Composer Judith Shatin is renowned for her richly imagined acoustic, electroacoustic and digital music. Called “highly inventive on every level” by the Washington Post, her music combines an adventurous approach to timbre with dynamic narrative design. She draws on expanded instrumental palettes and a cornucopia of the sounding world, from machines in a coal mine to the calls of animals, the shuttle of a wooden loom, the pull of a zipper. Her music seamlessly spans the acoustic and digital realms, and often combines the two. Her project Quotidian Music, including digital and electroacoustic pieces, draws attention to the sounds of the world around us, while pieces such as Singing the Blue Ridge and Ice Becomes Water focus attention on the crisis of climate change. She creates music for virtuosos, children and those with no musical training, believing that the joy of music-making should be open to all.
Vividly orchestrated and bursting with imaginative detail, the piece grabs a listener’s attention right from the opening moment…” –The San Francisco Chronicle
Shatin’s extensive catalogue includes commissions from organizations such as Ash Lawn Opera, the Barlow Endowment, the Fromm Foundation, Carnegie Hall, and the Library of Congress. Ensembles including the Cassatt and Kronos Quartets, the Core Ensemble, Da Capo Chamber Players, Ensemble Berlin PianoPercussion and the Dutch Hexagon Ensemble have commissioned her music, as have choruses including the Peninsula Women’s Chorus, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the Young People’s Chorus of NYC, the UVA Glee Club, the UVA University Singers and the Illinois Wesleyan University Collegiate Choral. Orchestras that have presented her music include the Charlottesville, Denver, Houston, Illinois, Knoxville, Minnesota, National and Richmond Symphonies and the Women’s Philarhmonic. Her music has also been featured at festivals including Aspen, BAM Next Wave, Grand Teton, Moscow Autumn, Seal Bay, Spring in Havana and West Cork.
“There’s no sense of detached, solipsistic, intellectual enterprise in this work, which dazzles with its array of active sound surfaces and shapes… – San Francisco Herald
Narrative design and perceptible structure are key elements in Shatin’s music. While tonal elements, twisted into new structures, form the bedrock, the surfaces are finely etched in surprising ways through timbral stretching and colorful layering. Examples include Black Moon, for orchestra and electronics, commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the American Composers Orchestra. Acoustic instrumental examples include Tower of the Eight Winds, for violin and piano, singled out by the Washington Post for its “engaging vivacity.”
Text setting is also a major focus for Shatin, with texts drawn from a broad range of sources. A few examples include Marvelous Pursuits (vocal quartet and piano 4-hands, poetry by Barbara Goldberg), I Love (SATB, poetry by Gertrude Stein), Hark My Love (SATB + piano, the Song of Songs) and Vayter un Vayter (Bass, cl., vc., pno, poetry of Avraham Sutzkever). A focus on our challenged environment plays an increasing role in her music, as in For the Birds, for amplified cello and electronics from processed birdsong; and in Ice Becomes Water, for string orchestra and electronics that she fashioned from glacier field recordings.
“There is a refreshing trend in new music to create work that is theatrical, even visceral, without resorting to clichés or purely programmatic devices. American composer Judith Shatin falls into this category for me” –Fanfare
Shatin’s music has been honored with four National Endowment for the Arts Composer Fellowships as well as grants from the American Music Center, Meet the Composer and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. A two-year restrospective of her music at Shepherd College, WV, was sponsored by the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Arts Partners Program, the latter culminating in her folk oratorio COAL. An evening-length work, for which she collected sounds in a working coal mine in Eaglesnest, WV, COAL is scored for chorus, Appalachian ensemble, keyboard synth, and electronic playback, with a libretto by the composer. Its grand scale and sweeping scope captures an entire way of life. This two-year project also involved four composer residencies, with multiple collaborations with community-based groups.
“The term ‘folk oratorio’ looks like an oxymoron, yet Judith Shatin’s Coal blends folk and oratorio so skillfully that it not only makes sense, but can be transposed to other places as a prototype, tying regional industry to art.” –Chorus! Volume 7, #5
Recorded on Centaur, Innova (three portrait discs), Navona, Neuma, New World Records, Ravello and Sonora, Shatin’s music is published by Arsis Press, C.F. Peters, Colla Voce, E.C. Schirmer, G. Schirmer and Wendigo Music. She has held residencies at Bellagio, Brahmshaus, Casa Zia Lina, La Cité des Arts, MacDowell, Mishkan Omanim, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and Yaddo.She was also invited to assist with the establishment of Civatelli Ranieri in Umbertide, IT.
In demand as a master teacher, Shatin has served as senior composer at the Wellesley Composers Conference and at the Chamber Music Conference of the East, as a Master Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Senior Composition Faculty at California Summer Music and guest composer at the Aspen Music Festival. Beyond her contributions as a composer, Shatin is a strong advocate for her fellow composers. She served as President of American Composers (1989-93), was for two terms a board member of the League/ISCM in New York, serves on the board of the National Council of the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and has also served on the board of the American Composers Alliance. She is currently a member of the Fellows Council of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the advisory board of the International Alliance for Women in Music.
Educated at Douglass College (Phi Beta Kappa, Julia Carlie Prize in Composition), The Juilliard School (MM., Abraham Ellstein Award) and Princeton University (MFA, PhD), Judith Shatin is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia, where she founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music and led the program to national prominence.