Jessie Montgomery, the Mead Composer-in-Residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is an acclaimed composer, violinist and educator. She is the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award from the ASCAP Foundation and the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, and her works are performed frequently around the world by leading musicians and ensembles. Her music interweaves classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, poetry and social consciousness, making her an acute interpreter of 21st-century American sound and experience. Her profoundly felt works have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (Washington Post).
She was born and grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1980s, during a time when the neighborhood was at a major turning point in its history. Artists gravitated to the hotbed of artistic experimentation and community development. Her parents — her father, a musician; her mother, a theater artist and storyteller — were engaged in the activities of the neighborhood and regularly brought their daughter to rallies, performances and parties where neighbors, activists and artists gathered to celebrate and support the movements of the time. It is from this unique experience that Montgomery has created a life that merges composing, performance, education and advocacy.
Her growing body of work includes solo, chamber, vocal and orchestral works. Some recent highlights include Shift, Change, Turn (2019), commissioned by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; Coincident Dances (2018), for the Chicago Sinfonietta; Caught by the Wind (2016) for the Albany Symphony and the American Music Festival, and Banner (2014) — written to mark the 200th anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner — for the Sphinx Organization and the Joyce Foundation.
Since 1999, she has been affiliated with the Sphinx Organization, which supports young African-American and Latino string players, and has served as composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi, the organization’s flagship professional touring ensemble. She was a two-time laureate of the annual Sphinx Competition and was awarded its highest honor, the Sphinx Medal of Excellence. She has received additional grants and awards from the ASCAP Foundation, Chamber Music America, American Composers Orchestra, the Joyce Foundation and the Sorel Organization.
The New York Philharmonic has selected Montgomery as one of the featured composers for its Project 19, which marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting equal voting rights to U.S. women. Other forthcoming works include a nonet inspired by the Great Migration, told from the perspective of Montgomery’s great-grandfather William McCauley, and to be performed by Imani Winds and the Catalyst Quartet; a cello concerto for Thomas Mesa, jointly commissioned by Carnegie Hall, New World Symphony and the Sphinx Organization; a new orchestral work for the National Symphony Orchestra; the viola concerto L.E.S. Characters for Masumi per Rostad, commissioned by the Grant Park Music Festival, City Music Cleveland, Interlochen Center for the Arts, the Orlando Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; a new arrangement of a song cycle, Five Freedom Songs, written for soprano Julia Bullock, and a site-specific collaboration with Bard SummerScape festival and Pam Tanowitz Dance, I was waiting for the echo of a better day, with choreography by Pam Tanowitz and music by Jessie Montgomery and Big Dog Little Dog.
She began her violin studies at the Third Street Music School Settlement, one of the nation’s oldest community organizations. A founding member of PUBLIQuartet and a former member of the Catalyst Quartet, she continues to maintain an active performance career as a violinist, appearing regularly with her own ensembles, as well as with the Silkroad Ensemble and Sphinx Virtuosi.
Her teachers and mentors include Sally Thomas, Ann Setzer, Alice Kanack, Joan Tower, Derek Bermel, Mark Suozzo, Ira Newborn and Laura Kaminsky. She holds degrees from the Juilliard School and New York University and is currently a graduate fellow in music composition at Princeton University. She is a professor of violin and composition at The New School. In July 2021, she began her three-year appointment as the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.