About Lisa Bielawa

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,” and The New York Times describes her music as, “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart.”

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 was appointed Artistic Director of the acclaimed San Francisco Girls Chorus in 2013 and is an artist-in-residence 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.

Lisa Bielawa is currently at work on Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser, a new opera composed on a libretto by Erik Ehn and directed by Charles Otte, which is unprecedented in that it is being created expressly for episodic release via broadcast and online media. Through a partnership with KCETLink, the national independent, non-profit digital and broadcast network, the unique multimedia initiative includes online articles and videos showcasing the production’s creative process, as well as a television special presented by Artbound, KCETLink’s Emmy® award-winning arts and culture series. Vireo, winner of the 2015 ASCAP Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Multimedia Award, is an artist residency project of Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) in Santa Ana, an outgrowth of Cal State Fullerton, Director/Chief Curator John Spiak. In spring 2017, KCET will release the entire season of Vireo at once for free, on-demand streaming, which is a first for the network.

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 and Vireo Caprice by violinist Jennifer Koh at National Sawdust. Recent highlights also include performances of Vireo’s opening Forest Scene at the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox; Ego Sum by the Paul Dresher Ensemble at Cal Performances and Z Space; various works performed by wild Up! at the Grand Central Art Center; Wait premiered by pianist Jon Nakamatsu; Neumark Dances, which opened the American Guild of Organists 2014 National Convention; and Vireo Canons and Chorale, which was commissioned for the finalists of the 2013 American Pianists Awards. 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, part of their KC Jukebox series. Later in the spring, The Kennedy Center’s SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras will present The Knights and the San Francisco Girls Chorus in Bielawa’s My Outstretched Hand. In April 2017, Brooklyn’s new premier venue National Sawdust will present a concert of her works.

Other recent highlights include a performance of 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, and the world premieres of 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 Saxophone Quartet), Graffiti dell’amante by Bielawa with the Chicago Chamber Musicians in Chicago and with Brooklyn Rider in New York and Rome, 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 work 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.

Bielawa’s latest album, The Lay of the Love, was released on Innova in June 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. Her discography also includes 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).