Daron Aric Hagen ( // HAH-gən; born November 4, 1961) is an American composer, writer, and filmmaker.
Daron Hagen was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and grew up in New Berlin, a suburb west of Milwaukee. Hagen was the youngest of the three sons of Gwen Hagen, a visual artist, writer and advertising executive who studied creative writing with Mari Sandoz and enjoyed a successful advertising career as creative director of Exclusively Yours Magazineand Earl Hagen (an attorney). Hagen began composing prolifically in 1974, when his older brother Kevin gave him a recording and score of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd . Two years later, at the age of fifteen, he conducted the premiere of his first orchestral work, a recording and score of which came to the attention of Leonard Bernstein, who enthusiastically urged Hagen to attend Juilliard to study with David Diamond. He studied piano with Adam Klescewski, and studied composition, piano, and conducting at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music (where his teachers included Duane Dishaw and Judy Kramer) while attending Brookfield Central High School.
After two years at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where his teachers included Catherine Comet (conducting), Jeanette Ross (piano), and Leslie Thimmig and Homer Lambrecht (composition), he was invited to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia by Ned Rorem (with whom he developed a lifelong friendship).While a student of Rorem's at Curtis, he studied piano with Marion Zarsecsna and also studied privately with Lukas Foss. Hagen moved to New York City in 1984 to complete his formal education as a student at Juilliard, studying first for two years with Diamond, then for a semester each with Joseph Schwantner and Bernard Rands. After graduating, Hagen was a Tanglewood composition fellow before briefly living abroad, first at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, and then at the Rockefeller Foundation's Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy, where he has twice been a guest. Between 1985 and 1998 Hagen was also a frequent guest at the MacDowell Colony. When he returned to the United States, Hagen studied privately with Bernstein, whose guidance during the composition of Hagen's Shining Brow (1992) — the opera that launched Hagen's career internationally — prompted him to dedicate the score to Bernstein's memory.
Hagen is a Lifetime Member of the Corporation of Yaddo.A stint as composer in residence at the Music Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts led to an invitation to join the artist faculty there in 2017 "in a multi-disciplinary position created for him that enables him to share his skills as a stage director, dramaturge, composer, and social activist with students from throughout the Roosevelt University community as they shadow him and collaborate in the development of a new Hagen opera each year." He has served as the Franz Lehár Composer in Residence at the University of Pittsburgh (2007), twice as composer in residence for the Princeton University Atelier (1998, 2004-5); as artist in residence at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (2000–2002); Sigma Chi-William P. Huffman Composer in Residence at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio (1999–2000); artist in residence at Baylor University, Waco, Texas (1998–1999); on the musical studies faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music (1996–1998); as an associate professor at Bard College (1988–1997); as a visiting professor at the City College of New York (1997, 1993–1994); and as a lecturer in music at New York University (1988–1990).
As artistic director of the Perpetuum Mobile Concerts (1982–87) he premiered compositions by over a hundred American composers on concerts produced in Philadelphia and New York.Hagen served as president of the Lotte Lehmann Foundation (2004–07) in New York City, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging the performance and creation of opera and art song; from 2000 to 2018 he served as a trustee of the Douglas Moore Fund for American Opera and was elected a lifetime member of the Corporation of Yaddo in 2006. He is the founding artistic director of the New Mercury Collective, "a laboratory for artistic exploration, creative risk-taking, and performance in which its members can collaborate on the creation and performance of post-genre works combining theater, music, and emerging technology for audiences of all types." Hagen has been a featured composer at the Tanglewood, Wintergreen, and Aspen music festivals, and has served as artistic director and head of faculty for the Seasons Fall Music Festival in Yakima, Washington (2008–2012) and currently serves as Co-Chair of Composition for the Wintergreen Summer Music Academy in Virginia. Hagen made his professional debut as a stage director for the Skylight Music Theatre with his musical I Hear America Singing (2014), for which he contributed book, lyrics, and score. In spring 2015 he directed his opera A Woman in Morocco for Kentucky Opera.
