George Tsontakis

  • Within two years of receiving the Grawemeyer Award, widely recognized as the most prestigious composition prize internationally, for his Violin Concerto No. 2, George Tsontakis has been awarded the world’s richest prize for a composer, the Charles Ives Living, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The three year term of the Ives Living is from 2007 to 2010.

    The 2006-2007 season featured over 100 performances of Mr. Tsontakis’s major works, including dozens in Europe, with premieres of his Naumburg-commissioned Midnight Rain song cycle for Sari Gruber and Clair de Lune by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and works on the schedules of the Chicago, American, Albany, and Oregon symphonies, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Athens State Orchestra. Stephen Hough performed Tsontakis’s epic Ghost Variations (nominated for a Grammy for Best Composition and the only classical work included on TIME Magazine’s 1998 Top Ten Recordings) at the Salzburg Festival and on the Paris-Louvre Series. Mr. Tsontakis continues his three-year Meet The Composer residency with the Albany Symphony. He is Composer-in-Residence with the Aspen Music Festival and will be the featured composer-in-residence for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 2008-09, where he will write a work to commemorate the reopening of Alice Tully Hall. His Cathedral was the inaugural work for Aspen’s Benedict Music Tent.

    Mr. Tsontakis’s music has been recorded on the Hyperion, KOCH, New World, INNOVA, Opus One and CRI labels. KOCH issued his monumental Four Symphonic Quartets, conducted by James DePreist, and recently released two discs of chamber music to great critical acclaim. Three all-Tsontakis orchestral CDs have been or will soon be released, including a Hyperion disc of his Man of Sorrows piano concerto and KOCH CDs featuring the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Albany Symphony. Mr. Tsontakis serves as Distinguished Composer-in-Residence at Bard College Conservatory. His honors include Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards in both chamber and orchestral music, the 2002 Berlin Prize and an award for lifetime achievement from the American Academy. Mr. Tsontakis studied at Juilliard with Roger Sessions and has taught at the Aspen Music Festival and School since 1976. He founded the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble and was director from 1991 to 1998.

  • Cover Title (Subtitle) Duration Instrumentation
    110-41802 Bagatelle
    For Piano
    7:00 Piano
    440-40023 Ghost Variations
    For Piano
    31:00 Piano Unaccompanied
    Chamber Music
    144-40412 Bagatelles
    (Piano Quartet No. 1)
    15:00 Piano Quartet
    144-40213 Birdwind Quintet
    For Wind Quintet
    20:00 Woodwind Quintet
    144-40404 Dust
    Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano
    28:00 Horn Trio
    144-40280 Eclipse
    Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano
    25:00 Chamber Ensemble
    144-40308 Fanfare
    For Six Horns and Tuba
    4:00 6Hn. Tba.
    144-40233 Fervore
    7:00 Piccolo with Piano
    144-40397 Gemini
    For Horn, Violin, Cello, and Piano
    Chamber Ensemble
    144-40212 Heartsounds
    Quintet for Piano and Strings
    27:00 Piano Quintet
    10205 Meditations at Perigee
    24:00 Cl. Hn. Pno. Vln. Vla. Vcl. Cb.
    144-40403 Piano Quartet No. 2
    For Violin, Viola, Violoncello, and Piano
    18:00 Piano Quartet
    144-40399 Requiescat
    For Viola and Piano
    8:00 Viola with Piano
    144-40209 String Quartet No. 3
    23:00 String Quartet
    144-40210 String Quartet No. 4
    “Beneath Thy Tenderness of Heart”
    29:00 String Quartet
    144-40211 Three Mood Sketches
    For Woodwind Quintet
    15:00 Woodwind Quintet
    144-40199 Three Sighs, Three Variations
    For Violin and Piano
    11:00 Violin with Piano
    15555 The Dove Descending
    15:00 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
    15556 Fantasia Habanera
    12:00 3 3 3 3 – 4 2 3 0; Timp. Perc. Pno. Str.
    15557 Five Sighs and a Fantasy
    20:00 3 3 3 3 – 4 2 3 0; Timp. Perc. Pno. Str.
    15558 Four Symphonic Quartets
    see individual titles: 1. Other Echoes 2. Perpetual Angelus 3. The Dove Descending 4. Winter Lightning
    14540 October
    20:00 3(Picc./A.Fl.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 2Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
    15561 Overtura Vera
    10:00 2 2 2 2 – 4 2 3 0; Timp. Perc. Hp. Str.
    15563 The Past, the Passion
    for 14 Players
    16:00 1(Picc.) 1(E.H.) 1 0 – 2 1 1 0; Perc. Pno. Hp. Str. (1 0 1 1 1)
    15564 Perpetual Angelus
    15:00 2 2 2 2 – 4 2 1 0; Timp. Perc. Hp. Str.
    15569 To the Sowers of the Seed
    6:00 2 2 3(B.Cl.) 2 – 4 3 3 1; Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
    15570 Winter Lightning
    15:00 3(dbl. Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
    342-40163 Five Choral Sketches On “Is Aghios”
    For S.S.A.T.B. Chorus and Solo Clarinet Obbligato
    19:00 Mixed Chorus
    342-40189 Ithaka
    For S.A.T.B. Chorus, A Cappella
    5:30 SATB
    342-40184 Rossetti Nursery Rhymes
    For S.A.T.B Chorus , A Cappella
    Chorus and Orchestra
    15565 Saviors “Cantata fantasmagorica”
    30:00 2 2 2 1 – 2 2 2 0; Perc. Pno. Dx7Synth. Str., Works employing Tape or Electronic Sounds
    15566 Scenes from the Apocalypse
    for Soprano, Alto and Baritone Solos, Actor, Chorus and Orchestra
    1:10:00 3 3 4 3 S.Sax. – 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Hp. Str.
    15567 Stabat Mater
    for Solo Mezzo-soprano, Chorus and Orchestra
    14:00 2 2 2 2 – 2 2 2 1; Perc. Hp. Str.
    15568 Three Byzantine Hymns
    16:00 SATB Chorus; 2Tpt. Hn. Tbn. B.Tbn.(Tu.)

