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Jesse Montgomery

Peace for clarinet and piano

February 18, 2024: Anthony McGill, clarinet; Michael Stephen Brown, piano

Biography provided by MKI Artists

Jessie Montgomery, Musical America’s 2023 Composer of the Year, is a Grammy-nominated, acclaimed composer, violinist, and educator whose music interweaves classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, poetry, and social consciousness, making her an acute interpreter of twenty-first century American sound and experience. Her profoundly felt works have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (The Washington Post) and are performed regularly by leading orchestras and ensembles around the world. In July 2021 she began a three-year appointment as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composer-in-Residence. 

Montgomery’s growing body of work includes solo, chamber, vocal, and orchestral works, as well as collaborations with distinguished choreographers and dance companies. Recent highlights include Hymn for Everyone (2021), her first commission as Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, co-commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and Music Academy of the West; Five Freedom Songs, a song cycle conceived with and written for soprano Julia Bullock, for the Sun Valley and Grand Teton Music Festivals, San Francisco, Kansas City, Boston and New Haven Symphony Orchestras, and the Virginia Arts Festival (2021); I was waiting for the echo of a better day, a site-specific collaboration with Bard SummerScape and Pam Tanowitz Dance (2021); Shift, Change, Turn (2019) commissioned by Orpheus and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; and Banner (2014), written to mark the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the Sphinx Organization and the Joyce Foundation and presented in its UK premiere at the 2021 BBC Proms.

Highlights of Montgomery’s 2023–24 season include the world premieres of orchestral works for violinist Joshua Bell, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a consortium led by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program, and a violin duo co-commissioned by CSO MusicNOW and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Her future projects include a contribution to Alisa Weilerstein’s Fragments project, a percussion quartet, an orchestral work for the New York Philharmonic, and her final commissions as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composer-in-Residence. 

Montgomery has been recognized with many prestigious awards and fellowships, including the Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, and the Leonard Bernstein Award from the ASCAP Foundation. She is currently Artist in Residence at the Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music, Composer in Residence at Bard College, and, since 1999, has been affiliated with the Sphinx Organization in a variety of roles including composer-in-residence for Sphinx Virtuosi, its professional touring ensemble. A founding member of PUBLIQuartet and a former member of the Catalyst Quartet, Montgomery holds degrees from the Juilliard School and New York University and is currently a doctoral candidate in music composition at Princeton University. 

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Montgomery originally composed Peace on a commission from Victoria Robey OBE for violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster, who premiered it on their #UriPosteJukeBox series in May 2020. Outdoing Brahms, who saw to it that his two Opus 120 Sonatas work equally on clarinet or viola, Montgomery made Peace available not only for violin and piano but for viola and piano and clarinet and piano, in which version we hear it this evening. Montgomery described her brief piece thus: “Written just a month after the Great Sadness of the first quarantine orders due to COVID-19, facing the shock felt by the whole globe as well as personal crisis, I find myself struggling to define what actually brings me joy. And I’m at a stage of making peace with sadness as it comes and goes like any other emotion. I’m learning to observe sadness for the first time not as a negative emotion, but as a necessary dynamic to the human experience.”

—compiled by Jane Vial Jaffe

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