Nathaniel Stookey

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Stookey at the 2015 Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

Nathaniel Stookey (born 1970, San Francisco, California) is an American composer and musician.


Stookey is the son of Richard Phelps Stookey, an attorney and novelist, and Martha Milton Stookey, an actor, stage director, and teacher. Both parents came from musical families: Martha's father was an Army bugler and cornet player, and Richard's grandparents were church and barn-dance musicians whose descendants include Noel Paul Stookey of the folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary. Stookey spent his early childhood in the Basque village of Banca. He attended French American International School and Lowell High School in San Francisco and Lycée Hoche in Versailles, France.[1][2] He began violin study at age 5 with Anna Teksler in San Francisco, continuing with Malgorzata Rouger at the École Normale de Musique de Paris, and with Daniel Kobialka of the San Francisco Symphony. As a student, he played violin and viola with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and sang in the chorus of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. He studied music theory with Donald Galfond [3] and took his first composition lessons from Tom Constanten of the Grateful Dead at the San Francisco Community Music Center.[4] He attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, San Francisco City College, the University of California, Berkeley (B.A. 1992), George Benjamin's composition seminars for the Royal College of Music, and Duke University (Ph.D 2003), where he was a Mary Duke Biddle Fellow and won the Klenz Prize for Composition in his first year of graduate study. Stookey's principal composition teachers were Peter Scott Lewis, Donald Erb, Andrew Imbrie, Cindy Cox, Stephen Jaffe, and Scott Lindroth.

Orchestral music[edit]

Stookey was first commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony at age 17.[2] He has held composer residencies with the Hallé Orchestra, during the music directorship of Kent Nagano, and with the North Carolina Symphony from 2000-2003, a partnership that resulted in over 60 performances of eight works, including Out of the Everywhere (2003) for large orchestra.[5][6] In 2006, the San Francisco Symphony commissioned, premiered and recorded The Composer is Dead (2006), a guide to the orchestra with text by Lemony Snicket. He has narrated performances of The Composer is Dead, in English as well as Spanish. He also co-authored the Spanish and French translations of Lemony Snicket's text for The Composer is Dead. In 2010, the NDR Sinfonieorchester and Christoph Eschenbach premiered Stookey's Mahlerwerk (2010) at the final concert of the centennial "Mahler in Hamburg" Festival.

Stookey has a long-standing musical relationship with the San Francisco Symphony and was one of the original curators of SoundBox, for which he created YTTE (2016), his third commissioned work for the orchestra.[7] Other orchestral works include the song cycles Zipperz (2008) and Into the Bright Lights (2009)[8] as well as several shorter works: Big Bang (2000), Wide as Skies (2003) and GO (2012).

Vocal and theatrical music[edit]

Stookey's earliest published composition was a contribution to the Basque-language hymnal, Meza Abestiak,[9] a gift for the Benedictine monastery of Lazkao, where the composer lived and worked in 1990.[10] For thy sweet love (1993) for chamber chorus and organ and other early works were published by PRB Productions before being acquired by G. Schirmer/AMP in 2015.[10] In 2008, Manoel Felciano, Eisa Davis, and the Oakland Symphony conducted by Michael Morgan premiered Zipperz (2008) for two pop singers and orchestra, with texts by Dan Harder.[11] In 2009, Frederica von Stade launched her farewell tour with Stookey's Into the Bright Lights (2009) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, a setting of von Stade's own reflections on singing and aging.[12] Zheng Cao, in her final concert appearances, substituted for von Stade in the work's U.S. premiere.[13] Stookey created the score for John Doyle's 2010 production of Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle at the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco.[14] His monodrama Ivonne (2012) for soprano and chamber ensemble, with texts by Jerre Dye, was commissioned by Opera Memphis as part of the Ghosts of Crosstown project[15] and featured on Opera America's 2015 national showcase at Wolf Trap. Stookey was commissioned by West Edge Opera to compose the opera Bulrusher with a libretto by Stookey and playwright Eisa Davis based on her play Bulrusher.[16] The opera was developed at The Cincinnati Opera during their Opera Fusion: New Works 2022.[17]

Chamber music[edit]

