Ursula Oppens

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Ursula Oppens
Born(1944-02-02)February 2, 1944
Musical career
Occupation(s)Pianist, educator

Ursula Oppens (born February 2, 1944) is an American classical concert pianist and educator. She has received five Grammy Award nominations.[1]


Ursula Oppens was born on February 2, 1944, in New York City into a highly musical family from Jewish parents who had fled Prague in 1938.[2] She obtained a high school diploma from the Brearley School (1961) a Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude) from Radcliffe College (1965) and an M.S. degree from the Juilliard School (1967). She began early piano studies with her mother Edith Oppens, a noted piano pedagogue, and went on to study with American pianist Leonard Shure. At Juilliard she studied with Rosina Lhévinne and Felix Galimir. In 1969 Oppens won the Gold Medal at the Busoni International Piano Competition and the Young Concert Artists competition, plus an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1976. She served as a Founding Member of the Speculum Musicae from 1971 to 1982. From 1994 until 2008 Oppens was on the summer faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center. She held the position of Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University from 1994 to 2008, and in 2008 went on to take up a new post as Distinguished Professor of Music at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Oppens is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Ursula Oppens is renowned for her commissioning and championship of the music of American composers who were born predominantly in the early decades of the 20th century. The following is a list of composers who have been commissioned by Oppens or who have written works for her: Carla Bley, William Bolcom, Anthony Braxton, Elliott Carter, John Corigliano, Anthony Davis, John Harbison, Julius Hemphill, M. William Karlins, Bun-Ching Lam, Tania León, Peter Lieberson, Patricia Morehead, Conlon Nancarrow, Tobias Picker, Frederic Rzewski, Allen Shawn, Alvin Singleton, Richard Teitelbaum, Francis Thorne, Joan Tower, Lois V Vierk, Amy Williams, Christian Wolff, Amnon Wolman, and Charles Wuorinen. Often such composers have credited Oppens, an acclaimed pianist in the traditional repertory, with being an invaluable pianistic influence in the creation of their music. Oppens's command of contemporary idioms has also extended to the works of such European masters as Luciano Berio, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Witold Lutoslawski, whose Piano Concerto was given its Chicago Symphony premiere by Oppens under the baton of Erich Leinsdorf in 1994.


Oppens's discography includes a recording on Vanguard of Frederic Rzewski's "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" and a version on American Piano Music of Our Time of Elliott Carter's Night Fantasies. Overall, Oppens's body of recordings—which has received four Grammy nominations to date—forms a survey of American contemporary piano music which, in addition to the aforementioned listings, also includes the complete piano music of Elliott Carter and John Corigliano, and compositions by John Adams, Julius Hemphill, Conlon Nancarrow and Tobias Picker, among others. Oppens has also set to disc a group of Beethoven piano sonatas and piano pieces for the Music & Arts label. To date Oppens has recorded for the following labels: Cedille, Wergo, Music & Arts, Vanguard Classics, Mode, Montaigne, CRI, Nuevo Era, Naxos, Angel, New World, Arte Nova, Nonesuch, Albany Records, Mark Masters, Summit, Boosey & Hawkes, New World, DeNote, Watt Works, and Bridge.

Complete discography[edit]


Title Description Label
Rzewski: The People United Will Never be Defeated Cedille 90000 158*
Oppens Plays Carter: Elliott Carter at 100 Cedille CD 90000 108*
"Winging It": Piano Music of John Corigliano Cedille CD 90000 123*
Keys to the City: Works for Piano by Tobias Picker Wergo CD 66952
Carnegie Hall Millennium Piano Book Works by Elliott Carter, Frederic Rzewski, John Harbison,
Chen Yi, Wolfgang Rihm, Louis Andriessen, Milton Babbitt,
Tan Dun, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and C. Hannibal
Boosey & Hawkes
American Piano Music of Our Time Volume I Elliott Carter Night Fantasies

John Adams Phrygian Gates William Bolcom The Dead Moth Tango Lukas Foss The Curriculum Vitae Tango Julius Hemphill Parchment David Jaggard Tango Conlon Nancarrow Tango? Michael Sahl Tango From Exiles’ Café

