Finding Beauty in Small Places
Chester Biscardi’s music has been performed throughout Asia, Europe, and North and South America. His catalog includes At the Still Point, for orchestra, Piano Concerto, Sailors & Dreamers, for voice and chamber ensemble, the opera Tight-Rope, Trasumanar, for twelve percussionists and piano, and works for piano, voice, chorus, and chamber ensembles, as well as incidental music for theatre, dance, and television. His work is published by C. F. Peters, Theodore Presser Company, and Biscardi Music Press. Recordings appear on the Albany, Bridge, CRI (New World Records), and New Albion labels, among others, including a Naxos American Classics release entitled Chester Biscardi: In Time’s Unfolding. He is a recipient of the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Academy Award in Music from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, among numerous other awards and fellowships.
Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1948, Biscardi studied English literature, Italian literature, and music composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before receiving a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Yale School of Music. His principal composition teachers included Kryzsztof Penderecki, Toru Takemitsu, Les Thimmig, and Yehudi Wyner. He has been a member of the Music Faculty at Sarah Lawrence College since 1977.
Since the 1970s, Biscardi has been interested in the ways literature influences musical idea and form. Often a single word or poetic phrase generates the central idea of a composition, although his works are seldom overtly programmatic. The Italian tenzone [dialogue] inspired Tenzone, for two flutes and piano (1975), while T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton,” with its interplay of form and time, evoked At the Still Point (1977). Timbral and spatial concerns also play an important role in his early works. Transparent textures, delicate nuances, and sounds frozen in space resonate from his study of Japanese music. In the 1985 opera, Tight-Rope, and the song cycle, The Gift of Life (1990–93), Biscardi’s lyrical impulses, pervasive in his later works, are more pronounced. Resisting Stillness (1996), an intimate, strikingly spare work for two guitars, has autobiographical aspects, which are also a characteristic element of his mature music. His Piano Quintet (2004), written in memory of his father, uses elements from The Odyssey and several of his own earlier works, all of which, in the composer’s words, “explore the passage of time, loss, recovery, and transcendence.”
David Leisner is an extraordinarily versatile musician with a multi-faceted career as an electrifying performing artist, a distinguished composer, and a master teacher.
“Among the finest guitarists of all time”, according to American Record Guide, David Leisner’s career began auspiciously with top prizes in both the 1975 Toronto and 1981 Geneva International Guitar Competitions. His recent seasons have taken him around the US, including his solo debut with the Atlanta Symphony, a major tour of Australia and New Zealand, and debuts and reappearances in China, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, the U.K., Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Puerto Rico and Mexico. An innovative three-concert series at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall included the first all-Bach guitar recital in New York’s history, and currently he is the Artistic Director of Guitar Plus, a New York series devoted to chamber music with the guitar. He has also performed chamber music at the Santa Fe, Music in the Vineyards, Vail Valley, Rockport, Cape and Islands, Bargemusic, Bay Chamber, Maui, Portland, Sitka and Angel Fire Festivals, with Zuill Bailey, Tara O’Connor, Eugenia Zukerman, Kurt Ollmann, Lucy Shelton, Ida Kavafian, the St. Lawrence, Enso and Vermeer Quartets and many others. Celebrated for expanding the guitar repertoire, David Leisner has premiered works by many important composers, including David Del Tredici, Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Philip Glass, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Sculthorpe and Osvaldo Golijov, while championing the works of neglected 19th-century guitar composers J.K. Mertz and Wenzeslaus Matiegka.
A featured recording artist for Azica Records, Leisner has released 9 highly acclaimed CDs, including the most recent, Arpeggione with cellist Zuill Bailey, and Facts of Life, featuring the premiere recordings of commissioned works by Del Tredici and Golijov. Naxos produced his recording of the Hovhaness Guitar Concerto with Gerard Schwarz and the Berlin Radio Orchestra. Other CDs include the Koch recording of Haydn Quartet in D with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Hovhaness Spirit of Trees for Telarc with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis. And Mel Bay Co. released a solo concert DVD called Classics and Discoveries.
Mr. Leisner is also a highly respected composer noted for the emotional and dramatic power of his music. Fanfare magazine described it as “rich in invention and melody, emotionally direct, and beautiful”. South Florida Classical Review called him “an original and arresting compositional voice.” Recent commissioners include the baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, Arc Duo, Stones River Chamber Players (TN), Fairfield Orchestra (CT), Red Cedar Chamber Music (IA), and the Twentieth Century Unlimited Series (NM). Recordings of his works are currently available on the Sony Classical, ABC, Dorian, Azica, Cedille, Centaur, Town Hall, Signum, Acoustic Music, Athena and Barking Dog labels. The Cavatina Duo’s recording of his complete works for flute and guitar, Acrobats (Cedille) was released to exceptionally strong reviews. His compositions are mostly published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co., as well as AMP/G. Schirmer, Doberman-Yppan and Columbia Music.
David Leisner is currently the Chair of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music. Primarily self-taught as both guitarist and composer, he briefly studied guitar with John Duarte, David Starobin and Angelo Gilardino and composition with Richard Winslow, Virgil Thomson, Charles Turner and David Del Tredici. His book, Playing with Ease: a healthy approach to guitar technique, is published by Oxford University Press.