Tobias Picker

Tobias Picker

Born: July 18th, 1954
Country of origin: United States of America


Concerto for Orchestra
Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach
March 10th, 2016 | The Kennedy Center, Concert Hall - Washington, DC - United States of America

Concerto for Orchestra
Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach
March 12th, 2016 | The Kennedy Center, Concert Hall - Washington, DC - United States of America


American composer Tobias Picker (b. New York City, 1954), who is celebrating his 60th birthday season, has been called “our finest composer for the lyric stage” by The Wall Street Journal. Described as "displaying a distinctively soulful style that is one of the glories of the current musical scene" by BBC Music Magazine and “a genuine creator with a fertile unforced vein of invention” by The New Yorker, he has composed numerous works in every genre including five operas.

Picker’s first four operas are receiving new productions between July 2014 and June 2015. The 2014-15 season marks Picker’s first full season as Artistic Director of Opera San Antonio during its inaugural year as resident opera company of the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and he is currently composing an orchestral work for the National Symphony Orchestra, to be given its world premiere performance led by Christoph Eschenbach during the 2015-16 season.

The Santa Fe Opera gave the world premiere of Picker’s internationally acclaimed first opera Emmeline in 1996. It was subsequently broadcast nationally on PBS “Great Performances” series. Its premiere at New York City Opera firmly established Picker as an opera composer to be reckoned with. Emmeline will be seen in a major new production in 2015 by Opera Theater St. Louis.

Picker’s second opera, based on Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Opera in a production starring Gerald Finley, established Picker as a composer whose appeal crosses all boundaries of age. Fantastic Mr. Fox recently completed a sold-out, three-year run at London’s Opera Holland Park, and the English Touring Opera toured the work extensively in England, Whales, Ireland and Scotland. OPERA San Antonio presented a new production of Fantastic Mr. Fox, created especially for the inaugural season of the Tobin Center, in September 2014. The Opera News review said, “Picker’s spritzy score has one foot in Stravinsky’s neoclassicism and the other gallivanting all over the map. … It’s all unified by a consistent way of handling complex textures, by a penchant for ensemble singing and by an astute theatricality.”

A consortium of The Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, and Opéra de Montréal commissioned Picker’s third opera, Thérèse Raquin, which was staged by Francesca Zambello. Thérèse Raquin was subsequently given its London premiere at Covent Garden ROH2. The 2015 season will see new productions of Thérèse Raquin in its LA and Chicago premieres at the cutting-edge Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater.

The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Picker’s fourth opera, An American Tragedy, based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser (which also inspired the film A Place in the Sun). 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 the cast. Directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by James Conlon, the opera was only the fourth world premiere at the Met in 37 years. This past August, a new production of An American Tragedy in honor of the composer’s 60th birthday, completed a nearly sold-out run of nine performances at the 2014 Glimmerglass Festival.

Picker’s fifth opera, Dolores Claiborne, based on the Stephen King novel, starred Patricia Racette and Elizabeth Futral at its world premiere presented by San Francisco Opera in September 2013.

Picker’s symphonic music, including his famous tone poem Old and Lost Rivers, composed while he was composer-in-residence at the Houston Symphony, has been commissioned and performed by major orchestras around the world such as the BBC Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, L’Orchestre de Paris, Munich Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Vienna RSO, and Zurich Tonhalle.

The composer’s second piano concerto, Keys to the City, commissioned by the City of New York on the occasion of the centenary of the Brooklyn Bridge, was premiered and recorded with Picker as soloist with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in 1983. Called “a vivid musical portrait of New York - eighteen minutes of irrepressible energy and a cosmopolitan eclecticism” by The New York Times, Keys to the City was recently recorded by Jeremy Denk.

The Encantadas (for actor and orchestra) features texts drawn from Herman Melville’s poetic descriptions of the Galapagos Islands and was recorded by the Houston Symphony with Sir John Gielgud; it has been performed throughout the world in seven languages. In addition to his five operas, Picker’s catalogue includes four symphonies, four piano concertos, concertos for violin, viola, cello and oboe, song cycles, string quartets, and chamber music. His ballet Awakenings, based on the themes and case studies in the novel of the same name by neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, was commissioned by the Rambert Dance Company, which toured the work throughout the UK in 2011, performing it 80 times.

His extensive discography has been recorded on such labels as Nonesuch, Sony Classics, Virgin Classics, Chandos, Ondine, and Albany Records. Most recently, Wergo and Tzadik have devoted entire CDs to Picker’s chamber music spanning the years 1976 to 2011, such as the album titled Invisible Lilacs and released by Tzadik in March 2014.

Mr. Picker was born in Manhattan and accepted to the Juilliard Preparatory Division at age 11 for studies in piano and theory. He received a bachelor’s degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music and a master’s degree in music from The Juilliard School, after which he was invited to attend Princeton University for a Master of Fine Arts degree and further graduate studies in composition with Milton Babbitt. His other principal teachers have included Charles Wuorinen and Elliott Carter. Mr. Picker wrote his Violin Concerto, his first major commissioned work, in 1981, which was premiered and recorded by the American Composers Orchestra. By the age of thirty, Mr. Picker was the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Bearns Prize (Columbia University), a Charles Ives Scholarship, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Mr. Picker served as the first composer-in-residence of the Houston Symphony from 1985-90, and has served as composer-in-residence for such major international festivals as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Pacific Music Festival. He received the prestigious Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1992 and was elected to lifetime membership in the Academy in 2012. His music is published by Schott Helicon Music Corporation.

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