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Tobias Picker


Tobias Picker (b. New York City, 1954), called “our finest composer for the lyric stage” by The Wall Street Journal, is a composer of numerous works in every genre drawing performances by the world’s leading musicians, orchestras and opera houses. Picker began composing at the age of eight and studied at the Manhattan School of Music, The Juilliard School and Princeton University where his principal teachers were Charles Wuorinen, Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt. His first commissions occurred while still in his late teens and he quickly became established as one of America's most sought after young composers.

By the age of thirty, Picker was the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Bearns Prize (Columbia University), a Charles Ives Scholarship, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. In 1992, he received the prestigious Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. From 1985-90, Picker was the first Composer-in-Residence of the Houston Symphony. He has also served as Composer-in-Residence for such major international festivals as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Pacific Music Festival.

The Santa Fe Opera gave the world premiere of Picker’s widely acclaimed first opera in 1996, Emmeline, which was subsequently broadcast nationally on public television’s Great Performances series. The opera played to sold-out houses, standing ovations and international critical acclaim, and the opera’s premiere at New York City Opera was hailed by The New York Times as one of the ten most significant musical events of 1998. His operatic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Opera, established Picker as a composer whose appeal crosses all boundaries of age. Picker’s third opera Thérèse Raquin was commissioned by a consortium of companies including The Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, and Opéra de Montréal. The success of these first productions brought Picker a new commission from Opera Theatre Europe for a reduced version of Thérèse Raquin, which premiered in March 2006 at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and received its US premiere at Dicapo Opera Theatre in New York City one year later.

The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Picker’s fourth opera An American Tragedy, based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser and adapted for film as An American Tragedy in 1931, and later into the famed A Place in the Sun of 1951. The world premiere of the opera took place at the Met in December 2005, featuring Patricia Racette, Nathan Gunn, Susan Graham, and Dolora Zajick in principal roles. The production was directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by James Conlon.

Picker’s symphonic music, including the well-known tone poem Old and Lost Rivers, has been performed by major orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, The Munich Philharmonic, Zurich Tonhalle, and the Vienna RSO. His piano concerto Keys to the City (commissioned by the City of New York on the occasion of the centenary of the Brooklyn Bridge) is a perennial favorite, called “a vivid musical portrait of New York” by the New York Times and recorded on Chandos with his Cello Concerto and the orchestral work And Suddenly It’s Evening. Following this Chandos release, BBC Music Magazine wrote about the recording, “Picker’s recent music displays a distinctly soulful style that is one of the glories of the current musical scene.”

The Encantadas (for actor and orchestra) features texts drawn from Herman Melville’s poetic descriptions of the Galapagos Islands and was recorded on Virgin Classics by the Houston Symphony with Sir John Gielgud; it has been performed throughout the world in seven languages. Other key works include Tres sonetos de amor, settings of Neruda love poems in versions for baritone and orchestra and voice and piano, and The Blue Hula, a work for chamber ensemble. Picker’s complete catalogue includes three symphonies, four piano concertos, concertos for violin, viola, cello and oboe, numerous songs, string quartets, and chamber music for various combinations of instruments. 

In 2003, Chandos Records released a disc including his Cello ConcertoKeys to the City, and And Suddenly It's Evening. The world premiere recording of Thérèse Raquin is also available on Chandos. Additional recordings of the composer’s music are available on Sony Classics, Virgin, Nonesuch, Ondine, and First Edition, among others. In the fall of 2008, Wergo Records released Tobias Picker - Keys to the City, a complete collection of his solo piano music performed by Ursula Oppens.

In January of 2009, the American String Quartet premiered Picker’s String Quartet No.2, the composer’s second quartet in 20 years, at New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall. Picker completed his first ballet, Awakenings, inspired by the novel by Dr. Oliver Sacks and commissioned by the Rambert Dance Company, in 2010 and the piece was premiered by Rambert in Salford, UK in September, 2010. Rambert toured the work around the UK with over 50 performances in the 2010/11 season. Picker's Fantastic Mr. Fox has enjoyed recent successful runs at London's Opera Holland Park (Summer 2010 and 2011) in its chamber ensemble version, and with the English Touring Opera (winter/spring 2011) in its chamber orchestration. The Microscopic Opera Company also produced the ensemble version in September, 2011. Picker's fifth opera, Dolores Claiborne, received its world premiere by the San Francisco Opera in September of 2013, directed by James Robinson and conducted by George Manahan. Tobias Picker is currently the Artistic Director of The Opera San Antonio at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. His music is published exclusively by Schott Helicon Music Corporation.