Steven Sametz

Last updated
Steven Sametz
Occupation(s)Composer, Conductor and Professor

Steven Sametz (born 1954, Westport, Connecticut) is active as both conductor and composer. He has been hailed as "one of the most respected choral composers in America." [1] [2] Since 1979, he has been on the faculty of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he holds the Ronald J. Ulrich Chair in Music and is Director of Choral Activities and is founding director of the Lehigh University Choral Union. Since 1998, he has served as Artistic Director of the professional a cappella ensemble, The Princeton Singers. He is also the founding director of the Lehigh University Summer Choral Composers’ Forum. In 2012, he was named Chair of the American Choral Directors Association Composition Advisory Committee.


Early training, education and influences

Sametz's earliest piano works date from the age of six. During junior high and high school years in his native Westport, Connecticut, he began to write for choirs and chamber ensembles and undertook large-scale scoring of works for band and orchestra with encouragement of his teachers. Summer studies at the Amherst Music Center (Amherst, Maine) focused on piano, viola, voice, baritone horn and composition. He continued to compose during his undergraduate years at Yale University (BA, 1976), where his teachers included Robert Fountain (conducting) and Alejandro Planchart (early music). He spent his junior year at Yale abroad, studying conducting with Helmuth Rilling in Germany and composition with Sylvano Bussotti in Italy. He spent four summers at the Aspen Music School, studying choral and operatic conducting with Fiora Contino and voice with Jan DeGaetani. From 1976–79, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning the Masters and Doctor of Music Arts degrees in Choral Conducting. His primary teachers included Robert Fountain (choral conducting), Catherine Comet (orchestral conducting), Carlos Moses (opera conducting) and Bruce Benward (music theory).

Largely self-taught as a composer, Sametz's style is influenced by Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, French Impressionism, the works of Igor Stravinsky and world music. His early exposure to choral singing, beginning in fifth grade, gave him a predilection for singing lines and communication of expressive text through music. Beginning with some of his earliest works (e.g.: e.e, cummings’ thy fingers make early flowers, (1972) for soprano solo and string quartet; Farewell (1972) setting Kahil Gibran's text for a cappella chorus) it is the expressive line of the text that guides the compositional process.

Spiritual practices and world travel have contributed to Sametz's style. Raised in a Jewish tradition, he was hired in 1976 as assistant choirmaster and associate organist at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Norwalk, CT. He worked there much of his Yale undergraduate career, commuting from New Haven to Norwalk. At the same time he was being exposed Christian liturgy, he was beginning practice in Transcendental Meditation and would later study Vipassana and Zen meditation techniques. During his high school and college years, he traveled widely in Europe, studying composition briefly in Nice with Tony Aubin. During his graduate studies, he served on the musical staff of St. Paul's Church in Madison, Wisconsin, conducting a small choir devoted to performance of Gregorian chant reading from the Liber Usualis. Elements of Catholic liturgy and chant may be heard in several of Sametz's pieces: ¡O llama de amor viva! A Mystical Vision of St. John of the Cross (1987) is based largely on the Easter chant, Victimae Paschali laudes; Nevermore will the Wind (2002) and A Child’s Requiem (2014) use the Gregorian Requiem chant.

In the 1980s and 90s, he made three trips around the world, traveling widely in Southeast Asia, where he was influenced by the musical traditions of Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia, returning with an extensive collection of musical instruments. In many of his works there is a sense of timelessness common to Buddhist practice and Christian prayer. The combined influences of Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, Impressionism and Asian music led to a style more based in timbre and overlapping melodic lines (at times aleatoric) than in harmonic motion.


Sametz has received commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Council on the Arts, and the Santa Fe music festival, creating new works for Chanticleer, The Princeton Singers, the Dale Warland Singers, The Los Angeles Master Chorale, Philadelphia Singers, Pro Arte Chamber Choir, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Connecticut Choral Artists, Joyful Noise and the King of Thailand. In 2013, Sametz won the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Composition Prize, administered through the University of Connecticut. In fulfillment of the award, Sametz composed the oratorio, A Child’s Requiem, in memory of the twenty-six victims slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The work received extensive national coverage through the CBS Evening News, NPR, ABC News, U.S. News & World Report, and Associated Press coverage. Scored for three soloists, children's chorus, child speakers, adult choir, and chamber orchestra, and based on writings by children combined with texts of Emerson, Dickinson, H.D. and Sametz, it asks the powerful question: How can we keep our children safe in a culture of violence?

