With recent premieres of commissioned works by major ensembles such as the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, the music of composer Sean Shepherd (born 1979) has appeared in celebrated venues across the United States and Europe. Engagements include those with the National Symphony Orchestra’s CrossCurrents Contemporary Music Week at the Kennedy Center, the 2008 Aldeburgh Festival, and a portrait concert at the ultramodern Radialsystem V in Berlin, presented by the Berlin Philharmonic’s Scharoun Ensemble, with the composer conducting. Oliver Knussen premiered Shepherd's Wanderlust in Cleveland in 2009, and Alan Gilbert led the premiere of These Particular Circumstances, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for the inaugural season of CONTACT!, the New Music Series, in April 2010 to general acclaim.
In the 2010–11 season, Knussen continues to champion Wanderlust, with upcoming performances by the BBC and New World Symphonies. New projects include a co-commissioned trio for oboe and strings for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest and new works for the Talea Ensemble and the Claremont Trio. Shepherd joins his hometown orchestra, the Reno Philharmonic, as composer-in-residence beginning next season, with a new work appearing on the orchestra’s MasterClassics series in March 2011.
Winner of the 2009 triennial Benjamin H. Danks Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Shepherd was the 2008 Deutsche Bank Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin and a first-prize winner in the 2005 international Lutosławski Award. He has been a top prizewinner in student competitions, including the Palmer Dixon Prize for Outstanding Composition at Juilliard and the Indiana University Dean's Award, as well as awards and commissions from organizations such as the Sue Knussen Composers Fund, ASCAP, the National Society of Arts and Letters, Ensemble X, and the New York Youth Symphony. He attended the Tanglewood Music Center in 2005, the Composition Masterclass at the 2006 Aspen Music Festival, the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme in 2007, and a composer residency at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France in the autumn of 2007. Recent performances include those with Trio Volans, pianists Aaron Wunsch and Jihye Chang, new music ensembles at the University of Texas and the University of Southern California, the Syracuse Society for New Music, and the Minnesota Orchestra.
Shepherd is a 2004 graduate of The Juilliard School, where he earned his Master’s degree as a student of Robert Beaser. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in composition and a Performer Diploma for bassoon performance from Indiana University, where his teachers included Claude Baker and David Dzubay for composition and Kim Walker for bassoon. He is currently completing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Cornell University as a student of Roberto Sierra and Steven Stucky.
Spending time last December in Grace Rainey Rodgers Auditorium at the Met brought back great memories for me. As I sat in rehearsals and the concert, watching two brand-new works and a nearly-new one on a hot streak come together, I was glad to do a little reminiscing, but was also able to focus my attention differently since the last time I was there.
I chose these excerpts from my Octet (completed in 2008) and my sextet Lumens (completed in 2006) in an attempt at broad contrast: fast vs. slow, soft vs. loud, lyrical vs. punctuated. But when I listened to what I had selected, I was more struck by the similarities in the pieces than by the differences. Both are final sections of longer pieces for medium-sized chamber forces, both are for standard, time-tested ensembles, and both are, in the end, full of contrast in and of themselves. Each has plenty of soft, fast, and lyrical, and each has plenty more.