  • [Tsontakis] has the ‘luck’ of having concrete musical ideas that the ear can perceive and the mind hold in memory. These ideas tend to be expressed in concentrated, densely packed, nodule-like motives that the composer treats obsessively, and which, as they spread out in time and spin in figurational, centripetal orbits, create structure and gesture.
    –George Rochberg,

    Tsontakis is a composer of tremendous technical integrity, not to mention skill. He stands alone among current American composers for this integrity. Each work is as if whatever he needs to say at that time, he has an ethical commitment to say fully and without compromise. Part of his technical skill is an ability to build from small motifs and to transform them endlessly so that they are never merely variations, but always re-envisioned. In this respect, he seems almost to invite comparison to Beethoven.
    –Don Mager, Eclectica Magazine

    With their evocative titles and sense of narrative progression, these works seem to have a programmatic element, but this is never made explicit, and this is not program music. These exquisitely nuanced compositions arguably place Tsontakis among the finest American composers working today.

    …each new piece I’ve heard has increased my admiration for this enormously skilful, creatively communicative, profoundly humane composer.
    –Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone

    …mercurial, with delicate piano figurations one moment and dizzying repeated riffs the next.
    –Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

    “Bagatelles” [piano quartet]…harmonically lucid and inventively neo-Classical.
    –Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

    …music of somber reflectiveness, eloquent and deeply moving.

    … a terrific piece.
    –Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide

    The vital rhythmic pulse of the music is worth mentioning; quicksilver changes of meter and accenting lend a hectic propulsiveness to Tsontakis’s fast movements.

    …quasi-orchestral effects from a quartet of clarinet, violin, cello and piano.
    –Andrew Farach-Colton, The Gramophone

    Tsontakis is a very big talent… brilliant orchestral effects, snatches of intriguing melody and a genuinely moving ending.
    –Stephen Wigler, Baltimore Sun

    The work makes a masterly impression… a potent brew, strongly recommended… can suggest at one moment a minimalist aesthetic and at another long-lined late-Romantic emotional surges. The results are unlike any other music I know…

    Lord knows I’m no Uptown orchestra fan, but Tsontakis’s heroic, nostalgia-free romanticism always torpedoes my attempts to dislike it… Tsontakis knows a secret that most of his orchestra-league colleagues don’t: music has to breathe.
    –The Village Voice

    …superb…an extraordinary work that should be in the repertory of every major orchestra
    –Andrew Farach-Colton, The Gramophone

    …an engaging combination of wispy murmurs for string quartet, glittering, aquatic explosions for the piano and sober declamations of the text.
    –Tim Page , New York Times

    The most delightful work heard all (Fromm New Music) week. The texts deal with eternal images, and Tsontakis allowed their beauty to come forth lyrically.
    –Ann McCutchan, Austin American Statesman

    America’s finest solo piano music… a forceful, boldly conceived virtuoso showpiece…
    –Time Magazine