In 2011, Sametz received one of the country's most prestigious choral commissions, the American Choral Directors Association's Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission, to write Three Mystical Choruses for premiere by Chanticleer at the 2011 ACDA National Convention in Chicago. [3] [4] In 2009, Sametz's Music’s Music, commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, was premiered at Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Dr. Sametz's compositions have been heard throughout the world at the Tanglewood, Ravinia, Salzburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Santa Fe music festivals.

His works first came to prominence through his collaboration with the internationally acclaimed professional ensemble, Chanticleer. Sametz's setting of ¡O llama de amor viva! A Mystical Vision of St. John of the Cross was written for Chanticleer in 1987 and featured at the Chorus America convention in 1988. The cinematic approach of this fourteen-minute work — an opening villancico yielding to a portrait of the incarceration of San Juan de la Cruz, his torture, his vision, and a return to his cell, ending as it opened with the framingvillancico — gives a key to Sametz's defining style. Each work creates its own world. In 1996, he created a work for Lehigh University Choral Arts for large chorus, orchestra of tabla and tampuras with Indian dancers and a giant puppet of Vishnu that rose amid flashpots and smoke to portray the Indian story of The Demon King. His Dudaryku – A Village Scene (2001), written for Chanticleer and The Princeton Singers, is an extended double-choir work that poignantly portrays the loss of a musician and musical life in a small Ukrainian town. These worlds, often based on myths, legends, or folk tales from across the globe, reflect in deeply personal ways on universal themes of love, loss, joy, mortality, and a transcendence of earthly cares.

It was with his in time of (1997), a setting of e. e. cummings’ poem, that Sametz's works came to international attention. Originally conceived as a large work for three orchestras and five choirs, it was later revised for the twelve singers of Chanticleer, in which form it was featured on their 1999 Grammy Award-winning CD, Colors of Love. [5] There is a third scoring (recorded by The Princeton Singers and the composer) utilizing the original choral forces with chamber orchestra.

Sametz has delved into the rich field of medieval gay literature found in clerical letters and marginalia. His largest work to date, Carmina amoris (2001; revised 2010) is a choral symphony in six movements for large orchestra, choir, two soprano and tenor soloists, setting monastic love letters of Alcuin, Ausonius, and the anonymous clerical writings preserved in the Carmina Cantabrigiensia . This 60-minute work is published by E.C. Schirmer and recorded by Lehigh University Choral Arts under the direction of the composer. In 2011, the work was given at Carnegie Hall under the direction of the composer with Carmen Pelton, soprano and William Burden, tenor and the Lehigh University Choral Arts.

Reflecting the evolving history of gay civil liberties, Sametz's works speak to the struggle that has been inherent for the gay population for centuries. While Carmina amoris is his most ambitious setting of gay love texts, other compositions of his take up this theme: Dulcis amor, commissioned by the Harvard Glee Club (2004), sets a love poem of the ninth-century cleric Alcuin of York; We Two (2006–7), commissioned by the Minnesota-based male ensemble Cantus for a consortium of nine male choirs in the US and Canada, sets lines from Walt Whitman’s ground-breaking Calamus cluster from Leaves of Grass . The 2009 setting of Whitman's We Two Boys Together Clinging for baritone and tenor duet with vibraphone and violoncello was later recast as the central movement of his Not an End of Loving (2010) for 12-voice chamber choir, which was premiered and recorded by Chanticleer. Both versions are published by E.C. Schirmer.

Sametz's earliest choral-orchestral works exhibit his fascination with a wide variety of orchestral coloration. His use of Burmese gongs (muji no makotobaScripture without words on a text by Hakuin Ekaku), hammer dulcimer, onde martenot and cimbalon (cent fois plus ombre... on a text by Robert Desnos) lead to later experimentation with Indian tampura and tablas in his The Demon King (1996) and Shamalyo (2007), (both in collaboration with the Indian singer/writer, Arati Shah-Yukich). This sound palette is further expanded by his more recent use of electronics, using digital delay on obbligato instruments with choir. His Fantasia on Jesu, meine Freude (2009),Voices of Broken Hearts (2010) and Fantasia on Call to Remembrance (2011) all stretch the boundaries of human singing into the realm of enhanced electronic vocal production. Use of electronic enhancement was foreshadowed in his The White Raven — ballet-concerto for piano, chorus and orchestra (2005) and the violin concerto of 2006, Be/dazzled. Sametz used digital delay on six core instruments in his setting of A Child’s Requiem.

