Shulamit Ran has been lauded as "a magnificent composer," and her music praised as “gloriously human," “compelling not only for its white-hot emotional content but for its intelligence and compositional clarity.” Her compositions display an emotional quality and technical superiority that have led critics to acclaim her music as "written with the same sense of humanity found in Mozart's most profound opera arias or Mahler's searching symphonies.” Symphony, her 1991 Pulitzer-Prize winning composition, has drawn references to "the superior quality of her musical imagination and artistic invention" and hailed as "a work that will reward each new listening."
Ms. Ran began composing songs to Hebrew poetry at the age of seven in her native Israel. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel's most noted musicians, including composers Alexander U. Boskovich and Paul Ben-Haim, and within several years was having her early works performed by professional musicians, as well as orchestras. She continued her piano and composition studies in the U.S., on scholarships from the Mannes College of Music in New York and the America Israel Cultural Foundation, with Nadia Reisenberg and Norman Dello Joio, respectively. She later studied piano with Dorothy Taubman.
It was a LP recording of her O The Chimneys that first drew the attention of renowned University of Chicago composer Ralph Shapey to her work in 1973, leading to the invitation to join the faculty of U Chicago’s Department of Music that fall. Shapey became a colleague, friend, and for a period of time starting in the summer of 1976 her teacher as well, one she considers an important mentor to this day. Shulamit is now the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor Emerita in the Department of Music, having retired in 2015 after more than four decades of teaching.
Among her numerous awards, fellowships and commissions are those from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fromm Music Foundation, WFMT, Chamber Music America, the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Eastman School of Music, the American Composers Orchestra (Concerto for Orchestra), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Concerto da Camera II), and the Philadelphia Orchestra (Symphony, first performed in 1990. Notably, the Symphony was awarded not only the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 but also first place at the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for orchestral music 1992.
Her other orchestral works include Legends, a joint commission celebrating the centennials of both the Chicago Symphony and the University of Chicago which premiered in 1993, and Vessels of Courage and Hope, commissioned by the Albert Shapiro Fund and premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1998 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel and the voyage of the S.S. President Warfield/"Exodus 1947."
In 1989, Ran's String Quartet No.2, "Vistas," commissioned by C. Geraldine Freund for the Taneyev String Quartet of Leningrad, received its first performance, marking the first commission given to a Soviet chamber ensemble since the 1985 Cultural Exchange Accord between the former Soviet Union and the United States. Ran's other commissioned works include her Flute Concerto, Voices, commissioned by the National Flute Association for its convention in 2000; Supplications for Chorus and Orchestra, premiered in 2002 by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; a Violin Concerto premiered in 2003 by Israeli violinist Ittai Shapira and British conductor Charles Hazelwood, also at Carnegie Hall; Bach Shards, commissioned by the Brentano String Quartet as part of the quartet's Art-of-Fugue project and performed in many major venues since its premiere; Under the Sun's Gaze (Concerto da Camera III), an ensemble work for Nine Players for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation and premiered in 2005 in San Francisco; Fault Line for Ensemble, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony MusicNOW series and premiered in 2006 at Chicago's Symphony Center; Credo/Ani Ma'amin, part of And On Earth, Peace: A Chanticleer Mass, commissioned and widely performed by Chanticleer, the noted 12-man vocal ensemble, following its premiere in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007; and Ran's String Quartet No.3, "Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory,"commissioned by Music Accord, a consortium of concert presenters in the U.S. and abroad, for Pacifica Quartet. Since its premiere in Tokyo in 2014 Pacifica has been performing the work internationally in multiple concert tours across seasons, recording it also for Cedille on “Contemporary Voices,” the album winning a Grammy Award in 2021.
More recent premieres include Birkat Haderekh – Blessing for the Road for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano, commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the Tanglewood Music Festival, which received its first performance in 2015; Stream, commissioned by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society for its 30th anniversary season for the Brentano Quartet with clarinetist Anthony McGill in 2016; and Love’s Callfor SongFest’s 20th anniversary later that year. In December 2018, Ran's Grand Rounds for Thirteen Players was premiered at the inaugural concert of the newly established Grossman Ensemble at the University of Chicago. Another noteworthy commission by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in celebration of its 50th anniversary season resulted in All Roads Leadingfor Flute, Viola, and Harp, premiered at the festival in August 2022.
