Michael Colgrass

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Michael Colgrass
Born(1932-04-22)April 22, 1932
DiedJuly 2, 2019(2019-07-02) (aged 87)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois
Notable workDéjà vu
AwardsPulitzer Prize for Music (1978)
Emmy Award (1982)

Michael Charles Colgrass (April 22, 1932 – July 2, 2019) was an American-born Canada-based musician, composer, and educator.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Colgrass was born in Brookfield, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.[2] His musical career began in Chicago as a jazz musician (1944–1949). He graduated from the University of Illinois (1954) with a degree in percussion performance and composition, including studies with Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Festival and Lukas Foss at Tanglewood. He served two years as timpanist in the U.S. Seventh Army Symphony in Stuttgart, then spent eleven years supporting his composition activities as a free-lance percussionist in the city of New York, where his performance experiences included such varied groups as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, The Metropolitan Opera, Dizzy Gillespie, the Modern Jazz Recording Orchestra's Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky series, and numerous ballet, opera, and jazz ensembles. He organized the percussion sections for Gunther Schuller's recordings and concerts, as well as for recordings and premieres of new works by John Cage, Elliott Carter, Edgard Varèse, and Harry Partch; and he performed with Partch's ensemble. During his New York period, he continued to study composition with Wallingford Riegger (1958) and Ben Weber (1958–1960).

Colgrass received commissions from the New York Philharmonic and The Boston Symphony (twice), as well as the orchestras of Minnesota, Detroit, San Francisco, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto (twice), the National Arts Centre Orchestra (twice), The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the Manhattan and Muir String Quartets, the Brighton Festival in England, the Fromm and Ford Foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and numerous other orchestras, chamber groups, choral groups, and soloists.

The Colgrass family decided to relocate to Toronto in 1970 primarily because of street crime, labor strikes, and civil chaos then rampant in the city of New York, an urban quality-of-life crisis that reached its peak under Mayor John Vliet Lindsay. "Crime was at its apex at the time in New York and Ulla and I were wondering where to live," Colgrass later told a Toronto journalist. "We … happened to see a 60 Minutes special on Toronto, with its low crime rate, multiculturalism, and plenty of parks. We liked what we saw." The move would break Colgrass's life roughly into two parts: an American half followed by a Canadian half.[3]

Colgrass won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his symphonic piece Déjà vu, which was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic. In addition, he received an Emmy Award in 1982 for a PBS documentary Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass. Other awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions, and the 1988 Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music.

Among his later works is Crossworlds (2002) for flute, piano, and orchestra; this was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and premiered with soloists Marina Piccinini and Andreas Heafliger. In 2003 he conducted the premiere of his new chamber orchestra version of the Bach-Goldberg Variations with members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Another twenty-first century premiere was Side by Side (2007) for harpsichord, altered piano (one player), and orchestra, commissioned collectively by the Esprit Orchestra, The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and The Richmond Symphony featuring soloist Joanne Kong. The Canadian premiere took place on 13 May 2007 in Toronto under conductor Alex Pauk; the American premiere followed on 2 November 2007 in Boston under Gil Rose. Soon after followed Pan Trio, for steel drums, harp, and percussion (marimba/vibraphone), commissioned and premiered in Toronto on 21 May 2008 by Soundstreams Canada and featuring pans virtuoso Liam Teague. His work was also featured on the Mark Hetzler 2015 recording Blues, Ballads and Beyond.

Colgrass also devised a system of teaching music creativity to children; he taught this to middle- and high-school music teachers, who have in turn used his techniques to teach children to write and perform new music of their own creation. His articles on these activities appeared in the Music Educators Journal (September 2004) and Adultita, an Italian education magazine. He also wrote a number of works for children to perform.

As a prose author, Colgrass wrote My Lessons with Kumi, a fictionalized "teaching tale" outlining his techniques for performance and creativity; he also gave workshops throughout the world on the psychology and technique of performance. Colgrass also wrote, in collaboration with his wife and son, Adventures of an American Composer: An Autobiography, published in 2010.

Colgrass lived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for nearly five decades, while earning his living internationally as a composer. He was an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre.

Colgrass died on July 2, 2019, at the age of 87.[4]

His widow, Ulla, is a journalist and editor who writes about music and the arts; and his son Neal is an editor, journalist, and screenwriter.


[5] [6]

Notable students[edit]


  1. ^ Neil Butterworth (2013). Dictionary of American Classical Composers. Routledge. p. 85. ISBN 9781136790249.
  2. ^ Pulitzer-winning Toronto composer Michael Colgrass dies at 87
  3. ^ Pulitzer-winning Toronto composer Michael Colgrass dies at 87
  4. ^ Pulitzer-winning Toronto composer Michael Colgrass dies at 87
  5. ^ Michael Colgrass List of Works Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  6. ^ "Carl Fischer - Publisher of Fine Music". Archived from the original on September 29, 2013. Retrieved 2014-02-19. Retrieved April 26, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Colgrass, Michael (2000). My Lessons With Kumi: How I Learned to Perform with Confidence in Life and Work. Boulder, Colorado: Real People Press/Andreas NLP. ISBN 978-0-911226-40-9.
  • Colgrass, Michael (2010). “Edited by Neal and Ulla Colgrass.” Adventures of an American Composer: An Autobiography. Galesville, Maryland: Meredith Music/A Division of GIA Publications, Inc., Chicago. ISBN 978-1-57463-155-5.

External links[edit]