Hagen's memoir, "Duet with the Past," was published by McFarland & Company on March 1, 2019.
In 2020–21, Hagen debuted as a filmmaker, releasing his first "filmopera," entitled Orson Rehearsed ,in which he explored Orson Welles' dying thoughts through words, images, and music. Hagen crafted the music (which combined live players with an extensive Electroacoustic soundscape) and libretto, shot over 30 hours of film, directed the staged iteration at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, Illinois (in a joint production of his own "New Mercury Collective" and the Chicago College of Performing Arts), and served as both film and soundtrack editor.
Hagen is married to composer, vocalist, and visual artist Gilda Lyons. They have two children – Atticus and Seamus – and live in Rhinebeck, New York.
Hagen's music is essentially tonal, though serial, pitch class, and octatonic procedures are customarily used for psychologically and emotionally fraught passages.It is "notable for its warm lyricism, but his style defies easy categorization. While his works demonstrate fluency with a range of twentieth-century compositional techniques, those procedures are secondary to his exploitation and expansion of the possibilities of tonal harmony, giving his music an immediacy that makes it appealing to a wide spectrum of audiences. His music is broadly eclectic, drawing on a variety of styles as diverse as jazz, Broadway, Latin music, Italian verismo, and soft rock." According to Hagen, "Polytonality figures prominently in the major operas as a mechanism for manifesting the interaction between characters." Hagen, asked at one point by Bernstein to complete Marc Blitzstein's opera Sacco and Vanzetti, acknowledges a debt to Blitzstein's music: "I find the musical DNA of which it is composed indispensable. Strands of that DNA — strict adherence to economy of means, a passion for combining words and music, the belief that music can promote social justice, an abhorrence of pretension — are woven contrapuntally, inextricably, into the music that I compose, and have been, nearly from the start."
Hagen's vocal music is described in The New Grove as "the cornerstone of his compositional output."He has remarked, "I love voices and I like singers, and along with the intersection of loving music and words and singers, I adore the process of composing and going through the production of musical theater. There is the communion of people coming together to commit to undertaking a work of art that is larger than any of us." "Using his gift for composing vocal lines, [Hagen] produces songs that flow lyrically and illuminate texts with unerring musical and dramatic aim. His scores are full of extensive markings, requiring singers to use variety of tone color to achieve the emotions inherent in the texts."
His operas embrace a particularly broad stylistic spectrum, and often "straddle the divide between the opera and musical theater worlds."In Shining Brow "Hagen's baseline idiom," writes Tom Strini, "seems to be modernist-expressionist, tonal but freely dissonant. He sets all sorts of influences, from barbershop to ticky-tick dance music against that idiom, to underscore character and crystallize the period (1903–'14)." In Vera of Las Vegas , Hagen, writes Robert Thicknesse, "blends idioms – neo-Gershwin, jazz, soft rock, Broadway – with soaring melodies that send the characters looping off in arias of self-revelation." " Bandanna is neither fish nor fowl – as fierce as verismo but wrought with infinite care; a melding of church and cantina and Oxonian declamation," writes Tim Page. Catherine Parsonage expands upon this assessment: "[it] is wholly convincing as a modern opera, ranging stylistically from the music theatre of Gershwin, Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, to traditional mariachi music and contemporary opera of Benjamin Britten. Hagen, who served his apprenticeship on Broadway, acknowledges that holistically the piece falls between opera and musical theatre. Hagen's style encourages audiences to be actively involved in constructing their own meanings from the richness of the textual and musical cross-references in his work." Hagen's effective fusing of many styles into a coherent personal vision is recognized by a 2014 American Academy of Arts and Letters Academy Award that acknowledges the "outstanding artistic achievement [of] a composer who has arrived at his or her own voice."
