Recently called “a giant of the American music scene” by Gramophone Magazine, George Tsontakis has been the recipient of two of the richest prizes awarded in all of classical music: the International Grawemeyer Award in 2005 and the Ives Living from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2007. He studied with Roger Sessions at Juilliard and in Rome with Franco Donatoni. Born in Astoria, New York into Cretan heritage, he has become a recognized figure in Greece with performances worldwide each season. Most of his music has been recorded by Hyperion, Koch, INNOVA, and NAXOS, including 15 works for orchestra -- over five hours of orchestral music, leading to two Grammy Nominations for Best Classical Composition.
He served as a composer in residence with the Aspen Music Festival for 40 years, where he was founding director of the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble; the Oxford (England) Philomusica; the Albany Symphony; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, among others. He is Distinguished Composer in Residence at the Bard College Conservatory.
Tsontakis' most recent premieres include an English Horn Concerto for the Boston Symphony, his Third Violin Concerto for the Dallas Symphony, a Requiem for the Albany Symphony, a work for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and his The Air of Greece, an opera-drama on Lord Byron, commissioned and premiered by the Greek National Opera in December 2021. NAXOS’ release of three of his concertos with the Albany Symphony was heralded as one of NPR’s “Top Ten Classical Recordings of 2017” and of the NAXOS CD with his “Sonnets” by the Boston Symphony, BBC Magazine declared that the Tsontakis work was “the sparklingly expressive jewel in this crown.” He lives in New York States’s Catskill Mountains.
Celebrated as an “...eloquent, poetic voice in contemporary music...” (American Record Guide), Melinda Wagner’s esteemed catalog of works embodies music of exceptional beauty, power, and intelligence. Wagner received widespread attention when her colorful Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Since then, major works have included Concerto for Trombone, for Joseph Alessi and the New York Philharmonic, a piano concerto, Extremity of Sky, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony for Emanuel Ax, and Little Moonhead, composed for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, as part of its popular “New Brandenburgs” project.
Noted for its “...prismatic colors and...lithe sense of mystery...” (Washington Post), Extremity of Sky has been performed by Emanuel Ax with the National Symphony (on tour), the Toronto and Kansas City Symphonies, and the Staatskapelle Berlin.
Championed early on by Daniel Barenboim, Wagner has received three commissions from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO); the most recent of these, Proceed, Moon, was premiered by the CSO under the baton of Susanna Mälkki in 2017. Other recent performances have come from the American Composers Orchestra, the United States Marine Band, BMOP, the American Brass Quintet, the Empyrean Ensemble, and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.
Among honors Wagner has received is a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and ASCAP. Wagner was given an honorary doctorate from Hamilton College, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2017.
A passionate and inspiring teacher, Melinda Wagner has given master classes at many fine institutions across the United States, including Harvard, Yale, Eastman, Juilliard, and UC Davis. She has held faculty positions at Brandeis University and Smith College and has served as a mentor at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Wellesley Composers Conference, and Yellow Barn. Wagner currently serves on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music.
The New York City-based Momenta Quartet has premiered over 200 works, collaborated with over 250 living composers, and was praised by The New York Times for its “diligence, curiosity and excellence.” In the words of The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “few American players assume Haydn’s idiom with such ease.”
Momenta’s educational-performing circuit includes Binghamton, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Hawaii Pacific, Michigan State, New York, Temple, Tufts, Washington, and Yeshiva Universities; Bard, Barnard, Bates, Haverford, Hunter, Ithaca, Lehman, and Williams Colleges; and Boston, Cincinnati, Eastman, and Mannes conservatories. Momenta has received two Koussevitzky Foundation commission grants, for Malaysian composer Kee Yong Chong in 2009 and for Bolivian composer Agustín Fernández in 2011; a Barlow Foundation commission for Claude Baker in 2016; a Jerome Foundation grant to commission Eric Nathan in 2013; and a Chamber Music America commission for Alvin Singleton, whose resulting work Hallelujah Anyhow (2019) is featured prominently in Momenta’s repertoire. Deeply committed to the musical avant-garde of the developing world, Momenta has premiered and championed the works of Tony Prabowo (Indonesia), Cergio Prudencio (Bolivia), and Hana Ajiashvili (Georgia); has collaborated with numerous gamelan ensembles; and in 2018, was brought by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy La Paz to Cochabamba, Bolivia for new-music concerts and a teaching-performing residency at the Instituto Laredo.
