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Sheila Silver is an important and vital voice in American music today. She has written in a wide range of mediums: from solo instrumental works to large orchestral works; from opera to feature film scores. Her musical language is a unique synthesis of the tonal and atonal worlds, coupled with a rhythmic complexity which is both masterful and compelling. Again and again, audiences and critics praise her music as powerful and emotionally charged, accessible, and masterfully conceived. “Only a few composers in any generation enliven the art form with their musical language and herald new directions in music. Sheila Silver is such a visionary.” (Wetterauer Zeitung, Germany, 2004)

Born in Seattle, Washington in 1946, Silver began piano studies at the age of five. Ms. Silver earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968 where she began composition studies with Edwin Dugger. Upon graduation she was awarded the coveted George Ladd Prix de Paris for two years study in Europe where she worked with Erhard Karkoschka in Stuttgart and Gyorgy Ligeti in Berlin and Hamburg. She earned her doctorate from Brandeis University where she studied with Arthur Berger, Harold Shapero, and Seymour Shifrin. Her studies also included an Abraham Sachar Traveling Grant which enabled her to spend 18 months in London and a Koussevitzky Fellowship for a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood where she studied with Jacob Druckman.

Sheila Silver’s compositions have been commissioned and performed by numerous orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists throughout the United States and Europe including: the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the RAI Orchestra of Rome, the American Composers Orchestra, the Lithuanian State Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Stockton Symphony, the Chicago String Ensemble, the Richmond Symphony, the Illinois Symphony, the Gregg Smith Singers, the Hartford Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Paley, Dawn Upshaw, Gilbert Kalish, Timothy Eddy, the Guild Trio, Heidi Lehwalder and the Muir Quartet, the Ying Quartet, and Tapestry Vocal Ensemble.

Sheila recently completed an opera based on Khaled Hosseini’s international best-selling novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which takes place in contemporary Afghanistan. Commissioned by the Seattle Opera, it will be premiered in October 2022.  She recently returned from her fourth trip to India where she studies Hindustani music with Pandit Kedar Narayan Bodas. Silver incorporated an authentic Hindustani color into her score for the opera. Recent honors for the opera include: a 2014 Opera America Discovery Grant for Female Composers, funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation; selection in Opera America’s 2016 New Works Forum and New Works Showcase concert; a 2015 NEA Opera Development grant through American Opera Projects; a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2016 NYSCA Commission Award.

Other honors include: the 2007 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Music Composition in Opera, for her opera, The Wooden Sword; Bunting Institute Fellowship; the Rome Prize; the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Composer Award; twice winner of the ISCM National Composers Competition; and awards and commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio Residency), the Camargo Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, New York State Council of the Arts, the Barlow Foundation, the Paul Fromm Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Cary Trust.

In 2018 she received a Paul Fromm Commission for Being in Life, a concerto for Ann Ellsworth,  Alphorn/French horn  – with string orchestra and 5 Tibetan singing bowls, featuring the concert master at soloist.  It was premiered by Seattle’s Philharmonia Northwest, Julia Tai, conductor, in October 2019 and will be performed in Rome by the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble, in 2020-2021 season (Corona-virus permitting).

Silver was the Elliot Carter Resident Composer at the American Academy in Rome in Spring 2020, where she worked on a new piece, If Trees Could Talk, for 4 female singers, piano, Tibetan bowls, and video.  Songfest 2021 (originally scheduled for 2020) will premiere this new work in an entire evening devoted to Sheila’s vocal music including the complete Beauty Intolerable, A Songbook based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Premiered in 2013, the Songbook contains 14 songs and was recently recorded with singers Dawn Upshaw, Stephanie Blythe, Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Deanne Meek, and Risa Renae Harman.  It will be released in early 2021 on a 2 disc CD set with all of Silver’s song repertoire from 1979-2018.  

Other recordings, both on the Naxos label, include her Piano Concerto and Six Preludes for Piano on poems of Baudelaire, with Alexander Paley, piano, and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, Gintaras Rinkevicius, conductor; and her Shirat Sara (Song of Sarah) with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Strings; and Twilight’s Last Gleaming, for two pianos and percussion on the Bridge Label. 

