Laura Schwendinger

The first composer to win the American Academy in Berlin Prize, Laura Schwendinger, Professor of Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Director of the Contemporary Ensemble there, was born in Mexico City. Her music has been performed by leading artists or our day, including Dawn Upshaw (Tour 1997-2013; Voices of Our Time, a TDK/Naxos DVD), the Arditti and JACK quartets, Janine Jansen, Jennifer Koh, Matt Haimovitz, Christina Jennings, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Eighth Blackbird, the New Juilliard Ensemble, Collage New Music, the StonyBrook Premiere Series, Boston Musica Viva, the Aspen Ensemble, Voices of Change, Dinosaur Annex, the Trinity Choir and American Composers Orchestra and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra of Hungary.

Venues include the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, Times Center New York, Symphony Space, BargeMusic, the National Arts Centre of Canada, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in NY, the Theatre du Chatalet in Paris, the Tanglewood, Aspen, Bennington and Ojai Music Festivals. Her honors include those from the Guggenheim, Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies at Harvard University, Copland House, Harvard Musical Association, Chamber Music America, the MacDowell and Yaddo colonies, and Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (a Leiberson Fellowship given to “mid-career composer of exceptional gifts” and Charles Ives Scholarship) and first-prize of the 1995 ALEA III Competition, the first American to win in over a decade. In addition to the American Academy in Berlin, her artistic residencies include those at the MacDowell (8), Yaddo (6) and VCCA, she also has held numerous residencies internationally, in Salzburg and Mittersill Austria and Schwandorf, Bavaria, and at the American Academy in Rome, Tyrone Guthrie Center Ireland, and the Bogliasco Foundation in Liguria Italy.

Other notable premieres and performances include a Miller Theater “Pocket Concerto” commission for ICE and Jennifer Koh (Schwendinger was commissioned alongside such composers as Sebastian Currier, John Zorn, and Charles Wuorinen), an American Composers Orchestra UnSafe Commission (3/11)(Alongside Henry Threadgill, and Joan La Barbara), Footfalls for Sounding Beckett (9/12)(with Chester Biscardi, Laura Kaminsky and John Halle) performed by the Cygnus ensemble and premiered “off Broadway” at the Classic Stage Company. Her High Wire Act, commissioned by BrightMusic, received a standing ovation at its premiere has been performed by dozens of groups across the country (including Eighth Blackbird, Left Coast Ensemble, Voices of Change, and the Aspen Ensemble), is featured on High Wire Acts from Centaur Records. Barnaby Rayfield wrote in Fanfare review of the disc, “it is her unusual pairing of instruments that intrigues… Poise, structure, lyricism. This new disc echoes the fine qualities of her 3 Works for Solo Instruments and orchestra…Nonet is riot of colorful trills, with Schwendinger’s demonstrating a wonderful ear for clarity of texture and balance. The second movement (suitably tagged Tenderly) is an assured and poised work of beauty and color that really ought to be better known.”

