Lisa Bielawa, composer & vocalist

"a dynamic and innovative composer" - The Boston Globe

"the formal sophistication and lyrical richness of Bielawa’s music go deep" - The New Yorker

"prodigious gift for mingling persuasive melodicism with organic experimentation" - Time Out New York

"one of the most brilliant and unforgettable new scores I’ve heard in years" - San Francisco Chronicle

Composer, producer, and vocalist Lisa Bielawa (b. 1968) is a Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition. She takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Gramophone reports, “Bielawa is gaining gale force as a composer, churning out impeccably groomed works that at once evoke the layered precision of Vermeer and the conscious recklessness of Jackson Pollock.” Her music has been described as “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart,” by The New York Times, and “fluid and arresting ... at once dramatic and probing,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and a 2020 OPERA America Grant for Female Composers. She was named a William Randolph Hearst Visiting Artist Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society for 2018 and was Artist-in-Residence at Kaufman Music Center in New York for the 2020-2021 season.

Bielawa has established herself as one of today’s leading composers and performers, who consistently executes work that incorporates community-making as part of her artistic vision. She has created music for public spaces in Lower Manhattan, the banks of the Tiber River in Rome, on the sites of former airfields in Berlin in San Francisco, and to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; she was a co-founder in 1997 of the MATA Festival which continues to support young composers; and for five years she was the artistic director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, bringing the chorus to the NY PHIL BIENNIAL and introducing the young performers to the music of today through numerous premieres and commissions of leading composers. From 2019-2022, Bielawa was the founding Composer-in-Residence and Chief Curator at the Philip Glass Institute (PGI) at The New School’s College of the Performing Arts. 

Lisa Bielawa received a 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy nomination for her unprecedented, made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser, created with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. Vireo was filmed in twelve parts at locations across the country and features over 350 musicians. The Los Angeles Times called Vireo an opera “unlike any you have seen before, in content and in form.” Vireo was produced as part of Bielawa’s artist residency at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California and in partnership with KCETLink and Single Cel. In February 2019, Vireo was released as a two CD + DVD box set on Orange Mountain Music.

Recent concert highlights for Bielawa include the New York premiere of her violin concerto Sanctuary at Carnegie Hall by Jennifer Koh and the American Composers Orchestra (ACO), conducted by Marin Alsop. Sanctuary was co-commissioned by the Orlando Philharmonic (which premiered the piece), Carnegie Hall, ACO, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP). The piece is inspired by the layered meanings of the word ’sanctuary’ within American consciousness, and is the culmination of a large-scale research project Bielawa undertook during her fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. Other highlights include the world premiere of Voters’ Litany, a commission from the Cathedral Choral Society that marked the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which was premiered at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC; and Land Sea Sky, a commission from the Radcliffe Choral Society (RCS) premiered by RCS with members of BMOP. Bielawa describes Land Sea Sky as, “a joyful retelling of three young women's stories of journeying.” The work is a response to young people facing a pandemic-interrupted education and an uncertain path forward. 

Bielawa’s music has been premiered at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, SHIFT Festival, Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, National Cathedral, Rouen Opera, MAXXI Museum in Rome, and Helsinki Music Center,  among others. Orchestras that have championed her music include The Knights, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and the Orlando Philharmonic. Premieres of her work have been commissioned and presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Rider, Seattle Chamber Music Society, Radio France, and more.  She is recorded on the Tzadik, TROY, Innova, BMOP/ sound, Orange Mountain Music, Supertrain Records, Cedille, and Sono Luminus labels. 

Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Lisa Bielawa played the violin and piano, sang, and wrote music from early childhood. She moved to New York two weeks after receiving her B.A. in Literature in 1990 from Yale University, and became an active participant in New York musical life.

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