Northwestern University; Cornell University; student of Bill Karlins, Alan Stout, Mel Powell, Karel Husa, and Steven Stucky
Stephen Andrew Taylor composes music that explores boundaries between art and science. His first orchestra commission, Unapproachable Light, inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Testament, was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in 1996 in Carnegie Hall. Other works include the quartet Quark Shadows, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony; and Seven Memorials, a 30-minute cycle for piano inspired by the work of Maya Lin, featured at Tanglewood in 2006 with pianist Gloria Cheng. The Machine Awakes, a CD of his orchestra, chamber and electronic music, was released in 2010; and Paradises Lost, an opera based on a novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, received its Canadian premiere in 2013, conducted by the composer. In 2015 the New York Times called his piano work Variations Ascending, premiered by Ian Hobson, “persuasive and powerful.” He was a 2014-15 Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation.
Taylor also works with live electronics in pieces such as Inspiral for contraforte and 4-channel surround sound, premiered by Henry Skolnick in South Korea in 2019; and Ocean of Air (2017) for Detroit Symphony principal trombonist Kenneth Thompkins. He conducts the Illinois Modern Ensemble, and has also appeared with Sinfonia da Camera, the Nouveau Classical Project, and the Arizona Chamber Music Festival. As a theorist, he writes and lectures on African music, data sonification, György Ligeti, Björk and Radiohead. In popular music he has collaborated on concerts and albums with the band Pink Martini, rock singer Storm Large, and cabaret/performance artist Meow Meow.
Born in 1965, he grew up in Illinois and studied at Northwestern and Cornell Universities, and the California Institute of the Arts. His music has won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Howard Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau, Composers, Inc., the Debussy Trio, the College Band Directors National Association, the New York State Federation of Music Clubs, the Illinois Arts Council, the American Music Center, and ASCAP. Among his commissions are works for Northwestern University, University of Illinois, the Syracuse Society for New Music, the Jupiter Quartet, the Spoleto Festival, Pink Martini and the Oregon Symphony, the Quad City Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, Quartet New Generation, Piano Spheres, and the American Composers Orchestra. Taylor is Professor of Music at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he lives with his spouse, artist Hua Nian. More information is at stephenandrewtaylor.net.
When I teach composition I try to follow the example of Olivier Messiaen, who didn't wish to turn his students into clones of himself. Instead he tried to help each of his students become themselves, developing their own musical personality. With so many musical styles in currency, I would much rather help students follow their chosen path than tell them which path they should follow. What I do insist on is that composers write lots of music. The only way to get good at something is to practice.