Tobias Picker (b. New York City, 1954), called “our finest composer for the lyric stage” by The Wall Street Journal, is a composer of numerous works in every genre drawing performances by the world’s leading musicians, orchestras and opera houses. Picker began composing at the age of eight and studied at the Manhattan School of Music, The Juilliard School and Princeton University where his principal teachers were Charles Wuorinen, Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt. His first commissions occurred while still in his late teens and he quickly became established as one of America's most sought after young composers.
By the age of thirty, Picker was the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Bearns Prize (Columbia University), a Charles Ives Scholarship, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. In 1992, he received the prestigious Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. From 1985-90, Picker was the first Composer-in-Residence of the Houston Symphony. He has also served as Composer-in-Residence for such major international festivals as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Pacific Music Festival.
The Santa Fe Opera gave the world premiere of Picker’s widely acclaimed first opera in 1996,Emmeline, which was subsequently broadcast nationally on public television’s “Great Performances” series. The opera played to sold-out houses, standing ovations and international critical acclaim, and the opera’s premiere at New York City Opera was hailed by The New York Times as one of the ten most significant musical events of 1998. His operatic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Opera, established Picker as a composer whose appeal crosses all boundaries of age. Picker’s third opera Thérèse Raquin was commissioned by a consortium of companies including The Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, and Opéra de Montréal. The success of these first productions brought Picker a new commission from Opera Theatre Europe for a reduced version of Thérèse Raquin, which premiered in March 2006 at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and received its US premiere at Dicapo Opera Theatre in New York City one year later.
The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Picker’s fourth opera An American Tragedy, based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser and adapted for film as An American Tragedy in 1931, and later into the famed A Place in the Sun of 1951. The world premiere of the opera took place at the Met in December 2005, featuring Patricia Racette, Nathan Gunn, Susan Graham, and Dolora Zajick in principal roles. The production was directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by James Conlon. Picker’s next opera, Dolores Claiborne, will premiere at San Francisco Opera in September 15, 2013, directed by James Robinson and conducted by George Manahan. Based on the Stephen King novel and utilizing a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, the opera features Dolora Zajick in the title role.
Picker’s symphonic music, including the well-known tone poem Old and Lost Rivers, has been performed by major orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, The Munich Philharmonic, Zurich Tonhalle, and the Vienna RSO. His piano concerto Keys to the City (commissioned by the City of New York on the occasion of the centenary of the Brooklyn Bridge) is a perennial favorite, called “a vivid musical portrait of New York” by the New York Times and recorded on Chandos with his Cello Concerto and the orchestral work And Suddenly It’s Evening. Following this Chandos release, BBC Music Magazine wrote about the recording, “Picker’s recent music displays a distinctly soulful style that is one of the glories of the current musical scene.”
The Encantadas (for actor and orchestra) features texts drawn from Herman Melville’s poetic descriptions of the Galapagos Islands and was recorded on Virgin Classics by the Houston Symphony with Sir John Gielgud; it has been performed throughout the world in seven languages. Other key works include Tres sonetos de amor, settings of Neruda love poems in versions for baritone and orchestra and voice and piano, and The Blue Hula, a work for chamber ensemble. Picker’s complete catalogue includes three symphonies, four piano concertos, concertos for violin, viola, cello and oboe, numerous songs, string quartets, and chamber music for various combinations of instruments.
In 2003, Chandos Records released a disc including his Cello Concerto, Keys to the City, andAnd Suddenly It's Evening. The world premiere recording of Thérèse Raquin is also available on Chandos. Additional recordings of the composer’s music are available on Sony Classics, Virgin, Nonesuch, Ondine, and First Edition, among others. In the fall of 2008, Wergo Records released Tobias Picker - Keys to the City, a complete collection of his solo piano music performed by Ursula Oppens.
In January of 2009, the American String Quartet premiered Picker’s String Quartet No.2, the composer’s second quartet in 20 years, at New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall. Picker completed his first ballet, Awakenings, inspired by the novel by Dr. Oliver Sacks and commissioned by the Rambert Dance Company, in 2010 and the piece was premiered by Rambert in Salford, UK in September, 2010. Rambert toured the work around the UK with over 50 performances in the 2010/11 season. Picker's Fantastic Mr. Fox has enjoyed recent successful runs at London's Opera Holland Park (Summer 2010 and 2011) in its chamber ensemble version, and with the English Touring Opera (winter/spring 2011) in its chamber orchestration. The Microscopic Opera Company also produced the ensemble version in September, 2011. Picker was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2012. In September of 2013, San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Dolores Claiborne, directed by James Robinson and conducted by George Manahan.April 25, 2013
1954Born on 18 July in Manhattan.
1962Begins studying the piano, improvising and writing first compositions for the piano. Corresponds with Gian Carlo Menotti who encourages him to write operas.
1963Attends Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concert, hearing Andre Watts' debut.
1965Accepted at the Juilliard Preparatory Division for studies in piano and theory.
1972Enters the Manhattan School of Music for composition studies with Charles Wuorinen, orchestration with John Corigliano. Also studies violin, cello and voice.