In 1990, Ms. Ran was selected by Maestro Daniel Barenboim to be Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of the Meet the Composer Orchestra Residencies Program, a position she held for seven seasons. From 1994 to 1997, Ran also served as the fifth Brena and Lee Freeman Sr. Composer-in-Residence with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her first opera, Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk), which received its much-acclaimed premiere in 1997, was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and described in Opera News as "the most powerful new music-theater piece to emerge from Lyric's composer-in-residence program." The European premiere of Between Two Worlds took place in 1999 at the Bielefeld Opera in a German translation.
Two decades later Shulamit returned to the operatic arena and in a second collaboration with librettist Charles Kondek she began work on Anne Frank, her second opera. A full-scale opera for nine solo singers, chorus and orchestra, it was commissioned and premiered in March 2023 by the Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater at the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington IN with Arthur Fagen, conductor, and Crystal Manich, stage director.
Her music has been played by many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Jerusalem Orchestra, l'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Amsterdam Philharmonic, the Baltimore Symphony, the National Symphony, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the American Composers Orchestra, and the American Symphony Orchestra; her works have been conducted by Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Gary Bertini, Christoph Von Dohnanyi (in two U.S. tours), Gustavo Dudamel, Marin Alsop, Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Fagen, Ralph Shapey, Cliff Colnot, Leon Botstein, Stefan Sanderling, Joel Sachs, Catherine Comet, Uri Segal, and David Shalon, among others. Other performers include the Mendelssohn, Brentano, Penderecki, Lark, Cassatt, Pacifica, Spektral, and Juilliard string quartets, Chanticleer, Ars Nova Copenhagen, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the New Juilliard Ensemble, the New York New Music Ensemble, Twentieth Century Consort, the Peabody Trio, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Concertante, Dolce Suono Ensemble, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, New York Philomusica, the Pennsylvania Contemporary Players, both Collage and Musica Viva in Boston, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Music NOW, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Her numerous residencies in festivals and summer programs across the U.S. have included the Tanglewood Music Center, the Aspen Institute, Yellow Barn, the Steans Institute at the Ravinia Festival, the Composers Conference, Kneisel Hall, and many more. In the summer of 2018 she was composer-in-residence with the world-renowned Marlboro Festival where five of her works were heard, and later at the International String Quartet Competition and Festival in Banff, Canada. In 2022 she was composer-in-residence at the Yellow Barn Festival, where nine of her works were performed. Her Moon Songs, commissioned and premiered in 2012 by the Dolce Suono Ensemble in celebration of the centennial of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, was performed on a “Music from Marlboro” concert tour in 2023.
In 1987 she was Visiting Professor at Princeton University. She served as Music Director of “Tempus Fugit," the International Biennial for Contemporary Music at the Tel Aviv Museum in Israel in 1996, 1998, and 2000. Since 2002 and until her retirement from the University of Chicago she was Artistic Director of Contempo, formerly the Contemporary Chamber Players that was founded by Ralph Shapey decades earlier. In 2010 she was the Howard Hanson Visiting Professor of Composition at Eastman School of Music, and in the fall of 2011 Shulamit was the Paul Fromm Composer-in-Residence at the American Academy in Rome.
Shulamit has received honorary doctorates from Mount Holyoke College (1988), the Spertus Institute (1994), Beloit College (1996), the New School of Social Research in New York (1997), and Bowdoin College (2004). She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003, where she served as Vice President for Music for a 3-year term. Her works are published by Theodore Presser Company and the Israeli Music Institute, with selected choral music published by G. Schirmer and Hal Leonard. Recordings of her music have been released on more than a dozen labels, including Albany, Angel, Bridge, Cedille, Centaur, CRI, Erato, Innova, Koch International Classics, New World, Vox, and Warner Classics.