Called “exquisite” by The New York Times and “a marvel” by The Philadelphia Inquirer, American composer and conductor Scott Ordway is known for his boundary-defying, mixed media projects and pieces with “evocative soundscapes and velvet harmonies” (Boston Classical Review). He is Assistant Professor of Composition at Rutgers University, a 2017–19 Fellow at American Opera Projects in New York City, and was previously a member of the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Ordway’s work is passionately multidisciplinary, fusing music with original text, video, digital soundscape, and experimental theater to explore a diverse array of contemporary themes including landscape and ecology, architecture, protest and revolution, and the lives of cities.
Over the past decade, Ordway has composed a series of large-scale works that bring together multiple artistic disciplines and humanistic themes. Many of these pieces explore the intersection of music and literature, with the composer working in English, French, Spanish, and German to create adaptations, collages, translations, and original text for music. The works showcase the composer’s desire to unearth unusual texts and rare musical gems as source material, as well as his interest in the architectural and acoustic properties of the physical performance space.
Ordway’s critically-acclaimed, crowd-interactive Tonight We Tell the Secrets of the World is one such example. A “whisper play” commissioned by the Penn Museum of Archeology & Anthropology with support from the American Composers Forum, it is written for string ensemble, soprano voice, alto saxophone, whispered voices, and light. Using a cueing system of colored lights, the work asks audience members to whisper secrets of love, death, and god taken from the writings of various ancient cultures, creating an ethereal tapestry of richly textured stereophonic sounds. At its premiere, The Broad Street Review remarked that “the work resonated with humanist spirituality, haunting the imagination long after the last echo died away.”
Described as “an American response to Sibelius” by The Boston Globe, and praised for its “ecstatic moments…casting its spell” by The Philadelphia Inquirer and “clean clarity as cold as ice” by New Music Box, Ordway’s work continues to enthrall audiences and inspire new performances. His current projects include: the evening-length Nineteen Movements for Unaccompanied Cello, commissioned by the Tarisio Trust for Arlen Hlusko (Philadelphia); In the Kingdom of Bells, a new orchestral work commissioned by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (Tucson); The Clearing and the Forest, a program-length dramatic work on the subject of political, natural, and interpersonal borders for the SOLI Chamber Ensemble (San Antonio); a dance piece for choreographer Nicholas Paul of the Paris Opera Ballet; and a program-length, site-specific work on the subject of cities and urban life in the ancient Middle East commissioned by the Penn Museum of Archeology & Anthropology (Philadelphia).
Ordway has also created a significant body of vocal music, including songs, choral works, and pieces for voice and large ensemble. Highlights include a series of compositions for Boston’s celebrated women’s chamber choir, the Lorelei Ensemble, and his evening-length Festival Mass for soloists, choir, and orchestra. In 2019, Canadian mezzo-soprano Julia Dawson of Oper Frankfurt will present the premiere of Girl in the Snow, a forty-minute dramatic fairy tale on original texts, at the Orangerie im Günthersburgpark, Frankfurt. His first opera, Spring, addresses the 2011 Tunisian Revolution and Arab Spring and is currently in development through American Opera Projects “Composers and the Voice” Fellowship (New York City).
In recent seasons, he has collaborated with orchestras, ensembles, and soloists throughout the United States and internationally, including the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood New Fromm Players (Boston), Norbotten NEO (Sweden), So Percussion (NYC), Boston Musica Viva, SOLI Chamber Ensemble (Texas), and the Momenta, Arneis, and Daedalus String Quartets. His work has been featured at Harvard and Yale Universities, as well as at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore where he was visiting faculty in Composition in 2018. In 2017, he was a guest conductor with Now Hear This, the Peabody Contemporary Music Ensemble.
Recent international collaborations include: a staged production of his work Detroit at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin; a commercial recording for NAXOS Records featuring principal players from the Hong Kong Philharmonic; performances at the Beijing Modern Music Festival and Hong Kong Arts Festival; a multicultural choral work based on research in Mexico City; and an in-progress opera on the Arab Spring, with an original libretto by the Algerian author, scholar, and journalist Meryem Belkaïd, which will be workshopped and presented through American Opera Projects.
In addition to grants and awards from ASCAP, NewMusicUSA, the American Music Center, the American Composers Forum, the University of Oregon, and the University of Pennsylvania, Ordway’s work has been supported by residencies and fellowships at important American and international festivals, including the Aspen Summer Music Festival, Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts (Wyoming), Visby International Centre for Composers (Sweden), Five Boroughs Music Festival (NYC); New York Opera Fest; Estate Musicale Chigiana (Siena, Italy), June in Buffalo (Buffalo, USA), and the chamber music festivals of Carolina, Portland (Maine), and Newburyport (Massachusetts).
Also active as a conductor, Ordway has held posts with the Syzygy New Music Ensemble (NYC) and Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (Oregon), and was in-residence from 2008–2009 at the Boston Conservatory as Associate Conductor of the Juventas New Music Ensemble. As an advocate for the music of our time, he has presented more than 50 new works by young and emerging composers in addition to many of his own large-scale works.
Prior to his tenure-track appointment at Rutgers University, Ordway held teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania, as a Benjamin Franklin Doctoral Fellow in Music, and at the University of Oregon, as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in Composition. From 2013–14, he was Visiting Assistant Professor at Bates College. And from 2014–17, he was a member of the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Ordway earned his Ph.D. in 2013 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he received the Hilda K. Nitzche and David Halstead Prizes in Composition. He also trained at the University of Oregon (M.M.), University of Puget Sound (B.A., Music & English Literature), and in Europe at both the Freie Universität Berlin and Accademia Chigiana (Siena). His primary composition teachers included Samuel Adler, Azio Corghi, Robert Hutchinson, Robert Kyr, James Primosch, Jay Reise, Veljo Tormis, and Anna Weesner. He studied conducting with David Hayes and Hirvo Surva.
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