William Susman's roots lie in two powerful musical traditions -- the rigor and formal training of classical music and the improvisational freedom of jazz. A native of Chicago, Susman was raised on both classical and jazz piano, and began leading his own jazz combos at age 13, and performed with his piano quintet at the renowned Ravinia Festival when he was 15. He studied with some of Chicago's leading pianists including Pauline Lindsey (student of Artur Schnabel), Alan Swain, Willie Pickens (pianist with Sonny Stitt and Clifford Jordan) and Steve Behr (pianist with Louis Armstrong), as well as counterpoint and theory with Ralph Dodds.
Attending New Trier High School in Northfield, Illinois, Susman was greatly influenced by the jazz program and its innovative director Rodger Mills. He played piano in the jazz band and was the featured soloist at concerts. He composed a musical at New Trier in addition to an extended solo piano work for the senior recital. His early jazz compositions were recorded on an LP with the jazz band in addition to performing on the local PBS affiliate WTTW. Susman was the first recipient of the Samual A. Mages Award in recognition of outstanding achievement in instrumental music.
He studied composition at the University of Illinois with Herbert Brün, Ben Johnston, and Sal Martirano, and subsequently accepted a graduate fellowship at Stanford University at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) with John Chowning. Further studies in computer-generated sound led to an invitation by Pierre Boulez to work in Paris at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM). His performance with various jazz groups inspired him to combine classical and Afro-Cuban elements in his music.
Susman was discovered by seminal composer Earle Brown at the BMI awards in 1985. Brown later hand-picked him to receive Harvard's coveted Fromm Music Foundation Commission, which is awarded to America's maverick classical composers. A further distinction comes from the fact that at age 25, Susman was the youngest composer so honored. Susman's Fromm Commission, Trailing Vortices for chamber orchestra, has since had festival performances in the US and Europe including the Aspen, Gaudeamus, and Alicante Music Festivals. When Earle Brown introduced himself at the BMI awards he exclaimed "Ahh! So you're William Susman! I had to fight for your score!" He also revealed that Susman's grand orchestral work "Pentateuch", for soprano solo, three choral groups and divisi orchestra was beyond the experience of the other BMI judges, who hadn't even bothered to look at it. "I was the only one to make an effort to spread it out on the floor and study it," related Brown, the score being about six feet long, with over a hundred solo parts for each instrument of the orchestra.
His orchestral works and chamber music are performed in concert halls throughout the US and Europe. Prestigious performances include the prestigious Aspen Music Festival, the Los Angeles Bach Festival, the American Microtonal Music Festival in New York, the Festival of Alicante in Spain, and the Gaudeamus Festival in Amsterdam. His early orchestral works were centered around the study of Fluid Mechanics. In pieces such as Trailing Vortices, Streams, Turbulence, Nnyl and Streamlines he discovered that the properties of fluid: space, time, intensity, and viscosity, could be translated to similar properties in acoustics through means of pitch, time, velocity, and orchestral effects. Other works from this period such as Floating Falling, Twisted Figures, Expose, Up to the Sky, and Uprising had unusual modal qualities derived from scales and rhythms built around the Fibonacci series of 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,etc. This series also forms the ratios of the Golden Mean.
Influences from Afro-Cuban elements led to a unique use of montuño (or ostinato) in works such as Moving into an Empty Space, Six Minutes Thirty Seconds, The Starry Dynamo, Motions of Return, Patterns of Change, The Heavens Above, Three Different Keyboards and Marimba Montuño. For the past several years, he has worked closely with Emmy Award-nominated filmmaker Bo Boudart. He has scored numerous films for The Discovery Channel including Deep Under the Ice (2000) (TV) and Alaska's Arctic Wildlife (1997) (TV). Other scores for television include Indonesia (1996) (TV), The Philippines (1996) (TV), Southern Africa Safari (1995) (TV), Discovering the Amazon and the Andes (1994) (TV), Exploring Tropical Australia (1993) (TV) and The Elephant Seals of Ano Nuevo (1994) (V) He scored the indie short Daydream Believer (1998) which premiered at the Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema in San Francisco and took best dramatic short at IMAGE Fest '99 in Palo Alto, California. In addition, Daydream Believer was broadcast on PBS and screened at the Taos Talking Picture Festival.
He has received numerous honors, awards and commissions for his classical compositions including ASCAP's Raymond Hubbell Award, the BMI Young Composers Award, Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard, Gaudeamus International Musicweek, Percussive Arts Society, and KUCYNA/ALEA III International Composers Competition.
Ensembles and soloists who have commissioned him to write works for them include The Performer's Workshop Ensemble, The Aspen Music Festival, cellist Andre Emelianoff, pianist Joan Nagano and the Beaumont Ensemble, clarinetist Laura Carmichael and Alternate Currents Performance Ensemble, The City Winds, flutist Esther Landau and pianist Lee Nolan for Xanaduo, tubist Tom Heasley and the Tuolumne Brass Quintet, accordionist Eero Richmond and the Inoue Chamber Ensemble, marimbist Michael Varner, and Esther Lamneck.
In addition, noted performances of his music include The San Jose Chamber Orchestra with Barbara Day Turner conducting, the VARA Radio Orchestra of The Netherlands with [error] conducting, the Aspen Festival Orchestra with Stepehen Mosko conducting, the Pasadena Summer Youth Chamber Orchestra with Marvin Neumann and Robert Allen Gross, conducting, ALEA III with Theodore Antoniou conducting, The Harrington String Quartet at the 92nd Street Y New York City, David Holzman (2003 Grammy Award Nominee) at the 92nd Street Y New york City, Jonathan Haas and Andre Emelianoff at Merkin Concert Hall New York City, Shara Sand and Andrew Bolotowsky at the American Microtonal Music Festival in New York City.
Won an ASCAP Grant to Composers Award for his chamber orchestra work Trailing Vortices (1986) which was soon thereafter performed in Europe at the Gaudeamus and Alicante Music Festivals with Ernest Bour conducting.
Won at the KUCYNA International Composers Competition with a performance of Twisted Figures (1987) with 'Theodore Antoniou' conducting.
Won the ASCAP Raymond Hubbell Award while an undergrad at the University of Illinois for his work Movement for Orchestra (1981)
Won the BMI Young Composers Award for Pentateuch (1983/84) which caught the attention of seminal composer 'Earle Brown'.
Won the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard commission subsequently composing Trailing Vortices (1986) which premiered during Fromm Week at the Aspen Music Festival.
Won the Percussive Arts Society Award for his work Exchanges (1982) for winds, brass and percussion solo.
Won best documentary short at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival for Native New Yorker (2005) which he scored and produced.
Discovered by seminal American composer Earle Brown who recommended Susman for a Fromm Music Foundation commission.
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