About Lisa Bielawa
Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a 2009 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition. She takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Gramophone reports, “Bielawa is gaining gale force as a composer, churning out impeccably groomed works that at once evoke the layered precision of Vermeer and the conscious recklessness of Jackson Pollock.” Her music has been described as “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart,” by The New York Times, and “fluid and arresting … at once dramatic and probing,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.
In 2019, Bielawa became the inaugural Composer-in-Residence and Chief Curator at the new Philip Glass Institute (PGI) at The New School’s Center of the Performing Arts. The PGI is a landmark partnership between The New School, the Philip Glass Ensemble (PGE), and Bielawa, who has been the vocalist with the Ensemble since 1992. Building on Glass’ enduring contributions to modern culture, the PGI offers students, faculty, and the public the opportunity to immerse themselves in his compositions, other important artists within his circle, and the work of the iconic PGE.
Bielawa received a 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy nomination for her unprecedented, made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser, created with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. Vireo was produced as part of Bielawa’s artist residency at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California and in partnership with KCETLink and Single Cel. The opera was filmed in twelve parts at locations across the country – Alcatraz Island, a monastery on the Hudson River, a studio in Downtown LA, an abandoned train station in Oakland, and the California Redwoods – and featured over 350 musicians in support of its core cast, including soprano Deborah Voigt, Kronos Quartet, violinist Jennifer Koh, San Francisco Girls Chorus, cellist Joshua Roman, Alarm Will Sound, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), and many others. All twelve episodes were broadcast on KCETLink’s Emmy Award-winning arts and culture series Artbound, as well as online for free, on-demand streaming, which was a first for the network. The Los Angeles Times called Vireo an opera, “unlike any you have seen before, in content and in form,” and San Francisco Classical Voice described it as, “poetic and fantastical, visually stunning and relentlessly abstract.”
In February 2019, Vireo is released as a two CD + DVD box set on Orange Mountain Music, featuring all of the music and episodes. It is coming to the stage as VIREO LIVE, a hybrid film-opera experience in 2020. This new, 90-minute production will incorporate video projection of the film with live performance and will be workshopped and premiered at The New School in Spring 2020.
Lisa Bielawa’s music is frequently performed throughout the US and abroad. Two of her works received their world premieres at the 2016 NY PHIL BIENNIAL: My Outstretched Hand by The Knights, San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which was recently given a second performance at The Kennedy Center; and Vireo Caprice by violinist Jennifer Koh at National Sawdust. The Seattle Chamber Music Society recently commissioned and premiered Bielawa’s Fictional Migrations for flute, horn, and piano, which The Seattle Times called, “sophisticated, propulsive, complex, and often beautiful.” In December 2016, the Orlando Philharmonic performed the world premiere of Bielawa’s Drama/Self Pity for orchestra and in January 2017, The Kennedy Center presented two of her works with Bielawa as soloist as part of their KC Jukebox series. Recent highlights also include the world premiere of Bielawa’s Sanctuary Songs which she performed with violinist Jennifer Koh at National Sawdust; and performances of Start for piano and chamber orchestra by pianist Andrew Armstrong and the Orchestra of the League of Composers; The Trojan Women by the String Orchestra of New York City; Insomnia Etudes, commissioned for the Klein Competition; and Machina Mundi by The Esoterics.
Other performance highlights include The Trojan Women at Le Poisson Rouge; a Radio France commission for Ensemble Variances titled Cri Selon Cri; a residency at John Zorn’s The Stone; Hypermelodia at The Rivers School Conservatory; Rondolette by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and pianist Bruce Levingston; Double Duet by the Washington Saxophone Quartet (with subsequent performances by the PRISM Quartet); Graffiti dell’amante by Bielawa with the Chicago Chamber Musicians in Chicago and with Brooklyn Rider in New York and Rome; 50 Measures for Aaron by SOLI Chamber Ensemble; One Atom of Faith by violinist Rebecca Fischer; The Project of Collecting Clouds at Town Hall in Seattle by cellist Joshua Roman and chamber ensemble; Double Violin Concerto and In medias res by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project; The Right Weather by American Composers Orchestra and pianist Andrew Armstrong at Carnegie Hall; and The Lay of the Love and Death at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
Bielawa’s music can be found outside the concert hall as well, with two major works written for performance in public spaces. Chance Encounter is a piece comprising songs and arias constructed of speech overheard in transient public spaces, which was premiered by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights in Lower Manhattan's Seward Park. A project of Creative Capital, the 35-minute work for roving soprano and chamber ensemble has since been performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, in Vancouver, Venice, and in Rome on the banks of the Tiber River in partnership with urban placemaker Robert Hammond, a founder of The High Line in New York. Bielawa’s latest work for performance in public places is Airfield Broadcasts, a massive 60-minute work for hundreds of musicians that premiered on the tarmac of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin (Tempelhof Broadcast, May 2013) and was also performed at Crissy Field in San Francisco (Crissy Broadcast, October 2013). Bielawa turns these former airfields into vast musical canvases, as professional, amateur and student musicians execute a spatial symphony. Students at the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts recently performed a section from Airfield Broadcasts as part of Bielawa’s artist residency there.
Bielawa’s latest full-length album, The Lay of the Love, was released on Innova in 2015 and features performances by baritone Jesse Blumberg; soprano Sadie Dawkins Rosales; pianists Jocelyn Dueck, Benjamin Hochman and Evelyne Luest; violinist Colin Jacobsen; cellist Eric Jacobsen; clarinetist Anthony McGill; and flutist Lance Suzuki. The centerpiece of the album is Bielawa’s 25-minute work The Lay of the Love and Death, based on the text of Rainer Maria Rilke’s epic poem, The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke. Bielawa’s discography also includes “Opening: Forest” from Vireo on the album Final Answer performed by the San Francisco Girls Chorus and Kronos Quartet (Orange Mountain Music); A Handful of World (Tzadik); The Trojan Women on a disc entitled First Takes (TROY); Hildegurls: Electric Ordo Virtutum, (Innova); The Trojan Women in a version for string quartet performed by the Miami String Quartet on The NYFA Collection (Innova); In medias res (BMOP/sound), a double-disc set of Bielawa’s solo and orchestral works; the world premiere recording of Chance Encounter (Orange Mountain Music), and Elegy-Portrait on pianist Bruce Levingston’s 2011 album, Heart Shadow (Sono Luminus).
Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Lisa Bielawa played the violin and piano, sang, and wrote music from early childhood. She moved to New York two weeks after receiving her B.A. in Literature in 1990 from Yale University, and became an active participant in New York musical life. She began touring as the vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992, and has also premiered and toured works by John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, and Michael Gordon. In 1997 she co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers. Bielawa served as Artistic Director of the acclaimed San Francisco Girls Chorus from 2013-2018 and recently completed her residency at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California. In 2016, Bielawa was awarded grants from New York Foundation for the Arts, the MAP Fund, and New Music USA. She was named a William Randolph Hearst Visiting Artist Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society for 2018.