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.