The Kennedy Center

Stephen Jaffe

Video and Audio

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    Composer Stephen Jaffe describes what it's like the first time a new piece is played.

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    Composer Stephen Jaffe on how form affects a piece.

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    Composer Stephen Jaffe discusses how pieces evolve over time.


Born in Washington, D.C., in 1954, Stephen Jaffe is a widely sought after and performed American composer. He grew up in a musically rich background. Though his parents were geologists, his father took up composition as a hobby. His brother Andy became a renowned jazz pianist, composer and educator. The family moved to Switzerland when Stephen was in his teens, and soon he began attending seminars at Geneva's Music Conservatory. He returned to the United States in the early 1970s, enrolling in the graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania where he studied advanced composition.

His compositions include Rhythm of the Running Plough (1985), Four Songs with Ensemble (1989), Fort Juniper Songs (1990), Pedal Point (1994), and his Concerto for Violin (2000), which was written for violinist Nicholas Kitchen and premiered by the Greensboro Symphony (North Carolina).

In 1991, Jaffe received the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for his First Quartet , written for the Compi Quartet. Other awards include the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Jaffe lives in Durham, North Carolina, where he teaches at Duke University and directs the series Encounters With the Music of Our Time . Also active as a performing musician, Stephen Jaffe's recent repertoire as pianist and conductor has included Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland, Yehudi Wyner's On This Most Voluptuous Night , and Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat .
Photo of Stephen Jaffe