Composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich began her professional career as a violinist. After earning her master’s degree in composition from Florida State University, she moved to New York. She studied violin with Richard Burgin and Ivan Galamian, and for seven years was a member of the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. She earned a doctorate in composition from The Juilliard School, working with Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter.
Among the works she has written for solo violin are Commedia dell’Arte for Violin and String Orchestra, which was commissioned, premiered, and recorded by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra in 2012; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and premiered by Pamela Frank and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s conducted by Hugh Wolff in 1998; Episodes for Violin and Piano, premiered by Itzhak Perlman and Rohan de Silva in 2003; Romance for Violin and Piano, premiered by Ida Kavafian and Menahem Pressler in 1998; and Sonata in Three Movements for Violin and Piano, premiered by Joseph Zwilich and James Gemmel in 1974.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, whose unique musical “fingerprint” reflects an optimistic and humanistic spirit, was the first woman to receive the coveted Pulitzer Prize in Music. Other prizes and honors include the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnányi Citation, four Grammy nominations, and the Medaglia d’Oro in the G.B. Viotti Competition. Among the conductors who have championed her work are Daniel Barenboim, James Conlon, Charles Dutoit, Christoph von Dohnányi, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, John Nelson, Seiji Ozawa, and Sir Georg Solti.
Named to the first Composer’s Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, Ms. Zwilich currently holds the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professorship at Florida State University.
A prolific composer in virtually all media, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s works have been performed by most 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 Symphony No. 1 that brought her instantly into international focus.
Commissions, major performances, and recordings soon followed, including the Symphony No. 2 (Cello Symphony) premiered by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony; Symphony No. 3 written for the New York Philharmonic’s 150th anniversary; and the Juilliard commissioned Symphony No. 5 (Concerto for Orchestra) premiered at Carnegie Hall under James Conlon’s direction.
Among the numerous compositions which Ms. Zwilich has written for a variety of instruments, a few of her notable string works and the artists who gave their premieres, in addition to those mentioned above, are Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello (Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and the Minnesota Orchestra), Concerto for Violin, Violoncello, and Orchestra (Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, and the Louisville Orchestra), Double Quartet for Strings (Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with the Emerson String Quartet), Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet (Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and the Miami String Quartet), String Quartet No. 2 (Emerson String Quartet), and Voyage for String Quartet (St. Lawrence String Quartet), a work that commemorates the centennials of the founding members of the original Galimir String Quartet.