Her works have been widely reviewed in the nation’s leading papers. C’e la Luna Questa Sera? for piano trio, recorded by the Lincoln Trio for Cedille’s Notable Women (a “hidden gem” in UK Guardian), received great critical praise, in addition to winning a Grammy for its producer Judith Sherman. William Zagorski (in Fanfare) wrote of it “it evokes a sense of serene mystery and infinite beauty.” John Van Rhein wrote of Eighth Blackbird’s performance of High Wire Act (Chicago Tribune) “it evinced an acute sonic imagination and sure command of craft.” Of her Song for Andrew Anthony Tommasini wrote (NY Times) “The piece is darkly attractive, artful and moving…” and of her Fable, Richard Buell (Boston Globe) wrote in his review “This was shrewd composing, the genuine article. Onto the ”season’s best” list it goes.” Two acclaimed CDs of her work were released just this last year on Centaur and Albany records; High Wire Acts (Centaur), and 3 Works for Solo Instruments and Orchestra featuring Matt Haimovitz, Curtis Macomber and Christina Jennings. Barnaby Rayfield wrote in his review of 3 Works for Solo Instruments and Orchestra in Fanfare Magazine, “You know you have talent to burn, when you intend just to major in the flute, but instead (out of the blue) John Adams recommends you also go into composition, just on the strength of a few submitted works.”…”This is ballsy, confident music-making in both writing and execution and proves that serious contemporary music does not have to dumb down to be immediately accessible and emotional. Highly recommended.’ Art Lange wrote in his Fanfare review of 3 Works for Solo Instruments and Orchestra “..her music has at its core her own impressive point of view…its material is tightly wound and full of surprising shifts and contrasts…I was especially drawn to the violin concerto, —Schwendinger isn’t afraid to stretch her muscles—that allow the violin to bristle and wax rhapsodic (and, occasionally, wistful), responding to the fanciful, emphatic orchestral provocation. In these works, Schwendinger displays an acute ear for engaging melodic contours and evocative settings. “And Lynn Bayley wrote in her Fanfare review”…There is an exquisite slow section in the middle of the movement before it ends, emphatically, with guillotine-like chopped chords in the orchestra, that force the work towards its conclusion. Moreover, Schwendinger manages to sustain the drama even in the quietest passages, even when the orchestra drops to a near-whisper. It is tremendously effective writing.” And of her High Wire Acts, Bayley writes “not a single moment in her works sounds contrived, formulaic, or artificial. It is all very intensely and strongly “alive” … Note follows note and phrase follows phrase in a remarkable journey of exploration that includes a great deal of risk-taking… This is an absolutely remarkable disc.”

Recent and upcoming performances include her Chamber Music America Commission Arc of Fire, premiered by the Lincoln Trio on WFMT’s syndicated radio show Relevant Tones (4/14) and at New Music in Bryant Park, New York (8/14), as well as being featured in a WFMT radio documentary this coming Fall, About a Mountain sung by Patricia Green in Canada, and her second String Quartet, Creature Quartet for the which will be released on Albany records this coming year, and will be premiered by the JACK Quartet as part of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s 95th concert series (5/8/2015).

Schwendinger is a dedicated teacher and is in high demand for masterclasses and festivals, including being on faculty at New Music (2012) on the Point, the Bennington Chamber Music Festival (2014), and presenting at Harvard University, Yale University, and Northwestern University, as well as the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, Davis, and Los Angeles, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Ireland’s foremost music education institution, amongst many others. Her students have included Gabriela Frank, Alex Nohai-Seaman, Cole Thomason-Redus, Yi Cheng Lin, Thomas Lang and many others who have gone on to promising careers as composers and teachers alike.

Laura Schwendinger
Professor of Composition, Composition Area Chair
Office: 4519 Mosse Humanities Building
Phone: (608-263-1899

Personal Website:

Studio Recordings:
Three works for solo instruments and orchestra, by Laura Schwendinger, Albany Records, 2007. Esprimere for Cello and Orchestra, Matt Haimovitz, cello, Madison Sinfonietta, Nicole Paiement, conductor. Chiaroscuro Azzurro for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, Curtis Macomber, violin, Madison Sinfonietta, Nicole Paiement, conductor. Waking Dream for Flute and Chamber Orchestra, Christina Jennings, flute, University of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor.

High Wire Acts, Centaur Records. Nonet; Rumor; Sonata for Solo Violin; Two Little Whos. Featuring Bright Music and the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Michael Mulcahy, conductor; Christina Jennings, flute; Greg Sauer, cello; Katie Wolfe, violin.

Notable Women, Cedille Records, featuring C’è la Luna Questa Sera? by Laura Schwendinger, one of six original compositions by American women. Performed by the Lincoln Trio.

Voices of Our Time, documentary DVD of French and American music, recorded by Dawn Upshaw in 2000 in the Théâtre de Châtelet in Paris. Includes “In Just-spring,” composed by Laura Schwendinger.

“Forces of Nature and Ecstasy,”  New York Times, 2012.

“Reaching the Final Turn in 3 Years of Bumpy Road,” New York Times, 2008.

“Music Surely Soothes; Can It Also Heal?” New York Times, 2010.