Himself a violinist and violist, Stookey has continued to write chamber music throughout his career. Strings Magazine profiled him in 2009 as one of the "Next Generation of String Composers."[18] The Lindsay Quartet featured Stookey's String Quartet No. 1 (1998), dedicated to them, on their 40th anniversary tour of North America in 2004.[19][20] String Quartet No. 2 – Musée Mécanique (2002) was commissioned and recorded by the Ciompi Quartet.[21] String Quartet No. 3 – The Mezzanine (2012), inspired by Nicholson Baker's eponymous book, was commissioned by Kronos Quartet[22] and featured at the 2015 Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where Stookey and Kronos were in residence together.[23] Additional chamber works include Piano Trio No. 1 (2009) for The Lee Trio, Fling (2005) for flute and string trio (commissioned by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble), Above the Thomas Gate (2001) for piano trio (commissioned by the Mallarmé Chamber Players), Tame Me (1995) for piano and prepared piano (commissioned by the Hallé Concerts Society), and Sonatina for Sam (1992) (see Alt, pop, dance, and Junk).[5] Where Every Verse is Filled with Grief (2009) for solo violin, an arrangement of the second movement of Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Choir, was commissioned by Kunst-Stoff for choreography by Yannis Adoniou.[24]

Alt, pop, dance, and junk[edit]

Stookey has worked often in San Francisco's experimental music scene and his work uses influences outside of classical boundaries.<> Among his early collaborators was the crossover cellist Sam Bass (of the bands Deadweight, Loop!Station and Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade) for whom Stookey wrote both his "opus 1" Sonatina for Sam (1992) and the song Hard Up (2011).[25][26] Stookey composed and recorded the string introduction to the song Soothsayer (2007) on The Mars Volta's album The Bedlam in Goliath. In the same year, he created Junkestra (2007) for an orchestra of instruments he built from objects scavenged from the city dump, and has performed on the musical saw in this work. That work was performed in vacant warehouses and public squares before being taken up by the San Francisco Symphony and other classical presenters.[27] Its 2010 release on Innova Recordings includes Junkestra Dance Mix (2010), also by Stookey.[28] His composition Mahlerwerk (2011) reorders hundreds of fragments of Mahler symphonies. The work is dedicated to composer Alfred Schnittke, who coined the term polystylist to describe composers who freely combine disparate elements.[29] Nobody Suffers Like We Do (2009), a drinking song inspired by the sounds of a convenience-store cash register, with words by Daniel Handler, was commissioned and recorded by the Harvard Din & Tonics in commemoration of their 30th anniversary season.

Residencies, teaching, publication[edit]

During his residencies with the Hallé Orchestra and North Carolina Symphony, Stookey taught at the University of Sheffield and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill respectively. As composer-in-residence with NPR-affiliate WUNC-FM in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he created and hosted The Composers-in-Context Series, which included both live and broadcast performances of works by living composers in the context of their musical influences.[30] Stookey has also been composer-in-residence at the New Hampshire Music Festival,[31] the Walden School,[32] the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music,[23] and the Eastern Sierra Symphony. A retrospective of his output, commemorating his years in North Carolina, was presented by the School of Music of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.[25] Stookey sometimes plays the musical saw in Junkestra (2007) and the OOVE (a unique electroacoustic instrument by Oliver DiCicco) in YTTE (2016).

Stookey's music is published under exclusive contract by G. Schirmer/A.M.P. (Music Sales Group) of New York and London. Some works are distributed in print by Hal Leonard Corporation.


Album Role Librettist Soloist(s) Ensemble/Band Conductor Label Release year
Music for Strings (1992-2002) composer Bonnie Thron, Brian Reagin, Rebekah Binford North Carolina Symphony, Ciompi Quartet William Henry Curry Albany 2005
San Francisco Premieres composer (Fling) Left Coast Chamber Ensemble Chamber Music Partnership 2005
The Bedlam in Goliath contributor (Soothsayer) Omar Rodríguez-López, Cedric Bixler-Zavala The Mars Volta Edwin Outwater Universal/Motown 2008
The Composer is Dead composer Lemony Snicket Lemony Snicket San Francisco Symphony Edwin Outwater Harper Collins 2009
The Pursuit of Snappiness composer (Nobody Suffers Like We Do) Daniel Handler Harvard Din & Tonics Harvard Din & Tonics 2010
Junkestra composer David Weiss San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra percussion section Benjamin Shwartz Innova Recordings 2010
O Compositor està Morto composer Lemony Snicket, trans. Assis Fabio Goes San Francisco Symphony Edwin Outwater Companhia das Letrinhas 2012
Le Compositeur est Mort composer Lemony Snicket, trans. Stookey/Matéo Pépito Matéo San Francisco Symphony Edwin Outwater Didier Jeunesse 2014
Zipperz composer Dan Harder Manoel Felciano, Robin Coomer Magik*Magik Orchestra Donato Cabrera Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight in press

