Ricky Ian Gordon
was born on May 15, 1956 in Oceanside, NY and raised on Long Island. In love with poetry and fascinated, from an early age, by all forms of Opera and Music Theater, he attended Carnegie Mellon University as a piano major, but soon realized that his true vocation was as a composer. After college he settled in New York City and quickly emerged as one of the most successful writers of a kind of vocal music that straddles the world of theater and art song.
His unusual ability to find the musical core of a poem or lyric and express that essence in an appropriate musical style, has given his songs great appeal to singers of all styles and persuasions. Mr. Gordon’s songs have been performed and or recorded by such internationally renowned singers as Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Audra MacDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Andrea Marcovici, Melanie Helton, Harolyn Blackwell, Betty Buckley, Margaret Lattimore, Stephanie Novacek and Mary Philips, among many others.
His accomplishments in musical theater are also very notable, with shows such as My Life with Albertine (recorded by PS Classics), Dream True (recorded by PS Classics), The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Only Heaven (recorded by PS Classics) and Morning Star having been successfully performed. In 2010 a new musical, Sycamore Trees, will debut with the Signature Theater, for whom it was written with the generous help of the Shen Family Foundation.
On March 13, 2001, Mr. Gordon was presented at Lincoln Center as part of the American Songbook Series in a concert devoted to his music entitled “Bright Eyed Joy: The Music of Ricky Ian Gordon.” About the music, Stephen Holden writing in The New York Times said, “If the music of Ricky Ian Gordon had to be defined by a single quality, it would be the bursting effervescence infusing songs that blithely blur the lines between art song and the high-end Broadway music of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim…It’s caviar for a world gorging on pizza.”
His OBIE Award winning, hour-long song cycle in two acts, Orpheus and Euridice, was given a very well received stage debut as part of the Lincoln Center New Visions/ American Songbook series under the auspices of the Great Performers series on October 5, 2005. It was directed and choreographed by Doug Varone and performed by Elizabeth Futral, soprano, Todd Palmer, clarinet and Melvin Chen, piano, and the Doug Varone Dancers. Writing in New York Magazine, Peter G. Davis offered this assessment: “Both Gordon’s text and music are couched in an accessible idiom of disarming lyrical directness, a cleverly disguised faux naïveté that always resolves dissonant situations with grace and a sure sense of dramatic effect – the mark of a born theater composer.” In February, 2008, Long Beach Opera presented three performances of a new version of Orpheus and Euridice that they commissioned for soprano, clarinet, piano and strings, with Mr. Palmer and Ms. Futral once again as the protagonists.
Other recent works include and flowers pick themselves…, Five Songs for High Voice and Orchestra on poems by e.e. cummings (commissioned by Michigan State University, first performed there by Melanie Helton on October 29, 2005, and available on compact disc from Blue Griffin Recordings) and The Grapes of Wrath, a full-scale opera in three acts with a libretto by Michael Korie based on John Steinbeck’s celebrated novel of the same name. The Grapes of Wrath had its hugely successful premiere at the Minnesota Opera on February 10, 2007 in a production that traveled to Utah Opera in May. Commenting in the Los Angeles Times, critic Mark Swed wrote: “…the sense of excitement was unmistakable…the greatest glory of the opera is Gordon’s ability to musically flesh out the entire 11-member Joad clan…Each has a distinct musical style. Each is sympathetic. Gordon’s other great achievement is to merge Broadway and opera…and it is greatly enhanced by his firm control over ensembles and his sheer love for the operatic voice.” The complete opera was recorded live in its remarkable world premiere production at the Minnesota Opera, and the recording is available from PS Classics.
Summer of 2008 saw the premiere of Gordon’s hour-long song cycle, Green Sneakers, for Baritone and String Quartet, at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (which commissioned it) on July 15, 2008, with Jesse Blumberg, baritone and the Miami String Quartet. This powerful piece, a setting of 14 poems by the composer, chronicles the final days of Gordon’s longtime partner, Jeffrey Grossi, who died of AIDS in 1996. In November there were four performances of the revised version of The Grapes of Wrath by the Pittsburgh Opera and in April, 2009 the Moores Opera Center of the University of Houston presented the first university production of Gordon’s epic work.
Ricky Ian Gordon has recently been commissioned by both the Minnesota Opera, for a second time (a work to be based on the novel, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) and the Metropolitan Opera (the story of Victor Hugo’s daughter, Adele, in Nova Scotia).
Composer website: www.rickyiangordon.com/
Updated May 26, 2009
Photo: Sheila Wolff