    I’m quite sure that this work will be regarded as one of the most significant works of the late 20th century, the absolute equal of any work written in the last 50 years…
    –Stephen Hough,

    …one of the most curious, compelling and disturbing new works I’ve encountered in a long while.
    –The Independent (London)

    …the piece is a joy – it is ‘real piano music’ that invites the player to make wonderful sounds comfortably. From every angle, this piece commands our consideration as a phenomenon of modern music.
    –Piano & Keyboard

    …a major addition to the current repertoire…
    –International Piano Quarterly

    …haunting. The music pulsates with drama, mystery and swelling emotions and is beautifully performed.
    –Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press

    There is never a dull moment in this often beautiful, often bombastic fantasy…
    –Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide

    Not many pieces can hold their own while sharing a program with Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” But one such work had its Washington premiere… Its intensity and range of feelings, and above all its emotional impact, make it an excellent companion piece.
    –Joseph McLellan , Washington Post

    This commissioned piece is a titillation of sight and sound – a melding of aural and visual worlds… Let us hope that the piece – the experience – will be repeated often in the future.
    –Ruth Baja Williams, The Gazette Packet (Alexandria)

    All the resources of [Tsontakis’] large and varied ensemble are used inventively, in the style of a conversation among the players, and with a keen eye for intricate balances between inventiveness and structural cohesion. The “Meditations” are quintessential chamber music.
    –Joseph McLellan , Washington Post

    The peppy scoring is full of wit and surprise. Tsontakis is generally a pretty serious fellow, but he knows how to have fun, too.
    –Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press

    Rejoice, lovers of violin and chamber orchestra. George Tsontakis’ new violin concerto is a work of gentle beauty and intriguing orchestral sounds…The shifting meter, the bell sounds, the veiled tone of muted strings and the interplay between instruments combined to give a sense of light playing on the fluid surface of a brook… long sonorous lines surrounded by chattering violins and flute in ‘Among Stars,’ flowing lines with changing accents in ‘Games,’ and the poignant, often unaccompanied solo in ‘Heart.’
    –Joan Oliver Goldsmith, St. Paul Pioneer Press

    Although the demands on the soloist are considerable, especially in the upper register of the instrument, all were beautifully played by [Steven Copes]…The composer’s lyrical impulses ring true…and the orchestration, especially in the woodwinds, is never less than interesting.
    –Michael Anthony, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

    The seven songs … add up to a lovely work. [Mr. Tsontakis] is able to make a song be what he wants, and he can write a simple vocal line that’s effective. No mean gifts. …Less is more, both in the singing and in Mr. Tsontakis’s final song: stripped of the sense of the dutiful, the voice flowered, and true expression was born.

    … a compelling narrative built around soulful melodic lines enriched by rich, thick harmonies… episodes of gentle childlike simplicity and deeply felt romanticism… with its touching descending sighs, will break your heart.
    –Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide

    …an ‘in memoriam’ piece, its moods of lyrical melancholy (briefly interrupted by an energetic scherzo) gives full rein to Tsontakis’ melodic gifts.

    …a feeling of dreamy spontaneity, of ideas flowing from each other in a thoughtful way…
    –Andrew Farach-Colton,, The Gramophone

    George Tsontakis’ eloquent “Requiescat,” a mixture of atonality and lyricism was reminiscent of late Shostakovich.
    –Jeff Bradley, Denver Post

    … bright energy and probing intensity, and the surface sheen that took full advantage of the modern piano’s capacity for brilliant, glassy sounds.
    –Charles Ward, Houston Chronicle

    …harmonic mastery…[a] glittering little universe
    –Andrew Farach-Colton,, The Gramophone

    …somber, complex, yet approachable and even engrossing, combining a gnarled expressionism with the eloquent simplicity of Eastern modality.
    –Tim Page , New York Times

    The music is unpretentious, intermingling expressionistic anguish with warmly mellifluous consolation in an ever-shifting balance.
    –James Oestreich, New York Times

    His music declares him to be a complex musical thinker, skilled in his own wild contemporary idiom, but with a strong traditional sense…
    –The Toronto Star

    It is no understatement at all to say that the Tsontakis “Third Quartet” is a piece of unabashedly brilliant writing… It is, quite simply, a major achievement by a composer blessed with immense and individual gifts.
    –The Nashville Tennessean

    …It marked the evening’s high-point — a fine piece of writing.
    –Michael Kimmelman, New York Times

    It is a magical piece… Mr. Tsontakis has created a gripping, picturesque language that keeps a listener guessing what will come next.
    –Allan Kozinn, New York Times