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • Hallé Orchestra Composition Fellowship, Manchester, England 1993-96
  • Mary Duke Biddle Fellowship, Duke University 1998
  • Klenz Prize for Double 1999
  • Meet The Composer New Residencies Award 2000-3


  1. ^ "i-Speak Signature Series". La Lettre. 22 September 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b North, Cheryl (6 May 2013). "S.F Symphony Youth Orchestra Plays Nathaniel Stookey Channeling Gustav Mahler". The Mercury News. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Donald Galfond Obituary". San Francisco Chronicle. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  4. ^ "San Francisco Community Music Center Awards $46,000 in Scholarships to Local Music Students". San Francisco Community Music Center. 2 June 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Nathaniel Stookey - Long Biography". Music Sales. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  6. ^ Kosman, Joshua (17 May 2005). "Review: Youth Orchestra does departing director proud". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  7. ^ Campbell, Philip (28 April 2016). "Passionate Playing". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  8. ^ Serinus, Jason Victor (5 March 2011). "Zheng Cao's Magnificence Graces Philharmonia Baroque". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  9. ^ Meza Abestiak. A.Beneditarrak. 1992. p. 516. ISBN 84-86268-14-1.
  10. ^ a b "For Thy Sweet Love". Hal Leonard. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  11. ^ Kosman, Joshua (17 November 2008). "Music Review: Oakland Symphony's 'Zipperz'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  12. ^ Bernstein, Tamara (21 September 2009). "Grief and Gratitude for a Glorious Goodbye". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  13. ^ Kosman, Joshua (22 February 2013). "Zheng Cao, noted mezzo-soprano, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  14. ^ McNulty, Charles (25 February 2010). "Theater Review: 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' at ACT". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  15. ^ Sparks, Jon W. (7 April 2014). "Brilliance All Around at Midtown Opera Festival". The Commercial Appeal - Memphis. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  16. ^ ""West Edge Story": A Small Company and New Opera". Retrieved 2023-07-04.
  17. ^ Butts, Rebecca (January 26, 2022). "Watch: Opera Fusion New Works presents "Bulrusher"". UC News. Retrieved 2023-07-04.
  18. ^ "Meet the Next Generation of String Composers". Strings Magazine. January 2009.
  19. ^ Wiegand, David (3 March 2004). "Dance company gets 2-year $200,000 grant". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  20. ^ Parker, Maria (2011). String Quartets: A Research and Information Guide (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 380. ISBN 978-0-415-99417-0.
  21. ^ "Discography". Ciompi Quartet. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  22. ^ Kosman, Joshua (22 February 2013). "Kronos Quartet review: YBCA finale". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  23. ^ a b "Kronos Quartet: In the Blue Room". Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  24. ^ Howard, Rachel (16 June 2009). "Intimate Kunst-Stoff returns to playful form". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  25. ^ a b Walker, William Thomas. "A Nathaniel Stookey Retrospective at UNCG". Classical Voice North Carolina. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  26. ^ Cedric (27 March 2009). "The Composer is Dead". SFist. Archived from the original on 23 May 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  27. ^ Leslie Katz (28 April 2010). "Junkestra Symphony is Pure Garbage". CNET. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  28. ^ "Nathaniel Stookey - Junkestra". Innova Recordings. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  29. ^ "Nathaniel Stookey - Programme note". Music Sales Classical. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  30. ^ "WUNC-FM to launch Composers-in-Context Series". University of North Carolina. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  31. ^ "Composer Portraits". New Hampshire Music Festival. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  32. ^ "Composer-in-Residence presentation: Nathaniel Stookey". The Walden School. 16 July 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2016.

External links[edit]