In 2007 self-publishing enabled Hagen to become one of the first American opera composers to make evolving performance materials for the opera Amelia (and all his successive works) available exclusively in an online environment: "The opera's principals were given access to a password-protected website on which Hagen placed pdf files of Amelia's vocal score. When he modified a scene, he simply uploaded an edited file, and an automatically generated message informed the cast of the change."
According to Opera News, "to say that [Hagen] is a remarkable musician is to underrate him. Daron is music."The NATS Journal of Singing has described Hagen as "the finest American composer of vocal music in his generation."
Hagen's debut opera Shining Brow premiered in 1993 to universally glowing reviews in the international press.When the Buffalo Philharmonic released the first recording on Naxos in 2009, David Patrick Sterns noted in The Philadelphia Inquirer, "the ceaselessly inventive score hooks you early on, easily embracing a wide range of predominantly tonal modes of expression, from barbershop quartet to Der Rosenkavalier quotations. The music's theatrical timing and naturalistic sense of language – so problematic in other contemporary operas – feels effortlessly right. Dramatically speaking, the portrayal of the great architect is so unflinching that Wright (played with many layers of irony by the excellent Robert Orth) borders on being too unsympathetic to carry this sizable, two-act opera. Particularly effective is the musical creepiness that sets in as Wright's high-ego world grows refracted from reality.".
Hagen's 2010 opera Amelia premiered to positive reviews in The New York Times, Financial Times, Times of London, Seattle Times, The Washington Post, and Opera Magazine, among others. Heidi Waleson in The Wall Street Journal described the work as "both highly original and gripping. ... Amelia is a modern opera with traditional values ... Mr. Hagen's restless, questioning music never loses its heart."Ivan Katz, in The Huffington Post, wrote "Hagen's score is well-composed and, in many respects, a work of genius. He tends to write in a more facile manner for the women, but his writing for the men (especially tenor William Burden) is complex and highly effective." Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times noted that "the opera is earnest and original, if heavy-handed and melodramatic. [It is] a serious, heartfelt and unusual work. However, there is too much lyricism and no break in the orchestral richness."
His 2013 opera, A Woman in Morocco , deals with the issue of human trafficking. A "film noir, verismo, cinéma vérité".While in its college workshop production at the University of Texas, the characters were felt by one graduate student to "come across as flat and largely unsympathetic and so frustratingly spineless that it's hard to care about them," when the work was given its professional premiere in spring 2015 under Hagen's direction by Kentucky Opera, professional critics noted that "[its] complex score works to underline issues with leitmotifs, musical cues assigned to different characters, and music that never settles or rests. When singers get soaring arias, they emerge naturally from this intricate texture. Hagen has a gift for writing sensually rich tunes and uses this skill to release the music at important moments." Most of the universally positive reviews touched approvingly on the opera's subject matter:
Will [a new opera] find a connection with tradition while creating something fresh and timely? I believe that composer Daron Hagen and his co-librettist Barbara Grecki have [done this] with their new two-act opera. ... Hagen's score feelingly captures the deep contradictions of its story and its characters in music that evokes the beauty and mystery of an exotic landscape, the dangerous and deceptive sensuality of its inhabitants, and the intense violence that is always just beneath the surface of a culture that threatens and terrorizes women.
As of October 2020, in advance of its 2021 theatrical release (the soundtrack was released on 12 March 2021 on Naxos Records), Hagen's filmopera Orson Rehearsed has been in competition in the festival circuit, garnering awards internationally.