    …enormously rewarding, with the kind of emotional depth hard to come by these days.
    –The Providence Journal

    Tsontakis has indeed presented the public with a magnificent new work… Brilliant, dazzling chords, a whirlwind… a roller coaster effect of tranquility and shuddering of fascinating proportions.
    –Byron Janis, New Jersey Star-Ledger

    The most impressive work of the evening… Its wildly imaginative, naturally musical gestures and kaleidoscopic tonal palette struck a chord with both conductor and players, and the music – in this evocative reading – vibrated with life.
    –Musical America

    …it is often powerful and often persuasive… remarkably coherent and effective.
    –Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    “The Past, The Passion” may be something of a Tsontakis calling-card, with wispy auras, quicksilver thematic elements and nods to Bach that coalesce in a series of shimmering narratives.
    –Donald Rosenberg,

    –Donald Rosenberg,

    “Three Mood Sketches” eschews grace and harmony for a kind of rough, raw energy. The result has the quality of graffiti — shrill, garish, crying for (and getting) our attention.
    –Bernard Holland, New York Times

    These six ‘musical postcards’ are light in weight but dark in color – much like the works of Thomas Mann. In their brevity, they left us wanting for more.
    –Poughkeepsie Journal

  • George Tsontakis: Mirologhia; Violin Concerto No. 1; October GEORGE TSONTAKIS: MIROLOGHIA; VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1; OCTOBER
    Koch International Classics (KIC-CD-7680); October 28, 2008
    Performer(s): Albany Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller, conductor; Cho Liang Lin, violin, Colin Currie, percussion, Eleni Calenos, soprano
    Work(s): Mirologhia
    Violin Concerto No. 1
    Sylvan Winds SYLVAN WINDS
    CRI/New World Records (CD 788); February 1, 2007
    Performer(s): The Sylvan Winds
    Work(s): Three Mood Sketches
    Eclipse ECLIPSE
    Innova Records (618); March 1, 2005
    Performer(s): Antares
    Work(s): Eclipse
    Heartsounds HEARTSOUNDS
    Koch International Classics (KIC-CD-7579); November 23, 2004
    Performer(s): Da Camera of Houston
    Work(s): Heartsounds
    Meditations At Perigee
    Tsontakis: Piano Quartet Trilogy TSONTAKIS: PIANO QUARTET TRILOGY
    Koch International Classics (KIC-CD-7550); November 23, 2004
    Performer(s): Brian Zeger, piano, Todd Palmer, clarinet, Broyhill Chamber Players
    Work(s): Bagatelle for Piano
    Bagatelles for Piano Quartet
    Piano Quartet No.2
    New York Variations NEW YORK VARIATIONS
    Hyperion Records (CDA 67005); April 7, 1998
    Performer(s): Stephen Hough, Piano
    Work(s): Ghost Variations
    Four Symphonic Quartets FOUR SYMPHONIC QUARTETS
    Koch International Classics (3-7384-2-H1); May 20, 1997
    Performer(s): Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, James DePreist conducting
    Work(s): Other Echoes
    Perpetual Angelus
    The Dove Descending
    Winter Lightning
    Bittersweet Music BITTERSWEET MUSIC
    Koch International Classics (KIC-CD-7396); February 18, 1997
    Performer(s): Susan Glaser, piccolo, Robert Markham, piano
    Work(s): Fervore
    George Tsontakis GEORGE TSONTAKIS
    New World Records (CD 80414); December 8, 1992
    Performer(s): American String Quartet
    Work(s): String Quartet No. 3 “Coraggio”
    String Quartet No. 4 “Beneath Thy Tenderness of Heart”

  • 2008-2009: Composer-in-residence for Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
    2006: Fourth recipient of the Charles Ives Living by the American Academy of Arts and Letters
    2005-2008: Meet the Composer residency with the Albany Symphony
    2005: University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Violin Concerto No. 2
    2005: Composer-in-residence for Music from Angel Fiere Festival
    2002: Berlin Prize (Alberto Vilar Fellowship)
    1998-2002: First Composer-in-Residence with the Oxford Philomusica (England)
    1998: Ghost Variations cited in Top Ten Recordings
    1998: Ghost Variations nominated for Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition
    1992: Kennedy Center Award for Perpetual Angelus
    1989: Kennedy Center Award for for String Quartet No. 4

  • October
    for Orchestra
    The Dove Descending
    for Orchestra
    The Past, the Passion
    for Chamber Orchestra
    Winter Lightning
    for Orchestra