Columbians Ahead of Their Time

"I find the best art coming out of HBO…No matter what it's doing, whether it's comic or horror, it knows it must reach an audience."

John Corigliano (1938– )
Columbia College 1959

One of contemporary music's most distinguished composers, John Corigliano has infused classical music with new life by engaging an unusually broad audience. The only person to have won two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, he has also received three other Grammy Awards, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Symphony No. 2, the 2000 Academy Award for his score for The Red Violin (his third film score), and the 1991 Grawemeyer Award for Best New Orchestral Composition, for his Symphony No. 1 (inspired by the deaths of friends from AIDS). Decrying elitism in his field, Corigliano has suggested that today's greatest art is found on television and describes classical music as "an art form that's dying in front of our eyes" because, too often inaccessible to the general public, it "has ceased to have an active contemporary life." To combat this trend, he uses imaginative techniques to make an emotional connection with his audience. Corigliano's 2004 Circus Maximus wind symphony was composed to be performed with the audience surrounded by the musicians, and in his piece entitled "Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan," he arranged Dylan songs in an order that told the story of an individual's journey from innocence to political activism and set the lyrics to new music sung by soprano Sylvia McNair.

Raised in Brooklyn by a pianist mother and a father who was first violinist and concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Corigliano taught himself orchestration as a high school student by listening to recordings while following the scores. His formal composition education began at Columbia College, where he studied with accomplished composer and opera conductor Otto Leuning, graduating with honors. In 2002 Corigliano addressed students on campus, reminiscing and sharing professional insights. When he was honored by the College with a John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement in 2003, he said of his own undergraduate days that he felt encouraged to become a composer because Columbia did not espouse the "fundamentalist 'there is only one way' kind of composing." Having served as composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Corigliano is a Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College and began teaching composition at the Julliard School of Music in 1991.

Read more about Corigliano in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Columbia College Today profiled Corigliano in 2003.

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