Recently awarded the Heinz Medal in the Humanities, Mason Bates writes music that fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, the harmonies of jazz and the rhythms of techno. Frequently performed by orchestras large and small, his symphonic music has been the first to receive widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds.
Along with Anna Clyne, Bates was appointed by Music Director Riccardo Muti as one of Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composers-in-Residence beginning in the 2010/11 season for a term of two years. Muti then extended both Bates’s and Clyne’s terms through the 2014/15 season.
Bringing classical music to new audiences is a central part of Bates’s activities as a curator. With his fellow Mead Composer-in-Residence Anna Clyne, he has transformed the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series into an imaginative concert experience drawing huge crowds, with cinematic program notes and immersive stagecraft. Another new take on new music is Mercury Soul, which embeds sets of classical music into a fluid evening of DJing and immersive stagecraft. Sold-out performances from San Francisco’s famed Mezzanine club to Miami’s New World Symphony have brought a new vision of the listening experience to widespread audiences. A collaboration with director Anne Paterson and Maestro Benjamin Shwartz, it has been performed at Chicago’s Metro with members of the CSO, as well as in spaces from commercial clubs to Frank Gehry-designed concert halls.
During the 2013/14 season, the San Francisco Symphony continues its exploration of Bates’s music with its Beethoven & Bates Festival. Each of his three largest works—Alternative Energy, Liquid Interface and The B-Sides—will be paired with a piece by Beethoven, and all three works will be recorded and released in 2014.
Carnegie Hall’s 2012/13 season opened with Riccardo Muti leading the CSO in Alternative Energy, an “energy symphony” that spans four movements and depicts hundreds of years in the history of industrial development. Premiered by the CSO in February 2012 to rave reviews, the work subsequently toured California with Muti and the CSO; it received its Canadian premiere in February by the Toronto Symphony. In December 2013, a new piece by Bates will have its world premiere on the CSO’s MusicNOW series, which will mark the third world-premiere, MusicNOW-commissioned piece by Bates on the series since he became composer-in-residence. A new violin concerto for Anne Akiko Meyers and the Pittsburgh Symphony premiered in December 2012 under the baton of Leonard Slatkin and will have its first CSO performance in April 2014.
Performances of his works, both old and new, can be heard across the country. Alternative Energy is appearing on programs ranging from the Cabrillo Festival to the Hartford and Tucson Symphonies. His fast-paced opener Mothership, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House by the YouTube Symphony to an online audience of 1.8 million, can be heard in many around the country each season.
Continuing performances of works such as Rusty Air in Carolina, an electro-acoustic tone poem about the ambience of the South, and the sinfonietta Omnivorous Furniture have demonstrated that electronic sounds can be a welcome addition to the orchestral palette with minimal logistics. While Bates often performs the electronica onstage with orchestras, dozens of repeat performances of his symphonic music happen without him.
Many purely acoustic works complement his diverse catalogue, such as Sirens, an a cappella work recently recorded by the superstar chorus Chanticleer. The solo piano work White Lies for Lomax, commissioned by Tanglewood Music Center, won the Van Cliburn Composers Invitational and is heard regularly on recitals. A great deal of his music has been performed by the musicians of Young Concert Artists, the acclaimed New York organization where he served as composer-in-residence.
Raised in Virginia, where he studied piano with Hope Armstrong Erb and composition with Dika Newlin, Bates enrolled in the Columbia-Juilliard program in New York City. Earning degrees in music composition and English literature, he studied primarily with John Corigliano and also with David Del Tredici and Samuel Adler. He worked with Edmund Campion at the University of California, Berkeley, where the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies became an important influence on his approach to electro-acoustic composition. Awards include the Rome and Berlin Prizes, a Charles Ives scholarship and fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Jacob Druckman Memorial Prize from Aspen Music Festival, ASCAP and BMI awards, and fellowships from Tanglewood, Creative Capital and the Guggenheim Foundation.
For more information about Mason Bates, visit masonbates.com.