Music & Arts CD 862*
American Piano Music of Our Time Volume II Anthony Davis Middle Passage

John Harbison Piano Sonata No. 1 Conlon Nancarrow Two Canons for Ursula Tobias Picker Old and Lost Rivers Frederic Rzewski Mayn Yingele Charles Wuorinen The Blue Bamboula

Music & Arts CD 862
Beethoven Fantasy in G minor, Op. 77

Sonata No. 11, B-flat Major, Op. 22 Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106, "Hammerklavier"

Music & Arts CD 734
Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated Vanguard Classics OVC 8056*
    • Grammy Nomination


Composer Work(s) Label
Elliott Carter Retrouvailles Quintets and Voices, Mode 128
Elliott Carter 90+

Duo for Violin and Piano (Irvine Arditti) Sonata for Cello and Piano (Rohan de Saram)

Montaigne MO 78 2091**
Stephen Demski Tender Buttons/Pterodactyl Music from Dartmouth 0200
Peter Lieberson Fantaisie CRI S-350
Otto Luening Sonata for Piano CRI SD334
Tobias Picker When Soft Voices Die CRI SD427
Robert Schumann Carnaval, Opus 9 (Concorsopianistico

internazionale "Ferruccio Busoni" Bolzano 30 Anni di Storia pianistica) (Commemorative recording)

Nuevo Era 5718-DM
Joan Tower Holding a Daisy
   Or Like a...an Engine
Naxos 8.559215
Christian Wolff Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida Music from Dartmouth 0200
      • Gramophone Magazine 1999 Awards Issue: Voted best 20th-Century Chamber Music Recording


Composer Work Symphony, Conductor Label
John Adams Grand Pianola Music Solisti New York, Feinberg, Wilson Angel DS3735
Elliott Carter Piano Concerto Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Gielen Arte Nova 74321-27773
Elliott Carter Piano Concerto Sudwestfunk Orchester, Gielen Arte Nova 74321-27773
Joseph Schwantner Distant Runes & Incantations St. Louis Symphony, Slatkin Nonesuch 79143
Allen Shawn Piano Concerto Albany Symphony, Allen Miller Albany Records, Troy 441
Igor Stravinsky Concerto for Piano and Winds University of Florida Wind Symphony Mark Masters
Igor Stravinsky Concerto for Piano and Winds Symphonic

Wind Ensemble of Northwestern University, Thompson

Francis Thorne Piano Concerto No. 3 New Orchestra

of Westchester, Dunkel

New World
Joan Tower Rapids UW Madison Symphony Orchestra, Becker UW-Madison School of Music 193156902-9
Joan Tower Piano Concerto Louisville Symphony, Silverstein DeNote Records DND 1016


Composer Work(s) Collaborator(s) Label
Laura Kaminsky Fantasy: Oppens Plays Kaminsky Jerome Lowenthal, Jeffery Meyer, Cassatt String Quartet Cedille CDR 90000 202
L. Van Beethoven Grosse Fuge, Op. 134 Paul Jacobs Nonesuch 79061
Carla Bley 3/4 Various Watt Works 3
Johannes Brahms Sonatas, Op. 120, No. 1 & 2, Scherzo in C Minor Barbara Westphal Bridge BCD 9021
Anthony Braxton For Two Pianos Frederic Rzewski Arista Freedom
Elliott Carter Quintets and Voices, Quintet for Piano and Strings, Quintet for Winds and Piano Arditti Quartet, Taylor, Neidich, Morelli, Purvis Mode 128
Elliott Carter A Mirror On Which To Dwell Speculum Musicae CBS M35171
Company Epiphany Derek Bailey and others Incus 46-47
Alvin Curran Era Ora, For Cornelius Frederic Rzewski New Albion 011
Peter Maxwell Davies Sonata for Trumpet and Piano Gerard Schwarz Nonesuch 0298
Claude Debussy (Ravel) Nocturnes (Commemorative Recording) Aki Takahashi Music Today WWCC7107-10
Claude Debussy En blanc et noir Jerome Lowenthal CDR 90000 119
Morton Feldman Spring of Chosroes Paul Zukovsky CP2 102
Irving Fine Sonata for Violin and Piano Ida Kavafian Bridge 9123
John Harbison The Flower-Fed Buffaloes Speculum Musicae Nonesuch 71366
Variations R. Harbison, D. Satz Northeastern NR23¬0CD
Julius Hemphill One Atmosphere Tzadik 7090
David Lang Illumination Rounds Rolf Schulte CRI CD 625
Olivier Messiaen Visions de L’Amen Jerome Lowenthal CDR90000 119
Donald Martino Notturno Speculum Musicae Nonesuch 71300
W.A. Mozart Fantasia for a Musical Clock K. 608 (trans. Busoni) Paul Jacobs Nonesuch 79061
Tobias Picker Sextet No. 3 Speculum Musicae CRI 427
Frederic Rzewski Night Crossing with Fisherman

