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Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy-winning composer Stephen Albert, whose tragic death in December of 1992 stunned the music world, was recognized in his lifetime for a body of work at once powerful, dramatic, colorful, and deeply emotive. Contemporary in sound, yet firmly rooted in traditional compositional techniques, Albert's music sought to establish links with fundamental human emotions and musical archetypes. He drew inspiration from the rich emotional palette of 19th-century music, and sought to discover, within the context of a personal 20th-century idiom, new connections with music of the past.
Born in New York City on 6 February 1941, Albert began his musical training on the piano, French horn, and trumpet as a youngster. He first studied composition at the age of 15 with Elie Siegmeister, and enrolled two years later at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Bernard Rogers. Following composition lessons in Stockholm with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Albert studied with Joseph Castaldo at the Philadelphia Musical Academy (BM 1962); in 1963 he worked with George Rochberg at the University of Pennsylvania.
Stephen Albert won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his symphony RiverRun, a commission from Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra, inaugurating the John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund for New Orchestral Works, a series that has so far produced more than 60 works by more than 50 American composers. From 1985 to 1988 served as composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony. He received commissions from the Chicago, National, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Seattle symphonies, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Library of Congress. Among his other awards and honors were two MacDowell Colony fellowships, a Huntington Hartford Fellowship, two Guggenheim fellowships, two Rome Prizes, and grants from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and the Alice M. Ditson Foundation.
From 1988 to the time of his death, he was professor of composition at the Juilliard School of Music. He had also taught in the Lima, Ohio public schools (under a Ford Foundation grant as composer-in-residence), and at the Philadelphia Musical Academy (1968-70), Stanford University (1970-71), and Smith College (1974-76).
The works of James Joyce provided Albert with a potent creative stimulus; Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses served as springboards for his symphony RiverRun, Treestone, Flower of the Mountain, and Sun's Heat. Rivering Waters, two movements of RiverRun, was created at the National Symphony's request for inclusion in the 1990 tour that marked Mstislav Rostropovich's return to Russia after 16 years in exile. Albert's last works included the Cello Concerto, commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony for Yo-Yo Ma (and recorded by them on the Sony Classical label) and Wind Canticle, a clarinet concerto for David Shifrin and The Philadelphia Orchestra. Symphony No. 2 for the New York Philharmonic, completed in short score at the time of his death, received its premiere in November 1994.
Recordings of Albert's music are available on the Nonesuch, Delos, New World, CRI, and Smithsonian Collection labels.