Penka Kouneva

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Penka Kouneva
Пенка Кунева
Born (1967-02-25) February 25, 1967 (age 55)
Sofia, Bulgaria
Occupation(s)Composer, Orchestrator, Soundtrack Producer

Penka Kouneva (Bulgarian: Пенка Кунева) (/ˈpɛŋkɑː kuːˈnɛvɑː/; born February 25, 1967 in Sofia, Bulgaria) is a Bulgarian-American composer, orchestrator and soundtrack producer. In 1999, she began working in film and television and in 2009 began to score for videogames (Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen video games, with themes by Steve Jablonsky). Her music is a blend of Bulgarian influences, classical training, rock sensibility, and modern film and game soundtracks.

Kouneva has released two award-winning concept albums: The Woman Astronaut (2015, on Varèse Sarabande / Universal Music Group)[1] and A Warrior's Odyssey (2012, on Howlin’ Wolf Records / Sumthing Else)[2] both receiving 5-star press.

Adolescence and early career (1990–1999)[edit]

Kouneva was born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria, and began studying piano at the age of six. Her mother was a professor of music theory at the Bulgarian Academy of Music and her father was a scientist at the Institute of Chemical Technologies. At the age of twelve, Kouneva composed and performed incidental music for a children’s theater show that ran for a season. She earned fifteen dollars per show; the official start of her career as a paid composer. Kouneva attended the Sofia High School of Music and achieved a degree in piano. She later enrolled in the National Academy of Music and graduated with a degree in music theory.[3]

In 1990, she was awarded the Mary Duke Biddle Graduate Fellowship to study composition at Duke University, North Carolina, USA.[4] At Duke she studied composition and orchestration with the American orchestral composers Stephen Jaffe and Scott Lindroth and with the Dutch post-minimalist Louis Andriessen.[5] In 1997, Kouneva received Duke University's first-ever Ph.D. degree in composition in the brand-new doctoral program.[6] In 1997, she also received a Green Card as an “Alien of Extraordinary Abilities.”

Hollywood career (1999 – present)[edit]

In 1999, Kouneva arrived in Los Angeles. Her first mentor was the Emmy-winning composer Patrick Williams whom she met at Duke.[7] She began her career by scoring independent features and thesis films for graduates at the American Film Institute.[8] In 2004, she began to score TV specials and genre telefilms for the SyFy Channel (Chupacabra: Dark Seas, Ice Spiders, Nuclear Hurricane). In 2004, Kouneva met Steve Jablonsky (composer for the Transformers films) and became his orchestrator. She scored video games in 2009 with Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and Activision’s Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen games.[7] For the Transformers game, Kouneva wrote original high-action loops incorporating the musical style that Jablonsky established in the Transformers films – epic orchestra, rousing action melodies and heavy percussion. For the Prince of Persia game, Kouneva composed two hours of original in-game interactive score, fusing inspirations of Persian, Indian and Middle-Eastern music with epic orchestra.[9]

Her credits also include independent features (Primrose Lane, The Third Nail (starring Chloë Grace Moretz), Midnight Movie (starring Brea Grant) as well as in television (Forensic Files, Modern Marvels)). Since 2012, Kouneva has been scoring many independent games (PS4 Medieval game Rollers of the Realm,[10] VR action project Hades, the military shooter H-Hour on Steam[11] and iOS titles IronKill, Black Hole Explorer, Pierre Roux’s Infinite Warrior.)

In addition to composing, Kouneva is a studio orchestrator and has made Hollywood history as the first woman Lead Orchestrator on studio blockbusters since Shirley Walker.[12] (Walker was instrumental for Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and others.) Kouneva was Lead Orchestrator on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Elysium, Ender's Game (films) and Sony's 2015 Game of the Year Bloodborne. Other orchestration credits include the franchises The Matrix, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; the games Gears of War 2 & Gears of War 3, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Overwatch, Sims, Lord of The Rings: War in the North,[13] and many low-budget independent films and games.

Industry leadership[edit]

Kouneva is on the Advisory Board of Game Developers Conference, the world’s foremost conference for game professionals (2014–present),[14] an Advisor for Sundance Composers Lab (2002–2015) and a Mentor for Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.) Scholars (2014–current). As a guest artist, she has presented invited lectures and seminars at Duke University, Davidson College, USC, Berklee College of Music, Berklee Valencia, CalArts, The Musicians’ Institute, CSULB and many others. She has also presented at the following conferences: Game Developers Conference (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016),[15] East Coast Game Conference (2012),[16] Power Of Play (2015, 2016),[17] Intel Buzz Workshop London (2016),[18] The Society of Composers and Lyricists (2013),[19] Game Sound Con (2013, 2014, 2015),[20] amongst many other.

