Aaron Jay Kernis

Author: Leta E. Miller
The first full-length biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer
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Paper – $25
978-0-252-08013-5
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978-0-252-09644-0
Publication Date
Cloth: 09/01/2014
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About the Book

Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Grawemeyer Award, Aaron Jay Kernis achieved recognition as one of the leading composers of his generation while still in his thirties. Since then his eloquent yet accessible style, emphasis on melody, and willingness to engage popular as well as classical forms has brought him widespread acclaim and admiring audiences.

Leta Miller's biography offers the first survey of the composer's life and work. Immersed in music by middle school, and later training under Theodore Antoniou, John Adams, Jacob Druckman, and others, Kernis rejected the idea of distancing his work from worldly concerns and composed on political themes. His Second Symphony, from 1991, engaged with the first Gulf War; 1993's Still Moment with Hymn was a reaction to the Bosnian Genocide; and the next year's Colored Field and 1995's Lament and Prayer dealt with the Holocaust. Yet Kernis also used sources as disparate as futurist agitprop and children's games to display humor in his work. Miller's analysis addresses not only Kernis's wide range of subjects but also the eclecticism that has baffled critics, analyzing his dedication to synthesis and the themes consistent in his work. Informed and engaging, Aaron Jay Kernis gives a rare mid-career portrait of a major American cultural figure.

* Publication of this book was supported by a grant from the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund

About the Author

Leta E. Miller is a professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War.

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Reviews


Blurbs

"It is all too rare to have such a comprehensive account of a living composer, one, in fact, of a composer who is still at the height of his creative powers. So Leta Miller's fascinating new book about Aaron Jay Kernis is extremely welcome, not only because it shines light on many of his important compositions, but because it is also a really good read! In revealing that the life of a present day composer can be every bit as compelling as the biographies of the so-called old masters, hopefully it will encourage authors and publishers to further mine the life stories of other leading music creators of our time."--Frank J. Oteri, composer and founding editor of NewMusicBox

"Aaron Jay Kernis is one of the most important and original voices in contemporary music. Writing about a living composer and explaining contemporary music present enormous challenges. Leta Miller meets them with uncanny skill. Illuminating Kernis' life and getting to the core of his music, she finds fascinating and important links between them."--Hugh Wolff, Director of Orchestras and Chair of Orchestral Conducting, New England Conservatory

"In Leta Miller's wonderfully intimate and detailed portrait of Aaron Kernis, she chronicles his personal and professional progression to become one of the world's leading voices in new music. Her book inspires me to revisit the works I know with new insight, to listen to the works I have missed and to anticipate many years of amazing new creations."--David Shifrin

"Enjoyable and readable. The sections on the Pulitzer and Grawemeyer; his studies with Wuorinen; the accounts of rehearsals of his music by Jacob Druckman, Zubin Mehta, and Kurt Masur; the music itself; the variety of styles that he drew from; brief connections to minimalism, rap, jazz, and popular music--all were interesting to read. I found her discussion of turning points within his career, and consistencies within his style (including eclecticism itself), to be strongly supported by the presentation and analyses of his music. Not only does she point out Judaic, popular, and personal references in the music, she provides a wider context of understanding about their meaning in his output as a whole."--Sharon Mirchandani, author of Marga Richter

Supplemental Material

Aaron Jay Kernis

by Leta E. Miller

The first full-length biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer

Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Grawemeyer Award, Aaron Jay Kernis achieved recognition as one of the leading composers of his generation while still in his thirties. Since then his eloquent yet accessible style, emphasis on melody, and willingness to engage popular as well as classical forms has brought him widespread acclaim and admiring audiences.

 

 

 

Audio Examples

Aaron Jay Kernis, Ballad(e) Out of the Blues [Superstar Etude #3]
For piano solo (2007)

Aaron Jay Kernis, Symphony of Meditations (Symphony #3), movement 2
For orchestra, chorus, and soprano soloist

Aaron Jay Kernis, Goblin Market (1995), for narrator and chamber orchestra, excerpts
Text by Christina Rosetti

Aaron Jay Kernis, Pieces of Winter Sky
Sextet (2012)

 

Streaming Video and Audio Resources

Aaron Kernis recommends the following YouTube performances of his works:

Ecstatic Meditations, no. 1 ("Effortlessly Love Flows"; 1998)
Performers: Ensemble vocal, Germany, Cornelius Trantow, conductor.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdkLkF8DTJ8