Sametz has created several ballets, from his early Arachne’s Busy Shopping Day (1987) to his setting of a Tlingit creation myth, The White Raven-ballet-concerto for piano, chorus and orchestra (2005), to the more recent Small Steps/Tiny Revolutions (2008) written for the Rioult Dance company of New York, premiered at Lehigh University and subsequently staged in Florida, Ohio and State College, PA.

Sametz's compositions are published by E.C. Schirmer Publishing, Oxford University Press, Alliance Music, Walton Music, GIA, Steven Sametz Publications, and distributed by NoteNova Music Publications.


As Artistic Director of the Princeton Singers since 1998, Sametz has recorded four CDs and led the ensemble in repertoire from the medieval era to newly composed works. Repertoire includes Messiaen's Cinq rechants, Stephen Paulus's I Love (commissioned by the Princeton Singers) and works of DuFay, Ockeghem, Josquin, Milhaud, Mahler, Tavener and many works written for them by Sametz. In 2004, The Princeton Singers collaborated with Lehigh Choral Arts in a staged version of the Bach Matthäuspassion . The Princeton Singers has been featured at conferences of the American Choral Directors Association, American Organists Guild and Chorus America.

As the Director of Choral Activities at Lehigh University, Sametz directs the Lehigh University Choir, Choral Union and men's Glee Club in choral-orchestral repertoire from all eras. Many of Sametz's compositions have been premiered at Lehigh. Additionally, Lehigh University groups have performed on tour at New York's Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Schubertsaal in Vienna, the Berlin Philharmonic, Beijing University, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in Russia, and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Memorial Hall in Taipei.

While still a student of Catherine Comet in graduate school, Sametz won the Redlands (CA) Orchestral Competition. He regularly conducts orchestral repertoire as well as major works for chorus and orchestra. Guest conducting appearances include the Taipei Philharmonic Foundation, the Berkshire Music Festival, the New York Chamber Symphony, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, CONCORA, Chanticleer and the Netherlands Radio Choir. At the Santa Fe Music Festival, he conducted his own works in a program entitled "Sametz conducts Sametz." He has conducted Chanticleer in the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 in New York (in collaboration with Lehigh Choral Arts) and San Francisco. [6]






Chorus and orchestra

Works for chorus and small instrumental ensembles or obbligato instruments

Choir and organ/piano

A cappella choir

Solo Songs

Chamber music


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Conte</span> American composer

David Conte is an American composer who has written over 150 works published by E.C. Schirmer, including six operas, a musical, works for chorus, solo voice, orchestra, chamber music, organ, piano, guitar, and harp. Conte has received commissions from Chanticleer, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Harvard University Chorus, the Men’s Glee Clubs of Cornell University and the University of Notre Dame, GALA Choruses from the cities of San Francisco, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., the Dayton Philharmonic, the Oakland Symphony, the Stockton Symphony, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the American Guild of Organists, Sonoma City Opera, and the Gerbode Foundation. He was honored with the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Brock Commission in 2007 for his work The Nine Muses, and in 2016 he won the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Art Song Composition Award for his work American Death Ballads.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Rutter</span> English composer, conductor and arranger

John Milford Rutter is an English composer, conductor, editor, arranger, and record producer, mainly of choral music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Patrick Hawes</span> British composer, conductor, organist and pianist

Patrick Hawes is a British composer, conductor, organist and pianist.

Walter Sinclair Hartley was an American composer of contemporary (classical) music.

Bernard Rands is a British-American contemporary classical music composer. He studied music and English literature at the University of Wales, Bangor, and composition with Pierre Boulez and Bruno Maderna in Darmstadt, Germany, and with Luigi Dallapiccola and Luciano Berio in Milan, Italy. He held residencies at Princeton University, the University of Illinois, and the University of York before emigrating to the United States in 1975; he became a U.S. citizen in 1983. In 1984, Rands's Canti del Sole, premiered by Paul Sperry, Zubin Mehta, and the New York Philharmonic, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. He has since taught at the University of California, San Diego, the Juilliard School, Yale University, and Boston University. From 1988 to 2005 he taught at Harvard University, where he is Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music Emeritus.