Silver composed the sound track to Who the Hell is Bobby Roos? –  a feature film which was awarded the New American Cinema Award at the Seattle International Film Festival, 2002 and is currently available on DVD. She created the score for Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis rocked the boat and started a scientific revolution, released in 2018 and being screened internationally.   A new film score for the documentary Regenerating Life, Hope for a destructive species, is in the works. 

Sheila Silver lives in Spencertown, New York, with her husband, film writer and director, John Feldman. Their son, Victor Feldman, is a senior at Brandeis University. Silver is Professor Emeritas of Music at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Her music is published by Lauren Keiser Music, Studio 4 Productions, and Argenta Music, and is recorded on various labels.

Sheila Silver is an important and vital voice in American music today.  She has written in a wide range of mediums, from solo instrumental to large orchestral works, from opera to feature film scores. Her music is performed internationally.  “Only a few composers in any generation enliven the art form with their musical language and herald new directions in music.  Sheila Silver is such a visionary.”  (Wetterauer Zeitung, Germany)

Silver recently completed an opera based on Khaled Hosseini’s international best-selling novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which has been commissioned by the Seattle Opera.  It will be premiered in Seattle’s McCaw Hall in October, 2022. In order to develop a musical vocabulary with which to evoke the color of Afghanistan in A Thousand Splendid Suns, Sheila has made several trips to India to study  Hindustani music with Pandit Kedar Narayan Bodas. This Hindustani sound world has filtered into other recent compositions including her Nocturne for piano and Being in Life, Concerto for French horn, Alpenhorn, 5 Tibetan singing bowls, and string orchestra.

Her honors include a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, the Sackler Prize in Opera; two Opera America Toulmin awards; Bunting Institute Fellowship; Rome Prize; Prix de Paris, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Composer Award and numerous grants and commissions. Ms. Silver was invited to be the 2020 Elliot Carter Resident Composer at the American Academy in Rome.  SongFest 2020 (now moved to 2021) in Los Angeles will devote an entire evening to her music including the complete Beauty Intolerable, A Songbook based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and a new work being composed for the occasion, If Trees Could Talk which will include 4 voices and video. Albany Records will be bringing out a 2-disc set of Silver’s vocal music with a host of singers and pianists including Dawn Upshaw, Stephanie Blythe, Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Deanne Meek, Risa Renae Harman, and Gilbert Kalish.

Silver is Professor Emeritas of Music at Stony Brook University.  Her teachers have included Arthur Berger, Harold Shapero, Erhard Karkoschka, and Gyorgy Ligeti. Her music is published by Lauren Keiser Music, Studio 4 Productions, and Argenta Music and is recorded on various labels.  She was born and raised in Seattle, Washington and began studying piano at the age of 5.  Sheila and her husband, film-maker John Feldman, make their home in the mid-Hudson Valley, New York.  Their son, Victor, is a senior at Brandeis University.

“Sheila Silver is a creative dynamo. Her music is vital, with a conviction that obliterates fashion and speaks its own language.”
The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

The Thief of Love “Music of great beauty” (read more)Howard Smith, Music and Vision

Midnight Prayer, Rochester Philharmonic performance review: “An important and substantial piece… Silver describes her work as a “prayer for world peace,” but it is no quiet, passive meditation. Rather, it is a remarkable 12 minute tone poem that conveys a sense of urgency through its ingenious use of harmonic tension and orchestral color.”
John Pitcher, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester

(Review of Naxos CD, Piano Concerto and Piano Preludes) “There will always be lots of promising careers of young musicians. Many end up, after brilliant educations, in oblivion. Some, with enormous energy, gain acceptance into the ranks of the establishment; but only a few of them in any generation will enliven the art form with their musical language and herald new directions in music. Sheila Silver is such a visionary.”
Wetterauer Zeitung,Germany

To the Spirit Unconquered proved to be a stunning modern masterpiece, a work of profound musical and emotional depth…. It is one of those rare compositions that grabs you emotionally and will not let go. Silver’s manipulation of her musical material is masterful.”
Journal American, Bellevue/Seattle, Washington