Ecstatic Meditations, no. 4 ("How God Answers the Soul"; 1998)
Utah Valley University Chamber Choir, Reed Criddle, conductor
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl4OXKIhy9c

Lament and Prayer (1995)
Performers: Francesco d'Orazio, violin; Aaron Jay Kernis, conducting.
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg8Yt7D9wFs
      Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKyOARLmnCc
      Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnG9fTl7WOg

Musica celestis (version for string orchestra; 1990)
Performers: City of Birmingham Orchestra, Hugh Wolff, conductor
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvYJNJdYG2g

Perpetual Chaconne
      Performers: Calder Quartet and John Bruce Yeh, clarinet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd3rlIoI-fQ

Still Movement with Hymn (in an arrangement with clarinet substituting for viola; 1993)
Performers: Soli Chamber Ensemble: Ertan Torgul, David Mollenauer, Carolyn True, Stephanie Key
http://vimeo.com/11948907

Superstar Etude #1 (1992)
Performer: Gregory Brown, piano
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8npvHgJMMY

Superstar Etude #2 (2002)
Performer: Andrea Lam, piano
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aGj40mrz9U

Trio in Red (2001)
Performers: Soli Chamber Ensemble: Stephanie Key. David Mollenauer, Carolyn True
http://vimeo.com/11950445

Playlist from Kernis's 50th Birthday Concert at Le Poisson Rouge, New York
Air for violin and piano (1995): Tim Fain, violin, Peiyao Wang, piano
      The Blue Animals (1983): Robert Osborne, bass-baritone; Aaron Kernis, piano
      Two Movements with Bells (2007): James Ehnes, violin, Andrew Armstrong, piano
Ballad for 8 Cellos (2004): Joshua Roman, live and recorded cellos
      Superstar Etude #3 (2004–7): Di Wu, piano
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL37782630507FA1C8

 

Documents

Jacob Druckman, "Music Since 1968: a New Romanticism?"
Essay published in a commemorative magazine produced by the New York Philharmonic as part of its Horizons '83 festival. Reproduced with kind permission of the New York Philharmonic.

 

 

Mr. Kernis has musical publishing arrangements through G. Schirmer / AMP.

Publication of this book was supported by a grant from the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund

Leta E. Miller is a professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her books include Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War (University of California Press, 2011), Lou Harrison (with Fredric Lieberman, American Composer series, University of Illinois Press, 2006), and Composing a World: Lou Harrison, Musical Wayfarer (OUP, 1998; paperback edition, revised and updated, UIP, 2004).


Aaron Jay Kernis, Ballad(e) Out of the Blues [Superstar Etude #3]
For piano solo (2007)
Performer: Mihaela Ursuleasa
Live performance: May 4, 2008
By kind permission of the composer and the Frederic Chopin Society of Minnesota.

         Quicktime mp4 (25.4 MB)         Windows wmv (111 MB)


Aaron Jay Kernis, Symphony of Meditations (Symphony #3), movement 2
For orchestra, chorus, and soprano soloist
Text by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, translated by Peter Cole
Performers: Yale Philharmonia, Camerata, Glee Club, and Schola Cantorum with Amanda Hall soprano. Aaron Jay Kernis, conductor. Live performance: Nov 6, 2009
By kind permission of the composer and the Yale School of Music

         Quicktime mp4 (33.4 MB)         Windows wmv (143.2 MB)


Aaron Jay Kernis, Goblin Market (1995), for narrator and chamber orchestra, excerpts
Text by Christina Rosetti
Mary King, narrator
The New Professionals Orchestra, London
Rebecca Miller, conductor
Signum Classics SIGCD186
With kind permission of Steven Long and Signum Classics

(1) Part 1, scene 1

         Quicktime mp3 (25.4 MB)         Windows wmv (111 MB)


(2) Part 2, scene 1

         Quicktime mp3 (25.4 MB)         Windows wmv (111 MB)


(3) Epilogue

         Quicktime mp3 (25.4 MB)         Windows wmv (111 MB)

 

 


Aaron Jay Kernis, Pieces of Winter Sky
Sextet (2012)
Performers: eighth blackbird
Tim Munro, flute, Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinet, Yvonne Lam, violin, Nicholas Photinos, cello, Lisa Kaplan, piano, Matthew Duvall, percussion.
Live performance: Jan. 26, 2013, University of Calgary (Canadian premiere)
By kind permission of the composer and the performers

 

         Quicktime mp3 (21.8 MB)         Windows wmv (240.1 MB)