Sheila Silver speaks a musical language of her own


Sheila Silver (born 1946) is an American composer.

She was born in Seattle, Washington in 1946, she started her piano studies at the age of five. In 1968 she received Bachelor of Arts degree from University of California at Berkeley, and had her Ph.D from Brandeis University, Mass. in 1976. Her music is powerful and full of emotions, as Chicago Tribune music reviewing said “Silver speaks a musical language of her own, one rich in sonority, lyrical intensity and poetic feeling.”

During her career she has won many awards, including the George Ladd Prix de Paris, the Rome Prize (1978), and the ISCM National Composers Competition (twice). Her works include an opera, The Thief of Love, and a piano concerto written for Alexander Paley. She is currently married to film director John Feldman.

Silver has been a professor at both the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the College of William and Mary

Sheila recently returned from  a 6 month stay in Pune, India where she was studying Hindustani music with Pandit Kedar Narayan Bodas.  Her studies continue via Skype now that she is back in the U.S. and she is beginning work on A Thousand Splendid Suns, based on the internationally best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini.  She has just received one of the eight Opera America Discovery Awards for Female Composers, funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation for new opera.  This will fund a workshop of newly composed material.

Her opera, The Thief of Love, A Lyric-Comic Opera in Three Acts, was featured in New York City Opera’s Showcasing American Composers, May 2000 and received its fully staged world premiere in March 2001 by the Stony Brook Opera with David Lawton, conductor, Ned Canty, director, and sets by Phillip Baldwin. A film of that production was released on DVD to critical acclaim, following its NYC premiere screening at Makor sponsored by American Opera Projects.

Recent recordings, both on the Naxos label, include her Piano Concerto and Six Preludes for Piano on poems of Baudelaire, with Alexander Paley, piano, and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, Gintaras Rinkevicius, conductor; and her Shirat Sara (Song of Sarah) with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Strings; and Twilight’s Last Gleaming, for two pianos and percussion on the Bridge Label

Midnight Prayer, commissioned and premiered by the Stockton Symphony Orchestra, received its second performance in March 2005 by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. “Silver describes her work as a “prayer for world peace,” but it is no quiet, passive meditation. Rather, it is a remarkable 12 minute tone poem that conveys a sense of urgency through its ingenious use of harmonic tension and orchestral color.” (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester)

To The Spirit UnconqueredSilver’s piano trio, To the Spirit Unconquered, is about the ability of the human spirit to transcend the most devastating of circumstances, to survive, and to bear witness. It was inspired, in part, by Nobel laureate Primo Levi’s writings on the Holocaust.

The first movement, “With great intensity—strained, sometimes violent,” represents fear, both controlled and uncontrolled, the internal as well as the external cry. Primo Levi wrote that when new arrivals to the concentration camps disembarked from the trains, they were struck with uncontrollable fear. Those who survived had to control that fear; those who succumbed to the fear lasted only a few days.

The music, characterized by pounding bass chords in the piano and fast tremolos in the strings, alternates between violent outbursts and controlled, subdued lines. At times the pianist plays inside the piano to augment the dramatic tension.

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