Michael Abels

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Michael Abels
Born (1962-10-08) October 8, 1962 (age 61)
EducationUSC Los Angeles Thornton School Of Music

Michael Abels (born October 8, 1962) is an American composer best known for the opera Omar, co-written with Rhiannon Giddens, and his genre-defying scores for the Jordan Peele films Get Out and Us. The hip-hop influenced score for Us was short-listed for the Oscars and was even named “Score of the Decade” by TheWrap. Other recent media projects include the films Bad Education, Nightbooks, Fake Famous, and the docu-series Allen v. Farrow. Current releases include Beauty which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on Netflix, Breaking (formerly 892) which premiered at Sundance, and his third collaboration with Jordan Peele, Nope.

Abels’ works also includes many concert works, such as At War With Ourselves for the Kronos Quartet,[1] Isolation Variation for Hilary Hahn, and the opera Omar co-composed with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Rhiannon Giddens.[2][3] Some of these pieces are available on the Cedille Records, including Delights & Dances and Winged Creatures. Current commissions include a work for the National Symphony Orchestra and a guitar concerto for Mak Grgić.[4]

Abels is co-founder of the Composers Diversity Collective, an advocacy group to increase visibility of composers of color in film, gaming and streaming media.[5]

In 2023, the opera Omar, co-written by Abels and Rhiannon Giddens, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.[6]

Early life[edit]

Abels was born in Phoenix, Arizona. He spent his early years on a small farm in South Dakota, where he lived with his grandparents. Introduced to music via the family piano, he began showing an innate curiosity towards music at age 4.[7] His music-loving grandparents convinced the local piano teacher to take him on as a student despite his age. At age 8, Abels began composing music, and by age 13, his first completed orchestral work was performed.[8]

Upon graduating from high school, Abels attended the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. Abels, who is mixed race,[9] eventually studied West African drumming techniques at California Institute for the Arts, and sang in a predominantly black church choir to further explore his African-American roots.[10]



Additional music

Other works[edit]

  • Global Warming (1990) (commissioned by the Phoenix Youth Symphony)
  • I'm Determined (1991) for orchestra
  • How Majestic (1992) for orchestra
  • American Variations on Swing Low Sweet Chariot (1993) (premiered by Doc Severinsen and the Phoenix Symphony)
  • Frederick's Fables (1994, 1996) four pieces for orchestra, based on selected stories of Leo Lionni
  • Dance for Martin's Dream (1998) for orchestra (commissioned by the Houston Symphony and the Nashville Symphony
  • You're a Grand Old Flag (1995) for orchestra
  • More Seasons (1999)
  • Limitless (2000) for choir, or soloist with choral accompaniment, and piano
  • Homies & Popz (2001) opera
  • Tribute (2001) for orchestra
  • Affectionate Objects (2004) for orchestra
  • Outburst (2005) for orchestra
  • Delights & Dances (2007) for string quartet and orchestra[11]
  • Urban Legends (2008) for string quartet and orchestra (commissioned by the Sphinx Organization)
  • Aquadia (2009) for orchestra (co-commissioned by the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Shedd Aquarium)
  • Be the Change (2015) for choir, or soloist with choral accompaniment, and piano
  • The Open Hand
  • Victory Road (2017) for orchestra
  • Iconoclasm (2017) for piano
  • Liquify (2017) for orchestra
  • Twilight Drive for piano
  • Winged Creatures (2018) for flute, clarinet and orchestra (commissioned by Cedille Records[12]) written for Anthony and Demarre McGill
  • Pensivity for piano
  • Life in a Day
  • Struck by Enlightenment
  • Falling Sky (for concert band) (2019)
  • Falling Sky, ballet (2020)
  • Anguish (from Falling Sky) (2020) for piano
  • Gift of the Machine (2020)
  • Isolation Variation (2020) for unaccompanied violin (for Hillary Hahn)
  • At War with Ourselves, oratorio - libretto by Nikky Finney, commissioned for the Kronos Quartet
  • Omar, an original opera on the life of Omar ibn Said co-composed by Rhiannon Giddens[13]
  • Get Out, in concert (2020)
  • Emerge (2021) for orchestra (co-commission from Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
  • Guitar Concerto "Borders" (2022) Commissioned by ROCO & Quad City Symphony, written for Mak Grgić

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
2017 Fright Meter Awards Best Score Get Out Nominated
World Soundtrack Awards Discovery of the Year Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Original Score Won
2018 International Film Music Critics Awards Best Original Score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film Nominated
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Score Won
2019 Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award Best Original Score Us Won
World Soundtrack Awards Discovery of the Year Won
Indiana Film Journalists Association Best Musical Score Won
Greater Western New York Film Critics Association Awards Best Score Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award Best Original Score Nominated
Phoenix Critics Circle Best Score Nominated
Seattle Film Critics Society Awards Best Original Score Nominated
Hollywood Music in Media Awards Best Original Score- Horror Film Won
Fright Meter Awards Best Score Won
2020 51st NAACP Image Award Outstanding Soundtrack/Compilation Album Nominated
Critics Choice Awards Best Score Nominated
Black Reel Award Outstanding Score Won
Latino Entertainment Journalists Association Film Award Best Music Nominated
Music City Film Critics' Association Award Best Score Nominated
North Carolina Film Critics Association Best Music Nominated
Online Film & Television Association, OFTA Film Award Best Music, Original Score Nominated
Society of Composers and Lyricists Awards Outstanding Original Score for a Studio Film Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association Awards Best Score Nominated
International Film Music Critics Award Best Original Score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Score Won
Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle Award Best Original Score Won
Georgia Film Critics Association Original Score Nominated
Gold Derby Awards Original Score Nominated
Hawaii Film Critics Society Best Original Score Nominated
Hollywood Critics Association Best Score Nominated
Houston Film Critics Society Awards Best Original Score Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Original Score Won
2023 Pulitzer Prize Music Omar Won


  1. ^ "At War With Ourselves - 400 Years of You". University of South Carolina. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  2. ^ Cooper, Michael (June 10, 2019). "Rhiannon Giddens is Writing An Opera". The New York Times. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  3. ^ "Omar, A World Premiere Opera in 2022". Spoleto Festival USA. 2021. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  4. ^ Grgic, Mak. "GUITAR CONCERTO BY MICHAEL ABELS WITH ROCO ORCHESTRA". MakGrgic.com. Schmidt Artists International, Inc.
  5. ^ "Composer for 'Get Out' and 'Us' Talks Diversity, Inclusiveness in Music". NBCUniversal Media. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  6. ^ "2023 Pulitzer Prizes". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved May 9, 2023.
  7. ^ De Lerma, Dominique-Rene. "African Heritage Symphonic Series Vol. III". Liner note essay. Cedille Records CDR066.
  8. ^ "Michael Abels: Biography". Kennedy Center. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  9. ^ "Michael Abels, Composer Of Jordan Peele's Us, Balances Terror With Empathy". NPR. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  10. ^ Davis, Andrew (June 24, 2009). "Michael Abels: A composer makes 'Waves'". Windy City Times. Windy City Media Group. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  11. ^ "Delights and Dances | Classical Music".
  12. ^ "Winged Creatures | Classical Music".
  13. ^ Cooper, Michael (June 11, 2019). "Rhiannon Giddens Is Writing an Opera". The New York Times. p. C3. Retrieved July 7, 2022.

External links[edit]