Stephen Douglas Burton

Stephen Douglas Burton

Fellow: Awarded 1969
Field of Study: Music Composition

Competition: US & Canada

Stephen Douglas Burton was born in California in 1943 and studied at the Oberlin and Peabody conservatories in America and at the Mozarteum in Austria with Hans Werner Henze.  His works have been commissioned and performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the National Orchestra of France, the Israel Philharmonic, the National Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, Wolf Trap, Artpark, the American Dance Festival, and others, as well as by many conductors, including Sir Georg Solti, Antal Dorati, Mistislav Rostropovich, Hugh Wolff, Rudolph Alberth, and Hans Werner Henze.

His works are recorded by Peter’s International:  Ariel, Symphony No. 2 with the Syracuse Symphony under the direction of Christopher Keene, Executive Director of the New York City Opera, was recorded immediately after its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall, and Mr. Burton conducted the Louisville Orchestra for the recording of his Songs of the Tulpehocken, Symphony No. 3, which was subsequently performed and broadcast in Brussels and London.

Reviewing Stephen Douglas Burton’s debut as a composer at the age of nineteen with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Alfons Neukirchen lauded him as "a musical Wunderkind from California. . . . More beautiful, meaningful music from America we have not heard since Charles Ives." And when his opera The Duchess of Malfi premiered at Wolf Trap in 1978, Joseph McLellan hailed it in the Washington Post as "the birth of a masterpiece"; Time compared it with Tosca; and CBS News praised it as "a hit, a big one at that."

Mr. Burton’s Fanfare for Peace, commissioned by the International Committee for the Bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris, was performed by the National Symphony Orchestra at the nation’s Capitol before 60,000 people.  The work was subsequently performed in St. Paul’s Cathedral. London, for British-American Day, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, and at the Diplomatic Gates at Grosvenor Square (a gift from the National Committee for the Bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris), with Princess Alexandra in attendance.

His symphonic cantata (Symphony No. 6) I Have a Dream was another "triumph," according to the Washington Times. "Not since George Gershwin," the review continued, "has an American composer so unabashedly, joyously embraced the sounds and spirit of his native land."

On the stage, Mr. Burton was, at the age of nineteen, Music Director of the Munich Kammerspiele. In 1988 he was commissioned to write the music for the Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, starring Kelly MacGillis, who had been featured in such films as Top Gun, Witness, and The Accused, and Tony Award-winner Brian Bedford. With Hans Werner Henze, he worked at the Hessian State Opera in Kassel, Germany, the Teatro la Fenice in Venice, and the Rome Opera. Also with Mr. Henze, he composed the music for Alan Resnais’ film Muriel and assisted Mr. Henze on the PBS production of Rachael. He coached Kenneth Riegel for the Paris Opera world premiere of Messian’s St. Francis.

With Gillian Anderson of the Library of Congress, he has restored the original orchestral film scores of Ben Hur (1926), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and Cecil B. deMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments (1923), which reopened the restored Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on December 4, 1998, exactly seventy-five years after its premiere there.  Currently, he is collaborating with Ms. Anderson on the restoration of the score to Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s Robin Hood (1922).

His book Orchestration (Prentice Hall, 1991) was adopted at over 100 colleges and universities; his next monograph, The Pleasures of Music, is in progress. His orchestrations for the Joffrey Ballet include L’air d’esprit, which has been in its repertoire for over ten years, and Postcards, which was the last ballet Robert Joffrey choreographed before his death.  Mr. Burton has also orchestrated for the Washington Ballet, and for Gian Carlo Menotti and the Washington Opera; he was the chief orchestrator (assisted by Michael Gibson and Tony Award-winner William Brohn) of its world premiere of Goya, starring Placido Domingo, which was televised in 1986 by National Public Television.

In addition to his Guggenheim Fellowship, Mr. Burton has received five NEA grants, and grants from the National Opera Institute, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), and the Myers, Kipplinger, Dreyfus, and Coolidge foundations. He composed the silver anniversary commission for the Richmond Symphony, conducted by Jacques Houtmann. He received the first prize ever awarded a composer by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which included a premiere by the Virginia Symphony under Winston-Dan Vogel, and the Grand Prize of the National Federation of Music Clubs in 1969.  His music has been performed at the National Gallery of Art’s American Music Festival, at the Phillips Gallery, and at the Inter-American Music Festival at the Kennedy Center, where he also conducted.

Stephen Douglas Burton has served on the American Council of Germany under the late John J. McCloy, on ASCAP and American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) panels for grants to American orchestras and other ASOL panels, the ASCAP Young Composer Awards Panel, Chamber Music America’s C. Michael Paul/Exxon and Martha Baird Rockefeller, and the Atlantic-Richfield Residency Grant Panels, and two four-year terms on the Virginia Commission for the Arts’ Advisory Grants Panel for Northern Virginia.

He has taught at George Mason University since 1973, where he has also served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and for five years as Director of its renowned International Arts Festival. In keeping with George Mason University’s mission to make the arts an integral part of the lives of all its students, Mr. Burton opens his courses in Music in Motion Pictures, American Musical Theater, and The Impact of the Arts on Civilization to majors and nonmajors alike.


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