Kouneva is profiled in two textbooks (Chance Thomas' “Composing Music For Games” (2016) and Tom Hoover's “Soundtrack Nation” (2011), in a Keynote address (Game Sound Con 2015 Keynote address),[21] in national press[22] and NPR.[23] Additionally, she has been included in two feature-length documentaries: Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound (2016)[24] and SCORE: A Film Music Documentary (2016).

Mentoring and advocacy[edit]

Kouneva is known for building and training high-performance teams for score production.[25] Amongst her notable protégés are the Hollywood composers and orchestrators Philip Klein,[26] Ben Bromfield, Alexandre Cote,[27] Catherine Grealish, Dallas Aimer,[28] Nicolas Repetto,[29] Steven Melin,[30] Amie Doherty, Fred Emory Smith[31] and many others. Kouneva's arrival to Hollywood was unprepared for the business aspects of entertainment, so she focuses to instructing her protégés to be ready for such challenges.[32] Kouneva’s Composer Career Master Classes are published online by Designing Music Now.[33] Her Gears of War 2 main theme analysis is published by[34]

Kouneva is also an advocate for artist growth and for the advancement of women composers.[35] She has led, curated and participated in panels, seminars, and concerts promoting women film and game composers in Los Angeles,[36] at Game Developers Conference, and the Society of Composers and Lyricists.


In 2015, Kouneva established and funded an Orchestral Reading for Duke Graduate Composers with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra. Two graduate composers selected by Duke Music Department will receive a professional reading and recording of their compositions by the nationally recognized symphony orchestra. With this opportunity, she hopes to give a competitive edge to composers as they start their careers.[37]

Personal life[edit]

In 2004 Kouneva married music editor Daniel Schweiger and has one daughter with him, born in 2006.


The lists below show some of Kouneva's most notable work.



Year Title Label
2015 The Woman Astronaut Varèse SarabandeUniversal Music Group
2012 A Warrior’s Odyssey Howlin’ Wolf Records – Sumthing Else
2011 Play For Japan iTunes
2010 Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Ubisoft
2010 Midnight Movie Howlin’ Wolf Records

Film scores[edit]

Year Title Director Starring
2016 Primrose Lane Kathleen Davison K. Davison, Alysia Reiner
2008 Midnight Movie Jack Messitt Brea Grant
2007 The Third Nail Kevin Lewis Chloë Grace Moretz
2004 The Picture of Dorian Gray Dave Rosenbaum Josh Duhamel

Video games – Composer and Co-composer (selected)[edit]

Year Title Studio Main Composer
2015 H-Hour: World’s Elite Steam Penka Kouneva
2010 Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Ubisoft Steve Jablonsky
2009 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Activision Steve Jablonsky

Television – Composer (selected)[edit]

Year Title Distributor Network
2007 Ice Spiders Sony Pictures Home Entertainment SyFy Channel
2005 Meltdown: Days of Destruction Regent Entertainment SyFy Channel
2005 Chupacabra: Dark Seas Sony Pictures Home Entertainment SyFy Channel

Television – Team Composer and Production Music (selected)[edit]

Year Title Network
2009–present Lockup: Extended Stay MSNBC
2005–present Forensic Files TruTV
2005–present Modern Marvels History Channel
2005–present Dogfights History Channel


Lead Orchestrator – Film (selected)[edit]

Year Film Studio For Composer
2016 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Paramount Steve Jablonsky
2015 The Last Witch Hunter Lionsgate Steve Jablonsky
2014 Elysium Sony Pictures Ryan Amon
2014 Ender's Game Lionsgate Steve Jablonsky
2014 Need for Speed DreamWorks Nathan Furst
2013 Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Paramount Atli Orvarsson
2007 Hostel: Part 2 Lionsgate Nathan Barr
2006 Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 New Line Cinema Steve Jablonsky
2005 Hostel Lionsgate Nathan Barr

Team Orchestrator – Film (selected)[edit]