1976Receives first commission by Speculum Musicae for Sextet No. 3. Bachelor of Music from the Manhattan School of Music. Accepted at the Juilliard School for graduate studies in composition with Elliott Carter.
1977Sextet No. 3 premiered by Speculum Musicae in Alice Tully Hall. Receives BMI Student Composers Award.
1978First national critical acclaim for premiere of Rhapsody for Violin and Piano in New York City. Hailed by The New Yorker music critic Andrew Porter as "a genuine creator with a fertile, unforced vein of invention."
1979Nova, a companion piece to the Trout Quintet premiered. Later performed with Tobias Picker as pianist on the San Francisco Symphony's "New and Unusual Music Series," directed by John Adams, with musicians from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and on tour in Hawaii with Speculum Musicae.
1980Awarded first of two fellowhsips from The National Endowment for the Arts.
1981Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship. Violin Concerto, first major commission, premiered and recorded by the American Composers Orchestra.
1982Second National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship awarded.
1983Three major works premiered:
1984Charles Ives Scholarship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Composes first song, Aussöhnung on text of Goethe for soprano Judith Bettina.
1985Appointed as the first Composer-in-Residence to the Houston Symphony, serves through 1990.
1986Symphony No. 2: Aussöhnung for soprano and orchestra, based on the song, premiered by the Houston Symphony, Sergiu Comissiona conducting.
1987Composer-in-Residence, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Premiere of String Quartet No. 1: New Memories commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Georgia O'Keefe.
1988Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center commissions String Quartet with Bass. Premiered with composer conducting.
1989Composes Romance and Interludes at Christoph Eschenbach's suggestion, for the Houston Symphony and their principal oboist, Robert Atherholt; based on Robert Schumann's Three Romances, Opus 94.
1990Two Fantasies for orchestra premiered by Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and performed on tour.
1992Wins the Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Music. Bang! for piano and orchestra commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for their 150th anniversary year. Premiere conducted by Kurt Masur.
1993The Rain in the Trees for soprano, flute and orchestra, based on poems of W.S. Merwin, is premiered by Lorin Maazel conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Also performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera.
Illustration from The New Yorker
© 1984 by Anthony Russo.
All rights reserved.
1994And Suddenly It's Evening premiered, inspired by a poem of Salvatore Quasimodo. Commissioned by a consortium of six youth orchestras. Directs "Week of American Music" in Bucharest, Romania. Begins his first opera, Emmeline.
1995Composer-in-Residence at the Pacific Music Festival, founded by Leonard Bernstein, in Sapporo, Japan.
1996Emmeline, an opera in two acts with libretto by J.D. McClatchy, receives its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera.
1997Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the children's tale by Roald Dahl with libretto by Donald Sturrock, is commissioned by the Roald Dahl Foundation, U.K.
1998Commissioned by the Dallas Opera. Chose for his subject matter Emile Zola's novel, Therese Raquin. Libretto by Gene Scheer.
1999Commissioned by The Metropolitan Opera. Picker decides to base his fourth opera on Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy.
2000European premiere of Symphony No. 2: Aussöhnung, Munich Philharmonic, James Levine conducting.
2001World premiere of Thérèse Raquin, The Dallas Opera, and the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
2002Canadian Premiere of Thérèse Raquin (in French translation) at L'Opera de Montreal.
2003West Coast Premiere of Thérèse Raquin at San Diego Opera.
2004The Blue Hula European Premiere, Christoph Eschenbach, L'Orchestre de Paris.
2005Premiere of An American Tragedy at the Metropolitan Opera.
2006Premiere of the chamber version of Thérèse Raquin at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
2007American premiere of the chamber version of Thérèse Raquin at the Dicapo Opera Theatre of New York.
2009 Word premiere of String Quartet No. 2 by the American String Quartet at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City.
2009 World premiere of Emmeline in new chamber orchestration, led by Sam Bill at Dicapo Opera theatre.
2009 Ursula Oppens premieres Four Etudes for Ursula and Three Nocturnes for Ursula at Baisly Powell Elebash Recital Hall in New York City.
2010 Rambert Dance Company tours Tobias Picker’s new ballet Awakenings
2011 World Premiere of Piano Quintet: Live Oaks by Sarah Rothenberg and the Brentano String Quartet
2012 Elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters
2013 World Premiere of Dolores Claiborne at San Francisco Opera
Fellowships and Awards
Composers Conference 1975, 1976
BMI Student Composer Award 1977
Bearns Prize (Columbia University) 1978
Princeton University for Graduate Studies 1978-1980
National Endowment for the Arts Composer Fellowship 1980, 1982
Charles Ives Scholarship (American Academy of Arts and Letters) 1984
Guggenheim Fellowship 1981
The Award in Music - American Academy of Arts and Letters 1992
Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival 1987
Houston Symphony 1985-1990
Pacific Music Festival 1995
Tobias Picker in Opera News
Tobias Picker was featured as the cover story in the August 2005 issue of Opera News (Aug. 2005)
Further Reading and Reference
American Opera: Dreiser's Tragedy Transformed
The Eternal Triangle, Dreiser Style
Der Mozart Von Manhattan