At a time when the musical offerings of the world are more varied than ever before, few composers have emerged with the unique personality of Ellen Zwilich. Her music is widely known because it is performed, recorded, broadcast, and above all, listened to and liked by all sorts of audiences the world over. Like the great masters of bygone times, Zwilich produces music "with fingerprints," music that is immediately recognized as the product of a particular American composer who combines craft and inspiration in reflecting her optimistic and humanistic spirit in her compositions.
Ellen Zwilich is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, including the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Music (the first woman ever to receive this coveted award), the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnanyi Citation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, 4 Grammy nominations, and, among other distinctions, she has been elected to the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1995, she was named to the first Composer's Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, and she was designated Musical America's Composer of the Year for 1999. She holds the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professorship at Florida State University.
A prolific composer in virtually all media, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's works have been performed by most of the leading American orchestras and by major ensembles abroad. Her music first came to public attention when Pierre Boulez conducted her Symposium for Orchestra at Juilliard (1975), but it was the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for the Symphony No. 1 that brought her instantly into international focus. Commissions and major performances and recordings soon followed: the Symphony No. 2 (Cello Symphony), premiered by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony; the Symphony No. 3, written for the New York Philharmonic's 150th anniversary; and the Symphony No. 4 ("The Gardens") (with chorus), commissioned by Michigan State University (and the subject of a PBS documentary); the Juilliard-commissioned Symphony No. 5 (Concerto for Orchestra), premiered in Carnegie Hall under James Conlon's direction; the string of concertos for solo instruments and orchestra, commissioned and performed by top orchestras — for piano (Detroit Symphony, Günther Herbig ), trombone (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti ), flute (Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa ), oboe (Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi ), violin and cello (Louisville Orchestra, Lawrence Leighton Smith ), bass trombone (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim ), French horn (Rochester Philharmonic, Lawrence Leighton Smith ), bassoon (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Lorin Maazel ), trumpet (San Diego Symphony, JoAnn Falletta ), Triple Concerto for piano, violin and cello (Minnesota Orchestra, Zdenek Macal ), violin (Orchestra of St. Luke's, Hugh Wolff . Zwilich's most recent works include the Clarinet Concerto (2002-2003), written for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Buffalo Philharmonic, conducted by JoAnn Falletta (chamber and orchestral versions, respectively) with soloist David Shifrin; the Quartet for Oboe and String Trio (2004) and Rituals (2004) for 5 percussionists and orchestra (Nexus Percussion Ensemble, IRIS Chamber Orchestra, Michael Stern); LUVN BLM for Mixed Ensemble (2005); the Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet (2006); and the Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet (2008), premiered in New York in 2009 by the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and the Miami String Quartet.
Her orchestral essay Symbolon was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic expressly to receive its world premiere in what was then Leningrad. Zubin Mehta subsequently performed it in Europe and America and recorded it on the New World label. Carnegie Hall's 1997 family concert series featured Peanuts® Gallery for piano and orchestra, based on Charles Schulz's Peanuts® characters (the PBS production of which has aired frequently and nationwide). Millennium Fantasy for piano and orchestra, a commission by a consortium of 27 orchestras, was premiered in September, 2000 by Jeffrey Biegel and the Cincinnati Symphony under Jesús López-Cobos.
Zwilich's chamber and recital works have been commissioned by many consortiums and presenters and performed under the auspices of leading chamber music societies, festivals, and concert series by such artists as Itzhak Perlman and others. (Click here to see her Listing of Works)
Many of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's works have been issued on recordings, and Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians [8th edition] states: "There are not many composers in the modern world who possess the lucky combination of writing music of substance and at the same time exercising an immediate appeal to mixed audiences. Zwilich offers this happy combination of purely technical excellence and a distinct power of communication."