“Silver speaks a musical language of her own, one rich in sonority, lyrical intensity and poetic feeling.”  John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

(The Thief of Love)“Standing ovations confirmed that the full-house audience had been thoroughly won over by the opera, which is set in a mythical kingdom in ancient India.”
India Abroad, International Weekly Newspaper

(The Thief of Love)“a beautifully shot film… The drama moves along convincingly, never bogging down or getting sidetracked on tangents. And there is genuine good humor in it, a rarity in contemporary opera…The performers, from the principal cast through the chorus and orchestra, give their all. Gwendolyn Hillman, as Vidya, sings with warmth, strength and gracefulness. Hers is a voice that truly matters, and one that deserves international attention. James Brown is very well suited to the role of the youthful, charming Sundar…Among the secondary cast, Michael Douglas Jones (Vidya’s father) and Manami Hattori (Hira) are particularly praiseworthy. David Lawton directs a taut, dynamic interpretation of the score and the Stony Brook Orchestra plays as finely as many more well-known orchestras.
Opera News

(The Thief of Love) “Not only is the story entertaining, but so is the score. This is Silver’s first opera, but she knows what a good opera needs: melody. And she offers it in abundance. It all sounds quite fresh and appealing.” (read more)
American Record Guide

Sheila Silver’s Ek Ong Kar had singular originality and verve. Based on an Indian Sikh mantra, this was the most consistently inventive work of the evening.
Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice

(Piano Concerto) The audience liked what it heard, calling composer, soloist and conductor back for several bows…. This is a modern work, but is not extremely dissonant. It is, however, almost savage at times, reminding one of Prokofiev gone wild. Lovely, lyric moments are offset by stormy passages that utilize the entire orchestra.. …chances are it could enter the standard repertory and stay there for a long time.”
Richmond Times Dispatch

Paley played like a man possessed…..there were shouts and cheers from the audience…. .
New York Times

“Her style is clear, accessible and non-tonal. And she knows how to write a great tune…..From Darkness Emerging is a fine piece by a master composer. It should be heard often.”
Susan Larsen, Boston Globe

“The work is a major contribution to chamber music, not only because of its unusual scoring but more importantly because of the music itself… In fact, the notes and phrases that comprise From Darkness Emerging are compelling: often intense, often lyrical in a dreamy kind of way, but always full of genuine inspiration.”
R. M. Campbell, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The middle movement (of From Darkness Emerging) was pure enchantment, with little strands of music spinning off from the main body of sound like so many horses on a wayward carousel.”
Washington Post

“Most important, “Spirit” is accessible unlike much modern music. There’s a rhyme and reason to it, a sense of direction. ….To say the least, “Spirit” is poignant, to say the most, remarkable.”
Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg

“….it (Sonata for Cello and Piano) is certainly one of the most immediately attractive string works I have heard from the second half of this century.”
David Denton, The Strad

“Sheila Silver offers in “The Song of Sarah” a remarkably evocative score based on the Bible…. It really touches both the mind and the heart.”
Robert Marsh, Chicago Sun Times

(Shirat Sara)“Silver’s ability to construct an argument sui generis impresses me the most. I’ve listened to this work a lot in the past month, and I discover something new each time. I don’t pretend to have its measure yet, although it’s not a matter of understanding the language so much as it is perceiving relationships among movements. I have no idea how to tell a masterpiece with any reliability, but Silver’s score at least makes me ask the question: if not, why not. I haven’t yet found an answer, a good sign.”   Stephen Schwarz, Classical CD Review

Sheila Silver’s Canto matches Pound’s text with music of a comparably audacious directness, simplicity, and specificity and therefore boldly occupies a psycho-spiritual region that few other composers have cared to approach; it is a beautiful work.”

Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

“The message of Sappho in Sheila Silver’s Chariessa is submerged in an expressionistic atmosphere of struggle and tenderness. …The incandescent chromaticism of the score by Silver is contained and controlled within highly calculated limits and sustained through a highly expert instrumentation. We would like to hear more of this musician.”
La Repubblica, Rome

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