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues

Frederic Rzewski Music & Arts CD 988
Carl Ruggles Vox Clamans in Deserto Speculum Musicae CBS
Arthur Schnabel Sonata for Violin & Piano Zukovsky CP2 102
Arnold Schoenberg Cabaret Songs; Songs, Opus 2;

Book of The Hanging Gardens

Phyllis Bryn-Julson Music & Arts CD650
Allen Shawn Sextet Aspen Wind Quintet Northeastern NR 2580
Igor Stravinsky The Four Hand Petrouchka Paul Jacobs Nonesuch 79038
Igor Stravinsky Music for Two Pianos and Piano Four Hands Paul Jacobs Nonesuch H71347
Richard Wilson Concert Piece for Violin and Piano Rolf Schulte CRI CD 602
Amnon Wolman Thomas and Beulah Cynthia Hayman, soprano,

Wolman, electronics

Innova 559
Charles Wuorinen Speculum Speculi Speculum Musicae Nonesuch 71300
Charles Wuorinen Quintet C. Macomber, C. Zori,

S. St. Johns, F. Sherry

Koch 37410-2H1
Vyautas Bacevičius Septime Mot, opus 75 Gabrielius Alekna Toccata Classics 0134
Stefan Wolpe Songs: The Angel, Two Songs for Baritone, Songs of the Jewish Pioneers Rebecca Jo Loeb, Matt Boehler Bridge 9308
Richard Strauss Andante for Horn and Piano William Barnewitz AV 86A

AV 2126

W.A. Mozart Quintet for Piano and Winds K 452 Margaret Butler, Todd Levy Ted Soluri, William Barnewitz AV 86A
Johannes Brahms Wiegenlied opus 49 no. 4 4 (arr. Barnewitrz) William Barnewitz AV 86A

Prizes and honors[edit]

  • Grammy nomination, 2011 Winging It: The Piano Music of John Corigliano
  • Grammy nomination 2009 Oppens Plays Carter
  • Alumna Recognition Award, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study 2005
  • Letter of Distinction, American Music Center 2002
  • Convention Artist, MTNA 2000
  • Paul Fromm Award-University of Chicago 1998
  • Grammy nomination 1990 American Piano Music of Our Time
  • Phi Beta Kappa (honorary) 1990
  • Grammy nomination 1980 Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated
  • Record World Award 1979
  • Avery Fisher Career Grant 1976
  • Martha Baird Rockefeller Grant 1970
  • Gold Medal Busoni International Piano Competition, 1969
  • Diploma d'onore Accademia Chigiana 1969
  • Josef Lhévinne Scholarship 1966
  • National Merit Scholarship 1961


  1. ^ https://www.grammy.com/grammys/artists/ursula-oppens[dead link]
  2. ^ "Edith Oppens". Lexikon verfolgter Musiker und Musikerinnen der NS-Zeit [Encyclopedia of Persecuted Musicians of the National Socialist Era] (in German). University of Hamburg. Retrieved 2020-05-30.

External links[edit]