Aaron Jay Kernis
Composer Institute Director
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis, who has enjoyed a close association with the Minnesota Orchestra since 1992, is the founder and director of the Orchestra’s annual Composer Institute, an acclaimed professional launch pad for emerging composers that includes a week of seminars, orchestral readings and a public concert entitled Future Classics.
Kernis’ music figures prominently on orchestral, chamber and recital programs around the world. America’s foremost musical institutions have commissioned his work, including the New York Philharmonic, which marked its 150th anniversary with his New Era Dance; the Philadelphia Orchestra, which commissioned Kernis’ Color Wheel for the inauguration of its new home at the Kimmel Center; and the San Francisco Symphony, for which he wrote Colored Field, an English horn concerto premiered by Julie Giacobassi. Additional commissioned works include Air for violinist Joshua Bell (which earned the composer a Grammy nomination); Lament and Prayer, a work for violin and string orchestra for Pamela Frank and the Minnesota Orchestra; Valentines for soprano and orchestra, composed for Renée Fleming and co-commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers Series; Newly Drawn Sky for James Conlon and the Ravinia Festival; and the Double Concerto for Violin, Guitar and Orchestra, co-commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sharon Isbin.
Kernis’ recent commissions include his Third Symphony, Symphony of Meditations, for the Seattle Symphony; Concerto with Echoes for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s New Brandenburg Project; Two Movements (with Bells), commissioned by the BBC Proms for violinist James Ehnes; and L’Arte della Danssar for Astral Artists in conjunction with a two-year residency. His upcoming premieres include a trumpet concerto for Philip Smith, the New York Philharmonic and the Big Ten Band Association; a work for Eighth Blackbird; a co-commission for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, La Jolla Music Society and Chamber Music Northwest, to feature clarinetist David Shifrin and the Orion Quartet; a choral work for Soli Deo Gloria; and a miniature cello concerto for Joshua Roman and a consortium of American chamber orchestras.
One of the youngest composers ever to be granted the Pulitzer Prize in Music, Kernis won the award in 1998 for his composition String Quartet No. 2, musica instrumentalis, which was commissioned and premiered by the Lark Quartet. In March 2011 he was inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters. His many additional honors have included the 2002 Grawemeyer Award for the cello and orchestra version of Colored Field, the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rome Prize, an NEA grant, a Bearns Prize, a New York Foundation for the Arts Award and three BMI Student Composer Awards.
From 1993 to 1996 Kernis was composer in residence with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Public Radio and the American Composers Forum. From 1998 to 2009 he served as the Minnesota Orchestra’s new music advisor. Also active as an educator, he teaches composition at Yale School for Music.
Kernis’ works have been recorded on many labels, including Naxos, Koch, Phoenix, Virgin Classics, New Albion, Cedille, Nonesuch, Arabesque and Innova. Recent recordings of his music include a collection of his orchestral works performed by the Grant Park Festival Orchestra and a recording of Goblin Market by The New Professionals and narrator Mary King. His music is published by AJK Music, administered by Associated Music Publishers. A biography of Kernis by musicologist Leta Miller is in preparation for Illinois University Press.
Born in Philadelphia in 1960, Kernis began his musical studies on the violin; at age 12 he began teaching himself piano and, the following year, composition. He continued his studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and both the Manhattan and Yale Schools of Music, working with composers as diverse as John Adams, Charles Wuorinen and Jacob Druckman.