Matthew Barnson

Matthew Barnson

Fellow: Awarded 2015
Field of Study: Music Composition

Competition: US & Canada

Awarded a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship in the category of Music Composition, Matthew Barnson anticipates composing four large new works: pieces for cello and percussion; a work for flute and electronics; a string quartet; and a work for baritone, baroque instruments, percussion, and electronics.

Matthew Barnson composes for orchestras, choirs, string quartets, voices, chamber ensembles, dancers, and computers. Recently, his music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, the Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art, the Kennedy Center, the Aldeburgh Festival, the Royal Academy of Music, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, ISCM World Music Days, MATA, Wigmore Hall, Aspen Music Festival, Heidelberger Frühling, ManiFest (Paris, France), Acanthes (Metz, France), the San Francisco War Memorial, and other venues throughout the United States and Europe. His work has been recognized with awards and commissions from the Barlow Endowment, Aaron Copland House, NewMusicUSA, Jerome Foundation, Yale University, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among others and in addition to residencies at a number of artist colonies in the United States and abroad.

The Arditti Quartet, JACK Quartet, Quator Diatoma, Daphnis Quartet, and The Knights have performed his string quartets; the Orchestra National de Lorraine, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, the Janaceck Philharmonic, the Curtis Orchestra, and Alarm Will Sound have played his work under the direction of Jacque Mercier, Peter Eötvös, Roland Kluttig, Sarah Hicks, and Alan Pierson; Metropolitan opera sopranos Nicole Cabell and Erin Morely have sung works written expressly for them; pianists Dustin Gledhill, Benjamin Powell, and Jessica Osborne perform commissioned works – Osborne being a frequent collaborator; percussionist David Skidmore, also a regular collaborator, commissioned new works for Ensemble ACJW and Third Coast Percussion; cellist Jason Calloway performs his work frequently; violinists Katie Hyun and Nicolas DiEugenio gave important premieres, and Ani Kavafian recently led the Yale Philharmonia in Barnson’s twenty-five minute string orchestra work, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying, at Carnegie Hall. Seraphic Fire, the New York Virtuoso Singers, and Volti are among the choirs that have commissioned and performed his work. In 2013, Alban Richard and Ensemble L’abrupt premiered Barnson’s Halo Study II at the Centre Pompidou – Barnson’s first foray into dance.

His music might be described as an attempt to negotiate between classical forms and European and American avant-garde(s), and between noise and pure tone. He juxtaposes these extremes to create a challenging musical language that is at once viscerally expressive and dramatically structured, using pulsing rhythmic energy to create music that veers between extremes of fragility and violence. More than any overdetermining system, his work is governed by the physicality of the instruments and voices, and many works are marked by the gradual introduction of different playing techniques: glassy harmonics, skittish string-crossings, snap pizzicato, and climaxes of brutal sawing that often resolve to uneasy calm.

He studied at the Eastman School of Music, the University of Pennsylvania, IRCAM, and Yale University with Christopher Rouse, Joseph Schwantner, Steven Stucky, Augusta Read Thomas, Martin Bresnick, Ezra Laderman, Ingram Marshall, and David Lang. Studies with Wolfgang Rihm at Acanthes were brief but important and influential.

In February 2014, Tzadik released his album of string quartets performed by the Arditti and JACK Quartets.

Barnson teaches composition, electronic music, theory, and the history of music after 1945 and has taught at Yale College, chaired the composition and theory department at New York’s Third Street Music School Settlement, and served as assistant professor of composition at Trinity College Dublin. He is currently assistant professor of composition at Stony Brook University, SUNY.

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