His first composition to attract wide attention was Prayer for Peace,premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra (1981), garnering him the distinction of being the youngest composer since Samuel Barber to be premiered by that orchestra; the New York Philharmonic commissioned Philharmonia for its 150th anniversary (1990); the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Music commissioned Concerto for Brass Quintet for its 100th anniversary (1995); the Curtis Institute commissioned Much Ado for its 75th anniversary (2000). Hagen's commissions from major orchestras and performers between 1981 and 2008 included orchestral works, five symphonies (for the orchestras of Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Oakland, Albany, and Phoenix), seven concertos (for Gary Graffman, Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Jeffrey Khaner, and Sara Sant'Ambrogio, among others), several massive works for chorus and orchestra, two dozen choral works (including one for the Kings Singers), ballet scores, concert overtures, showpieces, two brass quintets, six piano trios, three string quartets, an oboe quintet, a duo for violin and cello, solo works for piano (His Suite for Piano was a featured new work for the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition), organ, violin, viola, and cello, and seventeen published cycles of art songs. (Hagen has over 300 art songs in print.) Material from Shining Brow was used in Hagen's piano piece "Built Up Dark", written for Bruce Brubaker in 1994.
A frequent collaborator with living writers, he has set poetry by Nuar Alsadir, Mark Campbell, Ze'ev Dunei, Stephen Dunn, Sarah Gorham, Susan Griffin, Peter Handke, Reine Hauser, Seamus Heaney, Robert Kelley, Richard McCann, Kim Roberts, Stephen Sandy, Mark Skinner, and Mark Strand, among others. In 1990 Hagen began a creative collaboration with the Irish poet Paul Muldoon that resulted in four major operas: Shining Brow (1992), Vera of Las Vegas (1996), Bandanna (1998), and The Antient Concert (2005). "[Writing libretti for Hagen's operas gave Muldoon], a writer who has had to weather accusations of cerebral detachment and heartlessness the opportunity to indulge in frank emotionalism," writes David Wheatley.Libretti for Hagen operas have also been written by Barbara Grecki (New York Stories, 2008), J.D. McClatchy (Little Nemo in Slumberland, 2010), and Gardner McFall (Amelia, 2010). He has written his own libretti (A Woman in Morocco, 2013,New York Stories, 2008, and Orson Rehearsed, 2019).
Recordings of Hagen works may be found on the Albany Records, Arsis, Sierra, TNC, Mark, Naxos Records, Sony Classical Records and CRI labels, among others. His music was published exclusively by EC Schirmer in Boston (1982–90); and then by Carl Fischer Music in New York (1990–2006); in 2007 he began self-publishing under the imprint Burning Sled. In 2017, Burning Sled struck a licensing agreement with Peermusic Classical for Hagen's operas.
Marcus Samuel Blitzstein, was an American composer, lyricist, and librettist. He won national attention in 1937 when his pro-union musical The Cradle Will Rock, directed by Orson Welles, was shut down by the Works Progress Administration. He is known for The Cradle Will Rock and for his Off-Broadway translation/adaptation of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. His works also include the opera Regina, an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes; the Broadway musical Juno, based on Seán O'Casey's play Juno and the Paycock; and No for an Answer. He completed translation/adaptations of Brecht's and Weill's musical play Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and of Brecht's play Mother Courage and Her Children with music by Paul Dessau. Blitzstein also composed music for films, such as Surf and Seaweed (1931) and The Spanish Earth (1937), and he contributed two songs to the original 1960 production of Hellman's play Toys in the Attic.
Ned Rorem is an American composer and diarist. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1976 for his Air Music: Ten Etudes for Orchestra.
Edwin Henry Cheney was an American electrical engineer from Oak Park, Illinois, United States.
An art song is a vocal music composition, usually written for one voice with piano accompaniment, and usually in the classical art music tradition. By extension, the term "art song" is used to refer to the collective genre of such songs. An art song is most often a musical setting of an independent poem or text, "intended for the concert repertory" "as part of a recital or other relatively formal social occasion". While many pieces of vocal music are easily recognized as art songs, others are more difficult to categorize. For example, a wordless vocalise written by a classical composer is sometimes considered an art song and sometimes not.
Shining Brow is an English language opera by the American composer Daron Hagen, first performed by the Madison Opera in Madison, Wisconsin, April 21, 1993. The libretto is by Paul Muldoon, and is based on a treatment co-written with the composer. The story concerns events in the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Hagen invited Muldoon to write the libretto while the two were both in residency at the MacDowell Colony, in Peterborough, New Hampshire during the summer of 1989.