Chen Yi is a Chinese-American violinist and composer of contemporary classical music. She was the first Chinese woman to receive a Master of Arts (M.A.) in music composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Chen was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her composition Si Ji, and has received awards from the Koussevistky Music Foundation and American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2010, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New School and in 2012, she was awarded the Brock Commission from the American Choral Directors Association. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2019.

Hendrik Pienaar Hofmeyr is a South African composer. Born in Cape Town, he furthered his studies in Italy during 10 years of self-imposed exile as a conscientious objector. While there, he won the South African Opera Competition with The Fall of the House of Usher. He also received the annual Nederburg Prize for Opera for this work subsequent to its performance at the State Theatre in Pretoria in 1988. In the same year, he obtained first prize in an international competition in Italy with music for a short film by Wim Wenders. He returned to South Africa in 1992, and in 1997 won two major international composition competitions, the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition of Belgium and the first edition of the Dimitris Mitropoulos Competition in Athens. His 'Incantesimo' for solo flute was selected to represent South Africa at the ISCM World Music Days in Croatia in 2005. In 2008 he was honoured with a Kanna award by the Kleinkaroo National Arts Festival. He is currently Professor and Head of Composition and Theory at the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, where he obtained a DMus in 1999.

Raymond Wilding-White ; was an American composer of contemporary classical music and electronic music, and a photographer/digital artist.

David Blair Hamilton is a New Zealand composer and teacher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Don Kay (composer)</span> Australian classical composer (born 1933)

Donald Henry Kay AM is an Australian classical composer.

Cecilia McDowall is a British composer, particularly known for her choral compositions.

Anthony John Whittaker-Mahoney is an English composer. His first musical experiences were in the local church choir age 7 and as a tenor recorder player; he did not begin formal study of the piano until 1982 with Peter Wild. Lessons with Ann Bond on the organ followed in 1986. After acquiring the LRAM diploma in 1989, ARCO and LTCL in 1991, he graduated from the University of London in 1994 BMus (hons).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Ludwig (composer)</span> American composer of classical music (born 1974)

David Serkin Ludwig is an American composer, teacher, and Dean of Music at The Juilliard School. His uncle was pianist Peter Serkin, his grandfather was the pianist Rudolf Serkin, and his great-grandfather was the violinist Adolf Busch. He holds positions and residencies with nearly two dozen orchestras and music festivals in the US and abroad. His choral work, The New Colossus, was performed at the 2013 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roger Bourland</span>

Roger Bourland is an American composer, publisher, blogger, and Professor-Emeritus of Music at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

Sydney Guillaume is a Haitian-American composer of contemporary classical music and film music, conductor, clinician, singer and pianist based out of Portland, Oregon. He has composed music for a variety of chamber ensembles, but is known primarily for his choral compositions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vic Nees</span> Musical artist

Victor (Vic) Nees was a Belgian (Flemish) composer, choral conductor, musicologist, and music educator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Fussell</span> American classical composer

Charles Clement Fussell is an American composer and conductor of contemporary classical music. He has composed six symphonies and three operas. His symphony Wilde for solo baritone and orchestra, based on the life of Oscar Wilde and premiered by the Newton Symphony Orchestra and the baritone Sanford Sylvan in 1990, was a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Music. He received a citation and award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1992.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andrea Clearfield</span> American composer

Andrea Clearfield is an American composer of contemporary classical music. Regularly commissioned and performed by ensembles in the United States and abroad, her works include music for orchestra, chorus, soloists, chamber ensembles, dance, opera, film, and multimedia collaborations.


  1. Busse, Thomas. San Francisco Classical Voice: Classical Music in the Bay Area. 24 June 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.
  2. Boyer, Douglas R. "Sources of Mystery: An Introduction to Steven Sametz’s Three Mystical Choruses." Choral Journal February, 2011: 21–34. Print.
  3. Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission. < "American Choral Directors Association". Archived from the original on 2016-03-08. Retrieved 2016-03-27.>
  4. "Three Mystical Choruses." Choral Journal. February, 2011.< "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2013-02-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)>
  5. Boyer, Douglas R. "Musical Influence and Style in the Choral Music of Steven Sametz." Choral Journal. May, 2002. pp. 21–34.
  6. ECS Publishing Composer Bios. <>