Year Film Studio For Composer
2011 Transformers: Dark of the Moon Paramount Steve Jablonsky
2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) New Line Cinema Steve Jablonsky
2009 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Paramount Steve Jablonsky
2009 Angels and Demons Sony Pictures Hans Zimmer
2007 Transformers Paramount Steve Jablonsky
2007 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Walt Disney Pictures Hans Zimmer
2003 The Matrix Reloaded Warner Brothers Don Davis

Orchestrator – Video games[edit]

Year Title Studio For Composer
2015 Bloodborne Sony Computer Entertainment
2011 Gears of War 3 Microsoft Steve Jablonsky
2008 Gears of War 2 Microsoft Steve Jablonsky
2008 The Sims 3 EA Steve Jablonsky
2007 World of Warcraft

StarCraft II

Diablo III


Blizzard Entertainment Neal Acree
2006 Transformers: The Game Activision Steve Jablonsky
2002 Enter the Matrix EON / Atari Don Davis / Erik Lundborg


  1. ^ Varèse Sarabande (2016-06-23). "The Woman Astronaut | Varèse Sarabande". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  2. ^ "Howlin' Wolf Records – A Warrior's Odyssey page". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  3. ^ "California String Quartet". Retrieved 2016-06-07.
  4. ^ "Duke composers meet the North Carolina Symphony | Duke Music". Retrieved 2016-06-07.
  5. ^ Andriessen, Louis (2002). The Music of Louis Andriessen. Great Britain: Routledge Publishing. p. 310. ISBN 0-8153-3789-2.
  6. ^ "Alum's Gift To Fund Student Recording Sessions". Duke Today. Retrieved 2016-06-07.
  7. ^ a b "Penka Kouneva: Game And Hollywood Composer". GAAM: Games Art And Music. 2012-10-15. Retrieved 2016-06-15.
  8. ^ "The Catalyst" (PDF). 21 March 2001.
  9. ^ "Game Music :: Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris". Retrieved 2016-06-15.
  10. ^ "Review Fix Exclusive: Tony Walsh Talks 'Rollers of the Realm'". Review Fix. 2014-08-20. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  11. ^ "SOF Studios". SOFs Community. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  12. ^ Allison (2013-09-05). "It's Been Nearly Two Decades Since a Woman Was Lead Orchestrator on a Tentpole Film — Film School Rejects". Medium. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  13. ^ " – Penka Kouneva". Retrieved 2016-06-15.
  14. ^ "GDC 2016 | March 14–18, 2016 | Moscone Convention Center | San Francisco, California". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  15. ^ "The Gothic Horror Music of 'Bloodborne'". GDC Vault. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  16. ^ Dealessandri, Marie (2016-06-28). "East Coast Game Conference 2012 Announces Full Lineup of Speakers and Technical Programs | games industry | MCV". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  17. ^ "2017 Speakers".
  18. ^ "INTEL Buzz Workshop | London 2016". Archived from the original on 20 April 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  19. ^ "Calendar :: Recent Events : SCL Seminar: Women Composers in Film, TV, Musical Theater and Video Games". The SCL. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  20. ^ "Game Music and Sound Design Conference".
  21. ^ Paula Parisi (2015-11-05). "Women in Video Game Music Celebrated at GameSoundCon But Still Underrepresented". Billboard. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  22. ^ "Voices: Video games making strides in technology and diversity". 2015-06-21. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  23. ^ "Penka Kouneva and a composer's 'authentic voice'". Classical MPR. 2015-04-30. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  24. ^ "A Documentary History of Game Sound". Beep. 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  25. ^ Events (2013-02-16). "Penka Kouneva Studios presents…Master Classes: February 16, 2013 | Calendar". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  26. ^ "Biography « Philip Klein". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  27. ^ "My Role on The Woman Astronaut | Alexandre Cote". Archived from the original on 2016-02-11.
  28. ^ "Composer/Orchestrator". Dallas Aimer. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  29. ^ "About Nicolas". Nicolas Repetto. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  30. ^ "Home".
  31. ^ "Bio — Fred Emory Smith". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  32. ^ "Spring 2015 Visiting Artists | The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  33. ^ "Bio – Penka Kouneva". Designing Music NOW. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  34. ^ "Behind The Music - Gears of War 2 | OUTPUT". Archived from the original on 2015-09-19.
  35. ^ "Soundworks Collection".
  36. ^ "First WEDNESDAYS: "Celebrate Women Composers"". Archived from the original on 2016-09-15.
  37. ^ "Alum's Gift to Fund Student Recording Sessions".

External links[edit]