Jon Magnussen’s music has been described as “hauntingly beautiful” (Salt Lake Tribune), “beautifully textured” (New York Times), and “thoughtful… deeply imaginative” (L.A. Times). Composed for the concert hall, drama, dance and film, his music has been commissioned and performed nationally and internationally by organizations including American Ballet Theatre, American Composers Orchestra, Chamber Music Hawaiʻi, Ebb and Flow Arts, ETHEL (string quartet), Haven Trio, Hawaiʻi Youth Opera Chorus, Hawaii Youth Symphony, Honolulu Symphony, The Juilliard School, Limón Dance Company (NYC), Lula Washington Dance Theatre, New York New Music Ensemble, New Juilliard Ensemble, New York Percussion Quartet, New York Virtuoso Singers, The Shakespeare Theatre (Washington, D.C.), and St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble.
"...beautifully textured new music by Jon Magnussen. It sounds like a modern-day mass and matches the grandeur and simplicity and sweep and vital detail of the dance."
– Jennifer Dunning, New York Times
Magnussen’s compositions have been funded by organizations including the Argosy Foundation, Chamber Music America with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Honolulu Mayorʻs Office on Culture and the Arts, Kosasa Foundation, Library of Congress, Meet the Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. His recordings appear on the Albany, Chamber Music Hawaii and Blue Griffin labels.
“The best part of the night at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts was the orchestra's playing of “Scenes” by Jon Magnussen, a world premiere. The piece is an accumulation of musical moments, fast-moving melodic fragments and instrumental colors. Relentlessly, they slide into and pile on each other, creating a delicious agitation as the orchestra moves up, up, up through registers -- goose-bump stuff, set off in Magnussen's brain by his reading of W.S. Merwin's The Folding Cliffs.”
—Richard Scheinin, The Mercury News
Recent collaborative projects include “Ten Rooms” for ‘cello quartet with four triangles, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Fondation des États-Unis in Paris; “Nā Kau ʻElua | The Two Seasons”, an oboe concerto for J. Scott Janusch in chamber and symphonic versions, and Pākaʻa Lanakila!, a Hawaiian-language “music moʻolelo” (music story) for Chamber Music Hawaii’s Spring Wind Quintet and master storyteller B.K. Cabigon;.
"...a recent disc featuring the music of Jon Magnussen with words by Barry Bearak. Twinge (BGR527) was recorded by the Haven Trio, comprised of soprano, clarinet and piano. The album’s fare is a 15-movement work, “dedicated to the memory of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the December 26, 2004 Tsunami.” The text is adapted from Bearak’s New York Times Magazine cover story, The Day the Sea Came. (November 27, 2005). The album unfolds in a commingling of spoken text, (narrated by Bearak himself), and instrumental/vocal episodes that elevate the drama of the cover story and develop the narrative arc with striking aplomb. The combination of soprano, clarinet and piano is a most attractive one. The vaulting soundscapes give an urgent depiction of the human drama as it unfolds: an archetypal battle of man vs nature; the coalescence of spoken word (in a kind of reportage style); singing and instrumental interjection bringing home the significance of human loss, set against a backdrop of geological insignificance: “for the earth, it was just a twinge.” The results are poignant as they are rare, particularly in a world awash with conservative recordings of traditional works. – Adam Sherkin, The Whole Note
Magnussen holds doctoral and masters degrees from The Juilliard School where he studied composition with Robert Beaser and participated in seminars with John Corigliano, Ellen Taafe Zwilich and William Bolcom. He also holds degrees from Conservatoire Nationale Supérieure de Musique de Paris where he studied with Jean-Paul Holstein; and Cornell University, where he studied with Steven Stucky and Karel Husa. He was Artist-in-Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 2000 to 2007, and is currently Professor of Music at University of Hawai‘i West O‘ahu.
“Four excerpts from Psalm, a recent setting of Psalm 61 and Psalm 113, by Jon Magnussen... showed what innovative and compelling things can happen when Euro-American music form meets Third World rhythm...”
–Jerry Bowles , The Contemporary Classical Music Weekly (Sequenza21)
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