The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Choral Music initiative is designed to celebrate our national musical heritage by highlighting significant American choral composers and their works of the past 250 years. Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to present this series highlighting the composers and their works featured in this groundbreaking project.
A native of Philadelphia, Aaron Jay Kernis (born 1960) is one of today’s most-performed living composers. His music is noted for its exuberant eclecticism, expressive lyricism, and engaging wit. He was one of the youngest composers ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music (for his String Quartet No. 2).
From his very first works in the early 1980s he has unapologetically mixed every genre – from pop and jazz to classical, from medieval Church music to Jewish cantillation – into his works, with a primary objective of communicating with everyday people.
Kernis decided at the age of 13 to become a composer, after learning violin and then teaching himself piano. He studied at Manhattan School of Music, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Yale University. Among his instructors in composition were John Adams, Charles Wuorinen, Jacob Druckman, and Morton Subotnick. He currently serves as New Music Advisor to the Minnesota Orchestra and teaches composition at Yale University. Liveliness and vivid color are qualities constantly remarked about his earlier works, which seemed imbued with the sheer joy of music-making. Newer works have often been more somber. His inspirations have ranged from salsa dancing to the Persian Gulf War.
A number of choral works have attracted favorable notice. Ecstatic Meditations sets words of the medieval mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg. Stein Times Seven was his 1980 choral tribute to poet Gertrude Stein. His most ambitious choral work to date is Garden of Light, commissioned by the Disney Company for the third millennium celebrations. More recently, Two Meditations, written for the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble, is a setting of two psalms that speak to the acceptance of death and the loving presence of God.