Aaron Jay Kernis (born January 15, 1960) is an American composer serving as a member of the Yale School of Music faculty. Kernis spent 10 years serving as the music advisor to the Minnesota Orchestra and as Director of the Minnesota Orchestra's Composers' Institute. He is widely regarded as one of the leading composers of his generation[who?], receiving numerous awards and honors throughout his thirty-year career. He lives in New York City with his wife, pianist Evelyne Luest, and their two children.
Aaron Kernis found immediate success as a composer when his work Dream of the Morning Sky was premiered in 1983 by the New York Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta conducting. He was only 23 at the time but won unanimous praise for an incident that took place. Zubin Mehta stopped the orchestra to complain about the vagueness of the score, but Aaron Jay Kernis replied, "Just read what's there." The audience applauded young Kernis for sticking up for his work, and within weeks the story received national attention.
Kernis has written over 25 works for orchestra including concertos for cello, english horn, violin, and toy piano. His key orchestral works include Musica Celestis, New Era Dance, Lament and Prayer, Newly Drawn Sky, and Colored Field.
Although Kernis is known best for orchestral works, he has also written over 30 works for chamber ensemble, 22 works for [chorus], and 14 solo [keyboard] compositions. Air and Musica Instrumentalis stand out among his finest non-orchestral works. His music is published exclusively through G. Schirmer, New York. A complete works list can be found here.
Kernis's style has been described as having neo-romantic intensity with exuberant imagination. His thematic material tends to keep audiences engaged while his sound palette offers them an innovative approach to orchestration. There have been many comparisons drawn to Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler, and Igor Stravinksy due to their rhythmic drive and timbral exploration. His eclectic influences range from Claude Debussy to modern hip-hop music. Kernis claims that his works have been influenced by 19th century music, minimalism, and impressionism. He has said numerous times that he feels more comfortable writing beautiful music as opposed to atonal works.100 Greatest Dance Hits features a wide range of musical styles from rock to salsa. New York Philharmonic cellist Carter Brey says that Kernis is "not afraid to take chances and that there is a lot of passion in his writing." Music critic Benjamin Ivry feels that Kernis's success comes from a varied, ambitious style that is enjoyable to listen to. He characterizes him as an imaginative composer who is capable of achieving any emotion.
Kernis often starts his works with a visual image or concrete idea. Lament and Prayer for Orchestra (1996) was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust and Second Symphony (1991) was written in response to the Gulf War. His Concerto for Violin and Guitar (1997) has a jazz-like setting with Mahler-influenced lyricism. His Pulitzer-winning Musica Instrumentalis is based on the last movement of String Quartet No. 9 (Beethoven), which explains the sonata form and fugal writing of the work. Kernis often finds a way to blend his trademark creativity with the visual image or idea in order to create a piece that the audience can connect with emotionally. His goal for each of his compositions is to write music that moves the listener emotionally while maintaining innovation and his individual identity.
Thirty-seven of Kernis's compositions have been recorded by major ensembles and soloists. The Birmingham Symphony Orchestra received a Grammy nomination for its recording of various Kernis works. Joshua Bell also received a Grammy nomination for his recording of the work Air for violin. A full discography can be found here.
^Daniel Webster. "Roth and Graham Win Arts Pulitzers/Also Honored was Composer Aaron Jay Kernis, who was Born in Bensalem and Studied in Philadelphia". The Philadelphia Inquirer. April 15, 1998. SF Edition. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
^David Patrick Stearns. "Composer Kernis ends a Fruitful Residency with Astral Artists". The Philadelphia Inquirer. March 22, 2011. CITY-C Edition. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Retrieved 8 October 2012.