Michael Colgrass’ first musical experiences were as a jazz drummer in the Chicago area (l944-49). In 1954 he graduated from the University of Illinois, studying percussion with Paul Price and composition with Eugene Weigel, Darius Milhaud, Lukas Foss and later with Wallingford Riegger and Ben Weber. After 21 months as timpanist in the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, Germany, he went to New York City (l956) where he free-lanced for eleven years as percussion player with jazz and concert groups alike.
As a percussion soloist he premiered many of his own works: with Emanuel Vardi in Variations for Four Drums and Viola; in Fantasy Variations for percussion soloist and percussion sextet at Carnegie Recital Hall; in Rhapsodic Fantasy for Fifteen Drums and Orchestra with the Danish Radio Orchestra; in recordings of his own Three Brothers and Percussion Music.
He won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Deja vu, commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic, and an Emmy Award in 1982 from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the Public Broadcasting System documentary called “Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass.” Other prizes include two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, A Fromm Award and Ford Foundation award and the l988 Jules Leger Prize for New Chamber Music.
Among his most significant recent works are Urban Requiem (l996) for four saxophones and wind ensemble, commissioned by Gary Green and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble who premiered and recorded the work in l996 (also recorded by Craig Kirchhoff and the University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble). Crossworlds for flute, piano and orchestra commissioned and premiered in 2002 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Marina Piccinini and Andreas Haefliger.
Although he makes his living as a composer, he has for 25 years been giving workshops throughout the world in performing excellence, combining Grotowski physical training, mime, dance and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
Colgrass lives in Toronto with his wife, writing music and giving workshops on an international scale.
Michael Colgrass / Gunther Schuller: Déjà vu (mode 125)