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Stephen Taylor

Professor of Composition-Theory

Northwestern University; Cornell University; student of Bill Karlins, Alan Stout, Mel Powell, Karel Husa, and Steven Stucky.

Stephen Andrew Taylor’s music often 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 chamber quartet Quark Shadows, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony and premiered in 2001; and Seven Memorials, a 32-minute cycle for piano inspired by the work of Maya Lin and premiered by Gloria Cheng in Los Angeles, 2004; she also performed the work at Tanglewood in 2006. The Machine Awakes, a CD of his orchestra, chamber and electronic music was released in 2010 on Albany Records; and Paradises Lost, a new opera based on a novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, was premiered in Portland, Oregon and at the University of Illinois in 2012.

Besides composing for traditional instruments, Taylor also works with live electronics in pieces such as Agoraphobia for flute, harp and electronics, premiered by Jonathan Keeble and Ann Yeung in Montreal in 2009. He is also active as a conductor with the Illinois Modern Ensemble, and as a theorist, writing and lecturing on György Ligeti, Björk and Radiohead. He also collaborates with the band Pink Martini, and rock singer Storm Large.

Born in 1965, he grew up in Illinois and studied at Northwestern and Cornell Universities, and the California Institute of the Arts; his teachers include Steven Stucky, Karel Husa, Mel Powell, Bill Karlins and Alan Stout. His music has won awards from Northwestern, Cornell, the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Composers, Inc., the Debussy Trio, the Howard Foundation, 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, Pink Martini and the Oregon Symphony, the Quad City Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, Quartet New Generation and the New Philharmonic, Piano Spheres, and the American Composers Orchestra.

Teaching Philosophy

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.