Ursula Oppens is one of the few pianists before the public today who has won equal renown as an interpreter of the established repertoire and a champion of contemporary music. Her performances of music, old and new, are marked by a powerful grasp of the composer’s musical intentions and an equally sure command of the keyboard’s resources; qualities placing her in the ranks of the world’s foremost interpreters. This evening, Ms. Oppens, a friend and colleague of Elliott Carter, celebrates his 100th Birthday with a performance of his complete music for solo piano which will also see performances in Madrid, Spain and elsewhere this season. She will also perform his works in a recital at Ravinia as part of the Festival’s Carter centenary celebration. Other 2007/2008 highlights will include Ms. Oppens recording the complete solo piano music of Tobias Picker for Wergo Records, performing the world premiere of William Bolcolm’s “Ballade” at the newly re-opened Merkin Concert Hall and being featured at the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s renowned Green Umbrella Festival. Additionally, she will be performing Elliott Carter’s “Dialogues” and the world premiere of Harold Meltzer’s new piano concerto.
Ms. Oppens has performed with virtually all of the world’s major orchestras. In previous seasons she has been heard with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra and the orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Milwaukee. Abroad, she has appeared with such orchestras as the Berlin Symphony, Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, the Deutsche Symphonie, the Scottish BBC and the London Philharmonic Orchestras. She has also played at the Aspen, Tanglewood, Santa Fe, Edinburgh, Bath and Holland Festivals, among others.
An enduring commitment to integrating new music into regular concert life has led Ms. Oppens to commission and premiere many compositions, including works by Anthony Braxton, Elliott Carter, Anthony Davis, John Harbison, Julius Hemphill, Tania Leon, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Conlon Nancarrow, Tobias Picker, Frederic Rzewski, Alvin Singleton, Joan Tower, Lois V Vierk, Christian Wolff, Amnon Wolman and Charles Wuorinen.
A co-founder of Speculum Musicae, Ms. Oppens has an extensive recording catalogue and can be heard on Angel, Arista, Audivis, BMG, Bridge, CBS Masterworks, CP2, CRI,
De Note, Koch International Classics, Music and Arts, Vanguard, New Albion, New World, Nonesuch and Watt Works. She received two GRAMMY nominations: for her Vanguard recording of Frederic Rzewski’s “The People United Will Never Be Defeated,” and for “American Piano Music of Our Time,” a classic compilation of piano works by 20th Century American composers for the Music & Arts label. The latter was also named in John Rockwell’s “Best of the Year” survey for The New York Times, along with her recording for New World Records of Elliott Carter’s Piano Concerto. Ms. Oppens’ recent releases include a disc of chamber music by Elliott Carter with the Arditti Quartet on the Audivis label and Charles Wuorinen’s Piano Quintet on Koch International Classics. Other recordings include Joan Tower’s Piano Concerto on De Note Records; Rzewski’s “Night Crossing with Fishermen” and a disc of Schoenberg’s vocal music with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, both for Music and Arts; and the Brahms Viola Sonatas with Barbara Westphal on Bridge Records.
Throughout her career Ms. Oppens has played at many of the world’s major festivals, including those in Aspen, Tanglewood, Santa Fe, Ojai, Music Academy of the West, Edinburgh, Bonn, Cabrillo, Stresa, Bath, Bergamo, Brescia, Japan and the Holland Festival. She has also been heard in recital and concerto performances at many European music centers, including the South Bank Center and the BBC Broadcasting House in London, the Vienna Radio Orchestra, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris and in Stockholm, Brussels, Geneva and Bonn.
Ursula Oppens studied piano with her mother, the late Edith Oppens, as well as with Leonard Shure and Guido Agosti. She received her master’s degree at The Juilliard School, where she studied with Felix Galimir and Rosina Lhévinne. As an undergraduate at Radcliffe College, she studied English literature and economics. A native New Yorker, Ms. Oppens made her New York debut at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1969 underthe auspices of Young Concert Artists. She won first prize in the Busoni International Piano Competition that same year and was awarded the loma d’onore the Accademia Chigiana in 1970. In 1976 she won an Avery Fisher Career Grant, which led to a performance with the New York Philharmonic. Ms. Oppens, who was appointed John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University in 1994, divides her time between Evanston, IL and New York City.
Born in New York City on December 11, 1908, Elliott Carter began to be seriously interested in music in high school and was encouraged at that time by Charles Ives. He attended Harvard University where he studied with Walter Piston and later went to Paris where for three years he studied with Nadia Boulanger. He then returned to New York to devote his time to composing and teaching. With the explorations of tempo relationships and texture that characterize his music, Carter is recognized as one of the prime innovators of 20th-century music. The challenges of works such as the Variations for Orchestra, Symphony of Three Orchestras and the concertos and string quartets are richly rewarding. In 1960, Carter was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize for his visionary contributions to the string quartet tradition. Stravinsky considered the orchestral works that soon followed: Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano and two chamber orchestras (1961) and Piano Concerto (1967), to be "masterpieces."
Carter has been the recipient of the highest honors a composer can receive: the Gold Medal for Music awarded by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Medal of Arts, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and honorary degrees from many universities. Hailed by Aaron Copland as "one of America's most distinguished creative artists in any field," Carter has received two Pulitzer Prizes and commissions from many prestigious organizations. He is one of only a handful of living composers elected to the Classical Music Hall of Fame. December 11, 2008 will mark Carter's 100th birthday, and in addition to this evening's event, celebrations are in place worldwide.