William Hugh Albright was an American composer, pianist and organist.
Madison Opera is a regional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin. It was founded in 1961 as an extension of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and came to national prominence in 1993 with the commissioning and premiering of Shining Brow, the opera about Frank Lloyd Wright by composer Daron Hagen and librettist Paul Muldoon.
Thomas Piercy is an American clarinetist and hichiriki player based in New York City, USA and Tokyo, Japan. Although he studied in the United States, his playing style is heavily influenced by the English school of clarinet playing by his extensive studies with English clarinet virtuoso Gervase de Peyer.
Bandanna is an English language opera in a prologue and two acts by Daron Hagen, first performed by the University of Texas at Austin opera theater in Austin, February 25, 1999. The libretto is by Irish poet Paul Muldoon based on a treatment co-written with the composer. The story of the Venetian Moor is recast and updated to 1968 by combining elements of the original Venetian story, William Shakespeare's Othello, Giuseppe Verdi's opera Otello, and new, original characters and situations. The opera's unifying concept is the idea of the borderlines between emotional, metaphysical and moral states. The commission itself is notable for two reasons: first, it stipulated that there be no strings in the pit, second, it was financed by a consortium of over one hundred college bands from across the United States, all members of the College Band Directors National Association.
The Lotte Lehmann Foundation, named for the German soprano Lotte Lehmann, was founded in 1999, and served to preserve and perpetuate her legacy, and to honor her dream of bringing art song into the lives of as many people as possible. The organization was founded by Gary Hickling, a musician and expert on Lehmann. Hickling was also the founder of the Lotte Lehmann League.
Vera of Las Vegas is an opera by Daron Hagen with a libretto by Paul Muldoon based on a treatment co-written with the composer. The Center for Contemporary Opera gave the staged premiere on 25 June 2003 at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre of Symphony Space in New York City.
Boston Metro Opera was a semi-professional American opera company based in the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts. The company specialized in contemporary works and operated from 2008 to 2015. It also sponsored and ran the Boston-International Contempo Festival and its associated International Composers' Competition.
New York Stories is a trilogy of English-language one-act operas by Daron Hagen, with a libretto by Hagen and Barbara Grecki first performed in its entirety by Kentucky Opera in Louisville, Kentucky, on 30 October 2010.
The Antient Concert is a sixty-minute-long English language opera in one act by Daron Hagen with a libretto by Paul Muldoon. Hagen describes it as a "dramatic recital for four singers".
Present Music is a contemporary nonprofit music organization and ensemble based in Milwaukee, WI. It was founded in 1982, and is currently led by founder and Artistic Director Kevin Stalheim. Present Music has put on shows in many venues around the world, but primarily performs in Milwaukee.
Gilda Lyons is an American composer, vocalist, and visual artist who writes music that “combines elements of renaissance, neo-baroque, spectral, agitprop Music Theater, and extended vocalism”.
The Impressions d'enfance, Op. 28, is a suite for violin and piano written by George Enescu and completed on 10 April 1940. The score is dedicated to the memory of Eduard Caudella, the composer's first violin teacher.
Scott Gendel is an American composer, pianist, and vocal coach. Gendel is known mostly for his art songs and choral music, but has also written numerous operas and musical theatre works, as well as orchestral and chamber music.
Orson Rehearsed is a 2021 American independent film by Daron Hagen about Orson Welles which combines elements of opera film, documentary film, and Surrealist cinema. The narrative follows a 2018 staged production of Hagen's eleventh opera integrating extensive pre-shot films and electro-acoustic tracks in which, poised in the bardo between life and death on the night of his demise, Welles takes stock of his life. Directed by Hagen based on his own screenplay and musical score, the film was produced by Burning Sled Media and the Chicago College of Performing Arts. It stars Robert Orth, Robert Frankenberry, and Omar Mulero as Welles, and features the Fifth House Ensemble.