, Lawrence Leighton Smith), bass trombone (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim), French horn (Rochester Philharmonic, Lawrence Leighton Smith), bassoon (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Lorin Maazel), trumpet (San Diego Symphony, JoAnn Falletta), Triple Concerto for piano, violin and cello (Minnesota Orchestra, Zdenek Macal), and violin (Orchestra of St. Luke's, Hugh Wolff).
Her orchestral essay Symbolon was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic expressly to receive its world premiere in what was then Leningrad. Zubin Mehta subsequently performed it in Europe and America and recorded it on the New World label; and Carnegie Hall's 1997 family concert series featured Peanuts Gallery for piano and orchestra, based on Charles Schulz' Peanuts characters.
Her chamber works have been commissioned by the Boston Musica Viva (Chamber Symphony, Passages), the Abe Fortas Memorial Fund of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 92nd Street Y and San Francisco Performances (Piano Trio), the New York State School Music Teachers Association (Divertimento), the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress (Romances for Violin), the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Chamber Music Northwest (Clarinet Quintet), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Double Quartet), and Carnegie Hall (String Quartet No. 2).