Momenta has appeared at such prestigious venues as the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery, Rubin Museum, Miller Theatre at Columbia University, the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Chamber Music Cincinnati, and the Louisville and Philadelphia Chamber Music Societies. Festival credits include the renowned Cervantino Festival in Mexico; MATA; Music from Japan; Ostrava Days in the Czech Republic; RED NOTE New Music Festival; the Smithsonian’s “Performing Indonesia”; the Yellow Barn Artist Residency; and since 2015, the quartet’s own annual member-curated Momenta Festival in New York City, featuring world premieres and samplings from Momenta's unique personal repertoire.
Highlights of the 2021-22 season included residencies at Binghamton University and Bates College; masterclasses and concerts at Haverford and Williams Colleges; outreach as a resident ensemble with the Memphis-based IRIS Orchestra; appearances on the Princeton Symphony Chamber Series and the Music From Japan festival; and “Concourse Counterpoint,” a community series at the South Bronx’s historic Andrew Freedman Home, curated by Momenta violist Stephanie Griffin. The quartet also continued its collaboration with Mexican actor/director Fernando Villa Proal on “The Lost String Quartet,” a theatrical string quartet for children with an original score by Stephanie Griffin.
Momenta has recorded for the Albany, Bridge, Centaur, Furious Artisans, Innova, Navona, New Focus, New World, and PARMA labels; and has been broadcast on WQXR, Q2 Music, Austria’s Oe1, and Vermont Public Radio. The quartet’s debut album Similar Motion, featuring visionary works by Debussy, Philip Glass, and Arthur Kampela is available on Albany Records. Upcoming recording adventures include a project to perform and record all 13 string quartets by Mexican microtonal maverick Julián Carrillo (1875-1965) and an American album featuring diverse works by Elizabeth Brown, Jason Hwang, Shawn Jaeger, Yusef Lateef, and Roberto Sierra. In 2022, New World Records will release Momenta’s album Hallelujah Anyhow, the premiere recording of Alvin Singleton’s complete string quartets.
Utari’s passion for Japanese percussion music has led them to tour internationally for the past 10 years. Following the path of their mother Mutsuko Fujii, noted marimbist of Japan, they have been introducing Japanese percussion works at major venues in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, and Taiwan. Recent appearances include a New York recital at Lincoln Center, a concert at Koerner Hall in Toronto, and showcase performances at the international PASIC percussion convention.
Utari’s mission is to introduce audiences to master works which are not known outside of Japan, many of which are written for and dedicated to Mutsuko Fujii by luminary composers Maki Ishii, Akira Miyoshi, Isao Matsushita, and Akira Nishimura. In addition to music from Japan’s “golden age” of modern music, Utari actively works with and performs music by young composers who are defining the sound of the current generation.
Haruka Fujii has won international acclaim as a solo percussionist for her interpretations of contemporary music, having performed premieres of works from composers including Tan Dun, Nico Muhly, Joji Yuasa, and Maki Ishii. She has appeared in major venues across the world as a soloist, as well as chamber musician with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, New York based quartet Line C3 Percussion Group, and The Fujii Trio. She also enjoys teaching as a frequent guest instructor at Juilliard Summer Percussion Seminar and several international percussion festivals.
Rika Fujii is an active percussionist based in Tokyo, Japan. She performs frequently in theatrical and orchestral settings as well as in traditional Japanese taiko drumming concerts. She has performed internationally, including appearances at Carnegie Hall in New York, New Zealand International Arts Festival, and the Japanese Consulate in Geneva, Switzerland. Ms. Fujii is a faculty member of the Toho Gakuen School of Music and the Saitama High School of Music.