The Kennedy Center

Peter Lieberson


In December 2007, Peter Lieberson won the University of Louisville's 2008 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for Neruda Songs, his song-cycle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra on poetry of Nobel Prize-winning Pablo Neruda.

Lieberson's works first came to national attention in 1983, with the premiere of his Piano Concerto, composed for Peter Serkin and commissioned by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for their centennial. Andrew Porter wrote in The New Yorker that it was a "major addition to the modern concerto repertory." It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the subsequent recording of the work won Opus Magazine‘s Contemporary Music Award for 1985.

Following its success, Lieberson was again commissioned by Ozawa and the BSO, which resulted in Drala (1986), "a short symphony but a profound one and, in many of its pages, a profoundly beautiful one," according to the Boston Globe. Drala has been performed recently by the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New World Symphony, and the London Sinfonietta.

Lieberson's Neruda Songs, a setting of five sonnets by Pablo Neruda for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The world premiere took place in Los Angeles in May, followed by a "Composers' Choice" concert with the Los Angeles New Music Group conducted by Lieberson, which featured his Horn Concerto, Free and Easy Wanderer, the Piano Quintet and Rilke Songs. Neruda Songs have also been performed recently by soloist Kelley O'Connor with the Chicago Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Louisville Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony, and the Aspen Festival Orchestra, among others. The European premiere is presented in October 2010 by the BBC Symphony with soloist Sarah Connolly. Other recent performances include Red Garuda at the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with soloist Peter Serkin; and a Composer Portrait concert of Lieberson's works from a twenty-five year period at Columbia University's Miller Theatre.

Recent concert works include his Piano Concerto No. 3, for pianist Peter Serkin and the Minnesota Orchestra; Piano Quintet for Peter Serkin and the Orion Quartet; Ah for the Cleveland Orchestra; Six Realms, a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma and the Toronto Symphony; Red Garuda, for Peter Serkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Fire, a 150th-anniversary commission from the New York Philharmonic, who also commissioned and premiered The World in Flower in May 2009; Remembering Schumann for Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Emanuel Ax (piano); The Coming of Light, for baritone, oboe, and string quartet; and Songs of Love and Sorrow for Gerald Finley and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Remembering JFK: An American Elegy, for narrator and orchestra, was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration. This work for which Lieberson selected excerpts from Kennedy speeches premieres in January 2011. A new percussion concerto for soloist Pedro Carniero, commissioned jointly by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Lisbon's Gulbenkian Orchestra, premieres in Los Angeles in May 2011.

Dramatic works have figured prominently in Lieberson's recent creative output. Ashoka's Dream is the second in a series of operatic works, beginning with King Gesar, on the topic of enlightened rulership and the creation of enlightened society. Set to a libretto by Douglas Penick and commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera, Ashoka's Dream received its first performance in July 1997. Mark Swed, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that Ashoka's Dream is "both splashy and stirring in its revealing of the majesty of its storytelling. The colors of the orchestra dazzle with the sonorities of great bell-like, all-encompassing chords, with rich lyrical passages and with martial orchestral conflagrations....It is music in which one feels the force of progress and senses not only its power but also the scariness of change....Ashoka's music is the most beautiful of all, and it is an inspiration to watch the complexities fall away from it as his wisdom grows." Lieberson created an orchestral work, Suite from Ashoka's Dream (2009), commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival and the Toronto Symphony. King Gesar, a work for Yo-Yo Ma, Peter Serkin, Emanuel Ax, narrator and chamber ensemble, which premiered at the 1992 Munich Biennale Festival, was recorded for Sony Classical with a documentary filmed on its creation.

Lieberson's collaborations with Peter Serkin have resulted in three piano concertos and in the piano pieces Garland, Fantasy Pieces, Bagatelles, Scherzo, and The Ocean that has no West and no East, which premiered in Tokyo in the fall of 1997. Serkin recorded several of Lieberson's piano works for his solo album " real time" which was released by BMG Classics in 1996. His Piano Fantasy and The Ocean that has no West and no East were also recorded by Serkin for BMG and released in 2000. Other notable works include Variations for Violin and Piano, premiered at the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in 1995; Variations for Piano, for Emanuel Ax, first performed at Lincoln Center in 1996; and the chamber works String Quartet, Ziji, and Raising the Gaze.

A 2002 Deutsche Grammophon release includes Drala, Ziji, and Fire performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, Oliver Knussen, conducting; Raising the Gaze, Accordance, and Three Songs performed by the ASKO Ensemble; and Free and Easy Wanderer performed by the London Sinfonietta. In 2006, Bridge Records released a new recording of Lieberson's Six Realms, the Horn Concerto, and Rilke Songs; and in December of that year, Nonesuch Records released Neruda Songs, sung by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (with the Boston Symphony Orchestra) in one of her final performances. The recordings of the Rilke Songs and Neruda Songs both won Grammy awards for Best Vocal Performance. In 2010, Bridge Records released a new disc including Red Garuda, Piano Quintet, and Rilke Songs, recorded by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Peter Serkin.

Peter Lieberson was born in New York City in 1946 and now lives in Santa Fe. He is the son of the late Goddard Lieberson, former president of Columbia Records, and the ballerina Vera Zorina. Lieberson's principal teachers in composition were Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, Donald Martino, and Martin Boykan. After completing musical studies at Columbia University, he left New York City in 1976 for Boulder, Colorado to continue his studies with Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist master he met in 1974. Lieberson then moved to Boston to direct Shambhala Training, a meditation and cultural program. During this period he also attended Brandeis University and received his Ph.D. From 1984 to 1988 he taught at Harvard University, then became international director of Shambhala Training in Halifax. Since 1994 he has devoted his time exclusively to composition. Among Lieberson's many awards are those from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and a Brandeis Creative Arts Award. In 2006, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

His music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers.

August 2010
Peter Lieberson